“I felt God in all these spaces in some kind of real way, so it’s not that I have to throw it all out. But I do have to give myself permission to ask questions. I have to give myself permission to be upset, and angry, and unhappy, things that we don’t often encourage people to do in worship settings.”
I had an amazing time leading worship at the 2017 GCN Conference. A few folks have asked about my experience as well as a copy of the set lists so here we go!
I’m still in awe. I’m writing this weeks after the conference and the awe of being asked to serve as worship leader for this conference still amazes me. For those who don’t know my story, I’m someone who was told by church leaders that God would never fully use me because I’m gay or that people would never see me as a man of God because of my sexuality. Years later I’m seeing every one of those words fall to the ground as amazing opportunities to lead and be an advocate for LGBTQ inclusion in churches continue spring up on my path.
I also had the honor of assembling a world-class team of LGBTQ people and allies. Many of us share the similar stories of being wounded by churches and church leaders and being part of an event like this – while sometimes difficult – is cathartic and redemptive in ways that we can’t fully describe. When possible I’ll do follow-up posts with stories that I have permission to share.
For those who couldn’t be at the conference or who missed the live stream, videos are here! Our team led worship for the first three general sessions of the conference, which all can be viewed on GCN’s YouTube page (Session 1, Session 2, Session 3, Session 4 – Liturgical Worship). Additionally, please enjoy the keynote speakers who’s talks are also on these videos.
I’ve created a Spotify playlist with most of the songs we shared. You can follow that playlist here.
I wanted to be very intentional about the song selections for the conference. With 1400 people in attendance all coming from different churches, denominations, theological leanings, and musical preferences, creating a worship experience for us to have TOGETHER required some intentionality. Fortunately, this is something that I strive to do year-round, GCN being no different. Our selections tried to incorporate songs that would be familiar when possible or easy to pick-up and follow-along if it was your first time singing it. The songs range from hymns to gospel to contemporary Christian music and included a bilingual worship song. We also tried to be mindful of the messages and language of each song to be sure that the sets were as accessible to a wide an audience as possible. I’m still learning and there are lots of places where I can do better at this, but I think it’s worth the extra effort.
One of the songs that are not on Spotify is “Room For Us All” by The Many. In 2016 I started singing with this group and I LOVE the music that we’re making together. You may download the song for free here along with other music from The Plural Guild. Something I secretly hoped for while we were singing this song is that while we repeat the chorus of “We are on this earth to love” that people would hold hands or lock arms and sing this… and it happened! It’s the little things that make my heart glad. 🙂
Below is the written setlist and after that some cameraphone photos and screen shots of what people shared about the conference on Twitter.
Thanks for following my grand adventure and stay tuned for more!
Session 1 – Thursday:
Lord, You’re Worthy
Medley: Set A Fire, Always, Ever Be, Simple Gospel
My World Needs You
You Are Good (in Spanish and English)
Session 2 – Friday:
Reprise of “You Are Good”
For Those Tears I Died
In Christ Alone with On Christ The Solid Rock
Session 3 – Saturday:
Here’s My Heart
Deep Cries Out
Old School Medley: We Bring The Sacrifice of Praise, In The Name of Jesus, Victory is Mine,
“Here’s My Heart” (Reprise)
My World Needs You (Reprise) with Isaiah 58 Spoken Word
Room For Us All
Hold Us Together
Session 3 – Continued at Offering:
Chase Away my Dark
It Is Well
#GCNconf’s theme was “Stories Inspire”
Views in Pittsburgh
We discovered a strange contraption in the wild.
OMG bakery we found (Sinful Treats or something like that) was delicious!
I got to see my buddy Daylan who lives in the area.
A vocal rehearsal on Wednesday night!
So thankful for Rachel’s support! She ROCKS on guitar!
A few of the worship guys. 🙂
Amber, Kevin, and Darren… cooking up holy mischief
A meta moment (you can see us taking this selfie on the screen behind us).
I absolutely LOVED leading with THE Kevin Garcia!
It was great to have gender neutral bathrooms… and everyone was just fine!
We sang “You Are Good” in English and Spanish… practicing what it might be like to worship as one from every language, tribe, and tongue!
Making new friends while singing in the hallways.
I LOVED the ballroom we were in for the conference main sessions!
1400 attendees is a LOT of people!
This is our normal picture.
This is us pretending to be normal.
So many people share stories of what they heard or experienced at GCN and how it’s a lifesaving experience for them both spiritually and naturally.
I got to sing one of my favorite songs with my favorite singer-songwriter, Bobby Jo Valentine! Go check out his music!
Getting ready on Thursday morning for the opening night!
I love that parents come to the conference and make themselves known to be available for free hugs. Often, LGBTQ people have estranged relationships with family members and having someone to stand proxy can be a major source of love and comfort.
These were my roommates for the conference. No further explantation will be provided. lol
Question: Some have said “A lot of black folks are very upset that the LGBT rights issue is being compared to the civil rights of African Americans.” Is that true? How would you respond to that?
