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“I hopped off a plane at LAX// with a dream and a cardigan.” The immortalized words of MIley Cyrus sang throughout my mind as we waited for our Uber at the Los Angeles airport one Sunday evening in late July 2023.

Rev. Dr. LaKeenya Cooper and I made our way out to Los Angeles for the first time to attend The Gathering hosted by Homeboy Industries. Homeboy Industries started in the 1980s out of Dolores Mission Church, the poorest Catholic parish in East Los Angeles, an area that had the highest concentration of gang activity in all of Los Angeles.

In wanting to care well for all of their neighbors, and seeing the deep need for more intervention resources besides law enforcement and the criminal justice system, Homeboy Industries was started to help respond to that need and also to form and cultivate relationships with the folks who the world has said were unworthy of connection.

With relationships as the foundation and center of their work, Homeboy Industries is now “the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry service in the world.” (

The Gathering is a place where Homeboy Industries brings together nonprofits and faith-based organizations from around the world:

  • to learn about Homeboy Industries;
  • to connect with other leaders and what they’re doing;
  • and to have space for the creating and sharing of ideas and practices as we all are trying to do good and make an impact in our respective corners of the world.

Walking into The Gathering on our first day, I wasn’t struck by the swag bag they gave us or the beautiful California Endowment building or the low humidity of California weather, it was the culture of Homeboy Industries that radiated through the space.

It didn’t matter if you were brand new to The Gathering, or if it was your 10th year going, you belonged simply because you are you, and you belonged. The founder, Jesuit Catholic Priest Father Greg Boyle, in his opening remarks reminded us that “No one stands outside the circle.” The very core of our human connection is being in relationship with each other and in our communities where we help each other be fully seen, fully safe, fully heard, and fully cherished. We cannot move toward healing and wholeness if we don’t have relationships as our center; moreover, we are not called to be in this life and navigate the complexities of what it means to be human alone. We need each other.

We realize very quickly that the path toward healing and wholeness on every level imaginable is one that is messy and rarely linear. It is often full of missteps and mistakes, and it is also full of opportunities to do better than the day before, and to continue to seek out and seek after reconciliation and restoration.

Sometimes (read: all the time) in order to do this, we have to be real and honest with ourselves about the way things are, and how “we have not loved our neighbors with our whole hearts,” (UMH, pg. 12) so that we can be freed for joyful obedience to what it is God calls us to embrace and embody with the whole of our lives in loving God, loving our neighbors, and loving ourselves carefully and exceedingly well, where no one stands outside the circle.

I believe we are now at a critical point in the life of the Church (not just the UMC, but the Church universal) where we are being nudged and invited by the Holy Spirit into a space of reflection and radical inquiry into who we were, who we are, and who it is we are being called to become.

It is both exciting and terrifying to dream of something that maybe has not yet been, and it is not something that we do alone.

We have each other alongside the heartbeat of the Holy Spirit  that is opening us toward real, sustaining, life-giving, life-changing transformation of ourselves, our communities, and our world.

How might the Holy Spirit be calling you toward relationship, reconciliation, and restoration today?

Further Reading:

To learn more about Homeboy Industries, click here:

To learn more about The Gathering, click here:

To learn more about Father Greg Boyle and how Homeboy Industries got started, check out the book Tattoos on the Heart by Father Greg Boyle wherever you get your books.

-Rev. JoAnn Batteiger is the conference Assistant Director of Mission Engagement.


Cyrus, Miley. “Party in the U.S.A.” The Time of Our Lives, EP, Hollywood Records, 2009.

The United Methodist Hymnal : Book of United Methodist Worship. Nashville, Tenn.: United Methodist Pub. House, 1989.

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