Two weeks ago North Star held their second annual conference in Provo, UT. Unlike last year, I wasn't heavily involved in the planning or the execution of the conference. But I did help out as a volunteer, which enabled me to give back in a small way, while still having enough time to attend many of the sessions and interact with people at the conference.
The theme of this year's North Star Conference was “Let Your Light Shine Forth.” Everyone that volunteered or played a role in the organization of the conference was given a blue t-shirt to wear with the conference theme on it. Wearing the t-shirt was a good reminder of the theme, as it clearly showed that we were involved in supporting the conference.
Even though my role as a volunteer was intended to be more logistical, I had the opportunity to be a greeter for a while as well. Anyone that knows me well knows that I struggle with social anxiety. So standing in the lobby greeting people and asking if they were attending the conference was definitely outside of my comfort zone. But it also turned out to be a good experience for me as well, as I'm sure some of those attending for the first time were a lot more anxious than me.
The conference started out Thursday evening with an informal dinner, social and service activity. The social was very well attended. In fact, my only real complaint about it was that there were more people there than could comfortably fit in the room they used for it. And although I found the social to be a bit too crowded for me to get to know new people, I did get the chance to interact with a lot of friends, some of whom I had not seen in some time.
The conference proper began Friday morning. I did not attend the opening session, as that was when one of my volunteer shifts was scheduled. I did, however, get the opportunity to attend all the rest of the sessions and events of the day.
In the morning I attended a session about allowing our experiences to help us and others develop a deeper spiritual connection. I sat with some friends during lunch. After lunch was a general session with gospel writer James Ferrell speaking. I got to be a session chair (meaning I introduced the speakers and conducted the session) for the first of the afternoon sessions, which was on ways to get involved in serving in North Star and the Voices of Hope project. And for the last session of the day, I attended a session about learning how to manage perfectionism. And the day closed with a social mixer (and I was pleased with myself that I stayed for the whole thing, and didn't spend most of my time hiding in a corner).
On Saturday morning, the first general session featured Chad Hymas, who shared about how the adversity he experienced from becoming a quadriplegic improved his life and his connection with God. For the morning breakout session, I attended a session presented by Josh Weed and his father about understanding a child or sibling that experiences same-sex attraction. I sat with a different group of people at lunch and got to know a few new people.
For the first of the afternoon sessions, I attended a more interactive workshop about overcoming the negative effects of body shame. And for the session after that I listened to experiences from a couple of men that shared why it was worth it for them to stay in the gospel. The closing session featured Mariama Kallon, who was a convert to the church from Africa, and shared of her experiences with losing most of her family in a civil war in her native country, and how her trials brought her to Christ. After she spoke, there was an awards ceremony, and the incoming President of North Star was announced to be Greg Harris, who has done a wonderful job of being a conference chair for both of the first two North Star Conferences, and has served as a vice president of North Star.
Even though most of the topics at the conference were not new to me, many of them were still a great review. And overall, I think I got more out of the fellowship and giving service than anything else. I had the chance to catch up with a lot of old friends, met some people in person that I had only known online before, met a number of new people, and better got to know some people that I didn't know very well before the conference.
In the past, I have been afraid of letting others know about me. I have shared before that I have feared what those on either extreme would think of me if they knew of my attractions and how I choose to live my life. I am grateful now to be living more authentically and out of the shadows. The conference theme was a good reminder for me to continue to let my light shine.
I am glad I got to be involved in this year's conference, and I look forward to the conference next year.