Scott Dillard has been an active member of Gay Spirit Visions for a number of years, and he was the convener at the 2014 Fall Conference which took place in September at The Mountain in North Carolina, USA.
Hi Scott, it is a pleasure and an honour to have you with us today. Could you tell the readers of MindfulGay what Gay Spirit Visions (GSV) is, and what is its main purpose?
The main purpose of Gay Spirit Visions is to host conferences three times a year (fall, winter, and spring) for men who love men and are on a spiritual path.
How many years have you been gathering for, first once a year in the fall, and then three times a year, winter, spring and fall? Why this time, was it so special?
We have been gathering for 25 years in the fall but not as long during the winter or spring. This year was very special because of the 25th anniversary which was a time for us to take stock of where we have been, where we are now, and where we wish to go next.
You have always been meeting at The Mountain in the mountains of North Carolina, do you think the special energy that place has makes the meeting so unique…?
I have a long history with The Mountain since I used to be on the faculty and then was Dean of The Mountain School for Congregational Leadership which is a leadership school for lay leaders in the Unitarian Universalist Church. I’ve also hosted for a number of years a group of actors/performers who come to The Mountain to new performance workshops. And, I must say, that ´The Mountain` is a special place that is welcoming to so many kinds of groups. I do think that the mission of the place leads them to embracing and holding in love whoever comes to the retreat center. That and the beautiful natural setting make it very special and sacred. I do believe that GSV has imbued our own special energy into the place that adds to the loving embrace that is practiced by The Mountain.
Many of the men come from the states of Georgia and North Carolina. Some of them live in small communities…? Does this strengthen the feeling of brotherhood and community…?
I think that for all of the men who come, regardless of where, there is a sense of a larger community of men out there beyond their geographical location. I’m sure it is a godsend to men who are a bit more isolated in very small communities to have a gathering place that puts them in the center of the universe rather than at the margins of their smaller town.
Could you inform the readers what types of activities they will be able to attend to if they decide to come to a GSV conference?
At a typical fall conference you will often times hear a keynote speaker who is there to examine the theme of the conference. You will always be put into a small group that meets throughout the conference. These small groups help process the information and experience of the conference. There is always a dance and a talent show. Often times there are workshops to choose from, labyrinth walks, and spontaneous offerings from the men in attendance.
Of course, the winter and spring conferences are a bit different. They are shorter than the autumn one and they have their own flavor. The winter is more contemplative and meditative and the spring has a looser structure and changing features.
Spirituality is an important part of the GSV Conferences. Are men from all kind of religions welcome to the conferences…?
Men from all religions and spiritual paths are welcome at the conference. We come from many faiths many journeys. We gather to learn from each other and to support one another as we seek meaning and connection.
I understand Gay Spirit Visions is a non-profit organisation, and all the people who are involved in the organisation and planning of the different activities are doing it in a completely altruistic way. Is that true?
Yes, it is a totally volunteer organization. There is a council that oversees the business of the group and plans the conferences. These men serve for a limited time and then are replaced by others associated with GSV. In addition, there are many committees staffed by men from across the country who contribute to the success of the conferences by handling different aspects of the gatherings such as ritual, alter spaces, entertainment, and small groups.
What did it mean to you and to the rest of the attendees at the conference to have John Stasio, founder of Easton Mountain, as guest speaker?
I was delighted to have John attend and speak with us. I met John a number of years ago at a conference of gay spiritual leaders and then was fortunate enough to present a performance at his Easton Mountain retreat center. Interestingly enough, John by coincidence was at my ordination as an Interfaith Minister in NYC. He was looking at going to the same seminary as I was graduating from and had no idea I was being ordained when he attended the ceremony. When I decided that our Fall Conference theme would be ‘community’, John was the first person I thought of inviting as a speaker since he has lived in community for many years at Easton Mountain. The feedback I have gotten from the men in attendance has been very positive. John spoke to our hearts and even challenged us to think in bigger and more ambitious ways as an organization.
Now that several days have passed since the end of the conference, what feelings and memories have you got inside of you after being convener of the conference?
The image that sticks in my mind was at the very end of the conference. There was a young man who was volunteering at The Mountain who came to our closing circle. When I led the men into a spiral with our bodies and I looked up from the center there was that young man looking at me and he was just sobbing and smiling and was so overcome with the experience. I reached out my hand to him and held it through our singing and mouthed the words to him “It will all be alright”. He shook his head yes at me and smiled through his tears. To me that is what GSV is all about. It is a place where we save each other from isolation and loneliness and we help men feel whole and alive. In that moment with that young man I felt like I had done my job right. I had held the space for him to enter into and to be embraced and loved by his brothers. He was home.
Thank you so much Scott for your time. It was a real delight to have you with us.