A People Awakened
Zoom happy hours, WhatsApp threads, unexpected new friends: the experience of the Seattle Community
by Jen L
Over the New York Encounter weekend, the Seattle Community had an authentic experience of encounter. By hosting multiple Zoom Happy Hour events and facilitating a WhatsApp text thread, the Seattle Crossroads team created a place for attendees of the Encounter to discuss live-streamed events, meet new people, and actually make judgments about what they heard. Originally, they had planned these events as a gesture for the local community, but it quickly became clear that others were interested.
Each evening of the Encounter held a scheduled Zoom “Happy Hour,” with an obvious BYOB requirement. The first night was a celebration for the release of The Relevance of the Stars by Lorenzo Albacete along with a lively Q&A session and toast to the editors who shared thoughts about the presentation and stories of Msgr. Albacete. Each remaining night was an opportunity to talk about what emerged each day. Christina from Seattle, one of the members of Crossroads, commented that during these happy hours, “we actually made important and real judgments together about what the event meant to us.”
It struck Alberto, originally from Italy but now living in Seattle, that because the Encounter was online, he was able to invite friends from Australia, US, and Japan who otherwise could never have attended the Encounter in person. During the planning, he observed each member of the Crossroads team contributing their experience of the Encounter in years’ past. “The interesting part is that we all had a different idea of what the Encounter is but we all must have sensed something true” he said. “I can’t disqualify their ideas, even if they’re different than mine because they’re seeing something true.” Andrea, another co-host, also recounted, “We brainstormed as a group about what the Encounter is for us and what can and can’t be replicated. We talked about what we valued about the Encounter. For me, the talks are great, but the fruit of the encounter is the ability to go to dinner with your friends and share what you hear.”
Another aspect of the weekend was a text thread on WhatsApp that took on a life of it’s own with over fifty participants from around the US and Canada. At first it was mostly Seattle folks, but people began inviting their friends, and then after the first Zoom event, the Seattle Crossroads team decided to open it to anyone. Over the weekend, people teased each other, sharing links and their enthusiasm for the presentations. They marveled at seeing Chris Vath’s face, as many knew only his voice from voiceovers of the videos shown at the Communion and Liberation Fraternity Exercises, an annual retreat. People shared selfies of themselves watching talks together with their entire household. . . . Little disagreements and arguments happened on the text thread, too. “It felt real.” said Christina. “That’s what would happen in New York when we sat down for lunch, too.” She went on: “The Whatsapp group made it feel like we were living it together. I was alone with my roommates but I felt like there were hundreds of people around me.”
Marie who lives in Ottawa, CA, attended the Happy Hours and was part of the text thread, but didn’t know anyone from the Seattle community. “I don’t know these people; they don’t know me. But, typical of CL, I found a welcoming atmosphere.” It was her first Encounter, as she has never been able to take the time from school and work to travel to New York. “At the end I invited people to keep in touch and a couple of people reached out. It was a lot of fun.”
Part of what made the gestures out of Seattle so particular was the enthusiasm and friendship shared among the Crossroads team who were building a forum for others to participate. “A sense of community was built among us and then we had something alive to invite people to,” recalled Christina.
The aliveness that participant’s felt was the fruit of the friendship and intentionality of the Crossroads team. “This year’s Encounter connected to me in a way I wasn’t expecting. I’ve done virtual retreats and conferences from my living room which have felt disjointed but my experience of the Encounter this year felt very alive.” Andrea speaks for many who, from the comfort of their own homes, felt the unity and belonging of a people awakened.