Darren’s Answer: It’s a mixed bag!
Some black folk are upset because some white LGBT movement folk conflate the Civil Rights movement with their own while continuing to be oblivious to or ignore ongoing racial discrimination – especially within LGBT communities.
Some black folks are upset because they are Cis gender and heterosexual and think black liberation is only for people who fall into both those categories. They routinely are antagonistic of black LGBT folk and will often blame them for issues in the black community. “White people are turning our sons and fathers gay to eliminate us!”
Some people (black and otherwise) think the civil rights movement should never be touched. It was perfect and holy unto itself and to compare it to anything (including Black Lives Matter) is sacrilege.
I say all justice work is interconnected in some way. There are valuable ways that the fight for racial equality and LGBTQ+ rights intersect. I speak often and highly of Bayard Rustin being both black and gay and needing needing the freedoms afforded by both movements but not fully embraced by either movement. I think it’s important to keep our lens intersectional so that we don’t co-opt the civil rights movement or erase the ways black LGBT+ people are still vulnerable, erased, or excluded.
June 26, 2016 will mark my sixth year of being part of counter-protest efforts at the Chicago LGBTQ Pride parade. This effort started with the “I’m Sorry” campaign in 2010. At that time, a group of people gathered together to apologize for the way the church has harmed LGBTQ communities. We were a mostly Christian group of allies and LGBTQ+ people showing up at Pride to inspire a little more love and acknowledge the wrong that had been done by Christians. This tiny effort touched the hearts of many andwent viral on the internet. Eventuallythis idea caught on and was replicated at Pride parades across the country and even beyond the United States.
I’m excited to say that we’ll be back this year with theMake Love Louder at Pride campaign (#MakeLoveLouder). The Center for Inclusivity is sponsoring the effort as we rally Christians, Muslims, Atheists, LGBTQ people and their allies, religiously affirming and those from a conservative tradition, under the banner of humanity and love. We’ll be wearing red t-shirts and positioning ourselves between the parade marchers and the protesters near the end of the parade route.
If this idea excites you and you want to join us, I’m writing to help prepare you mentally and emotionally.
If you’ve never been around the anti-LGBTQ protesters, it can be pretty intense. If you’re sensitive to the following descriptions, please take that into account and don’t ignore your gut.
(triggering and harsh language warning)
The protesters are a mix of people who are local as well as from infamous places like Westboro Baptist Church. They carry four-foot-tall banners and smaller posters and are on bullhorns the entire time. They call out individuals to question, blame, insult, and condemn. They say things like “I hope you get gonorrhea and die” or “You with the long hair, you’re going to rot in hell forever.”
They have signs that read “God hates fags.”
The protesters work to incite anger, and there’s no shortage of parade goers who will yell “f-you” and put up middle fingers at them in response.
Every year at least one person ends up getting arrested (and the protesters do press charges) for spitting or throwing something like a water bottle. This is a strategy that the protesters use as a revenue source by settling out of court with defendants.
It can be pretty crowded and hot (it’s a parade), and sometimes that can be a bit much for some people. Oh, and there are intoxicated people everywhere, so you know how that can go.
I purposely try to describe the worst here, because I don’t want to lead anyone into something potentially harmful without warning them.
In contrast, I’ve never felt physically threatened. Uniformed Chicago police have the protesters barricaded in, and they escort them into the parade and back out at the end. Chicago Police surround the protesters by standing shoulder to shoulder outside of the barricade. The officers have always been pleasant toward us (parade goers and counter-protesters).
The best part for me is getting the crowd to cheer and drown out the hate speech.
I get lots of hugs—sometimes as people cry—in appreciation for my being there.
My arms get tired from high fives. 🙂
My face hurts from smiling and yelling “I love you!” or “God loves you!”
I’ve even gotten a little dehydrated from cheering and sweating (bring water!). 🙂
All that is to say that although the bad is BAD, the good is GREAT! People should talk and figure out what they are okay with and by no means should feel any pressure to come or to stay if they don’t feel good after experiencing what’s going on. By moving just a block away you can forget the protesters are even there and resume enjoying the parade. If you decide that this isn’t for you, that’s totally fine—survival is a form of resistance, so you thriving elsewhere that day is important, too!
I will say that SO many people who have been part of this effort in the past didn’t realize how impactful the simple act of showing up could be. So many of us have shed tears of joy or been personally rocked by what this embodiment of love is about.
I had the opportunity to share a quick bit of my testimony and some thoughts about how church leaders can engage with LGBT Christians. The Imago Dei conference is a response to the Association of Certified Biblical Councilors conference which happened this week and included LOTS of damaging ideas about LGBT people and how to help them. The video is about 21 minutes long. Check it out here: http://imagodeisummit.weebly.com/summit-sessions/darren-calhoun
I would really appreciate it if you kept me in your thoughts and or prayers this weekend! I’m continuing my efforts of engaging churches and communities on the intersections of race, sexuality, and reconciliation.
I am Darren Calhoun – beloved by God and a follower of Jesus. For the past 15 years, I’ve earned a living as an entrepreneur and professional photographer. My church community is Willow Chicago, the downtown campus of Willow Creek Community Church. There, I’ve served as a volunteer for eight years in various parts of our arts ministries including leading worship. At Willow Chicago, our worship team has two paid staff positions and I am part of a team of six volunteer leaders who complement the staff roles. I love being able to serve our church community in this way. I also volunteer with other organizations that are working on causes that are close to my heart like anti-violence initiatives in Chicago and racial reconciliation efforts.
I am gay. As a Christian, I’ve been on a long journey to reconcile the reality of my orientation with the various views that the church world has on the topic of people who are attracted to the same sex. Before coming to Willow, I was part of a church whose leadership promised that I could be ‘healed’ of my same-sex attractions. I spent years seeking God and obeying the leadership of that church – eventually sacrificing relationships with family and friends, quitting college, moving to another state, and living under 24-hour supervision inside the church. All of this was done in the name of being ‘healed’ and in hopes that I could be accepted by God. During that time I became more broken and unhealthy than I’d ever been and at times despaired living. I eventually was reminded in scripture that God’s love didn’t look like what I was being subjected to by that church.
I am loved. At Willow I found a community of people who were willing to love me authentically. I was warmly welcomed by a gathering of believers who reflected a biblical demonstration of God’s unconditional love. I am surrounded by a community of Christians who are fully committed to loving God and loving one another. In this context I was able to begin a journey of celibacy and prayerfully discerning what that means for my life. This has been a profoundly personal spiritual pursuit to reconcile my deep love for God, his word, and the cards I’ve been dealt. The decision to be celibate isn’t a quick or easy one and I’m engaged conversations with my church community to see what it looks like to truly support someone who has made this counter-cultural choice. I think it’s important that we figure out how the church best facilitates lifelong relationship, intimacy, and support for people like me. That’s my journey thus far, but it doesn’t represent the journey of every other believer with the same orientation as mine.
Because of my many experiences and inspired by the stories of other Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Same Sex Attracted people, I participate in intentional conversations about how the church can be better for everyone – especially those at the margins or who have been pushed out. I think this is an important, nuanced, and delicate issue that needs a variety of voices speaking into it. My perspectives are my own and are not on behalf of my church community. That said, I understand and respect the theology of my church, and the intentional journey our leaders are on to live that theology while being a place of profound love, grace and engagement for the LGBTQ+ community.
I hope to be part of equipping churches so that they are safer and more inclusive places for everyone who matters to God. This is why I’ve chosen to be part of efforts made by organizations like The Marin Foundation, which seeks to facilitate dialog between various people and groups on topics relating to the church and LGBTQ+ communities – groups who might not otherwise listen to one another. This same value informed my choice to be part of The Reformation Project’s Atlanta Regional Training Conference. I was invited to the conference to co-facilitate a full-day Academy for Racial Justice workshop. I also had the pleasure of sharing in a panel discussion titled “LGBT 101: starting the conversation” about how to thoughtfully engage in dialog with LGBT people. Lastly, I was part of a panel discussion that took a candid look at how race and LGBT identities intersect. Because I think it’s important to be inclusive of various perspectives and was happy to share my thoughts as a Christian who is black, gay, and celibate. I was happy that I met other Christians at the conference who are on similar journeys as me as well as Church leaders and parents who thought they might be singled out for having a traditional view of scripture on these topics. We were all welcomed to the table.
So in getting to know me and what I’m about, keep this in mind: everyone has a story. Through my photography, my social justice and activism, and through my engagement with various faith communities, I try to make stories known and foster compassion. If the church is to be all that Christ calls it to be, then we must love God and love people. It’s difficult to truly love someone you don’t know, but when we get to know their story we set the stage to know and love them like Jesus.
Additionally, we’ll be continuing the “I’m Sorry” campaign at Chicago’s Pride Parade on June 28th. The idea is that as Christians we go out to apologize for the ways the church has harmed LGBT communities as well as commit to making things better within church communities. This isn’t about condoning or condemning, rather we are there to listen and show love in tangible ways (free hugs are welcome too!).
Details about the history and purpose of the campaign are here: Link: http://TheMarinFoundation.org/ImSorry
Lastly, this week on Thursday I’ll be part of The Reformation Project’s Atlanta regional training conference. I’m part of a team that will conduct the Accademy For Racial Justice – a one day workshop on racial reconciliation and justice.
On Thursday night I’ll be part of the LGBT 101 panel discussion. This panel is aimed at teaching people the basics of how to engage with LGBT folks (do’s and don’ts) from Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Christians.
It will be live-streamed as well as archived on YouTube. I don’t have the live stream link yet but details are posted here: http://theReformationProject.org/atl15 and follow the hashtag #TRPinATL on social media.
If nothing else, your prayers and good thoughts are requested and appreciated. If you can, tune in, show up, and or tell a friend.