I’ve been intrigued for a while now with the idea of an unconference. I mean, I really got conferenced-out through the 90’s… the 80’s were still fun, but by the time the calendar rolled over “00” I couldn’t be bothered. But The recent Allelon gathering to discuss the formation of a Missional Order looked different. I decided to give it a chance.
We arrived at the conference center, got processed through the registration tables, visited briefly, and filed in to the first evening session to open the conference. Some of us jockeyed for position to grab seats in the first three rows, hoping to stake them out for the entire run of the conference. The din of conversation slowly faded as the crowd hushed when the conference organizer stood up to the microphone at the podium. Surveying the assembled crowd, he said, “You know, I’m really glad some of you women came out, too… it’s great to see some women here, it’ll really help with the signing so it won’t sound all male!” Everyone laughed. He continued, “Seriously though, I’m glad that some of you older women whose kids are grown could join us — you know, you have a part to play in the church as well.” He introduced the featured guest speakers. and promised a fantastic God-infused conference, and turned it over to the session musicians assembled to lead the worship for the event. After the worship, the evening session featured a great message following some fabulous worship-leading, and we walked out suitably blessed. It was late by then, and but for a few old friends visiting, we all turned in early, eager to see what the next day’s messages would address, what new ministry model we could take home to help revolutionize our gasping churches. That conference “buzz” was in the air… you know the one, that excitement about the great things God was about to do in our midst, that airy feeling that you go home and try your best to communicate back to your church and your friends as deeply moving, inspirational, and exciting, all balled up in a single sustained moment of waning elation.
You know, if any of that had happened, I’d have been hitching a ride back down to the Bremerton ferry to sleep on a bench and catch the first ride back to Seattle where I could spend the entire week more profitably drinking coffee by myself and browsing used bookstores… disappointed, but spending time meditating and enjoying just being by the ocean. And sampling a new microbrew with every meal, of course. I have this sneaking suspicion that I would have had an easy time finding a ride fleeing such an event, and that my conference-refugee Seattle wanderings would have seen me bumping into many a now-familiar face doing exactly the same thing. What actually happened was pretty much the antithesis of the introduction I’ve just given. Without saying a whole lot about what we talked about, I’m going to attempt to give you an impression of what it was really like. Here’s a photo I snapped of the platform, with pulpit, microphone, and superstar speakers:
Left-to-right: Andrew Jones, Mark Priddy (Allelon), Pete Askew (Northumbria), Alan Roxborough, and Sara Jane Walker (Allelon). Notice something about these people: they’re almost as clueless as the rest of us. I’m not sure what SJ is saying, but Andrew is either tired
from carousing or praying (you decide), Mark is, uh, I don’t know if he’s fully there, Pete can’t make head nor tails of any of it, and Alan is just staring at the bottle of cough medicine he was downing like water in the Sahara (he was actually quite ill). Ladies and gentlemen, may I present “the experts”? I say this all, of course, in a respectful and loving way toward them all, each having endeared themselves to me and to us all over the course of the discussions. Important word, that. Although those who were invited specifically to share something did so, it was in no way a feature of the event, which was very participatory, inclusive, and somehow lacking the assumption that the “big word” was just about to be issued from the pulpit. The people pictured here are all carriers of wisdom and insight, and none of them were all that quick to place their own above that of anyone else present. Also of note, the crew arrayed along the front was not constant, except for Alan and SJ who were chairing the meetings, save for the one or two that Alan missed while busy being ill and seeking medical attention… which point reveals how important this was to him; most people would have just packed up and gone home. And I think it really was that important.
To illustrate (literally) my main point here, I now submit three images of emerging/missional gatherings for your consideration, all of which were taken during the past week when they appeared on other blogs. As you might guess, they are of three different gatherings.
Guess which event I was at? I’m going to go ahead and stipulate immediately that if you recognize the other two photos (and I’m not going to tell you where I got them), I’m in no way disparaging these events… both are gathered around subjects and in places where it’s necessary to be discussing such matters. They’re just doing it in their way, and they don’t look the same.
Now, the Seabeck Gathering was “advertised” in a muted way without harping on big names, it was limited in size, and it didn’t fill up. I’m glad, actually… another 9 or 10 people might have changed the dynamic just a little too much. The tripod in the middle, btw, is evidence that Bill Kinnon has amassed hours of tape to be edited “someday” into a documentary, even though not everything was recorded. Oh, dang… I just gave away the answer to my riddle. But none of you were still guessing, were you? And for the record, the first thing we did after stashing our stuff in our rooms… was share a meal together. The place we were meeting served all of the meals “family-style,” and we served food to one another as we conversed around various tables in (mostly) different groups from one meal to the next. Oh, and the picture of the registration sign above is a stock photo.
The point of all of this is simply to attempt to provide a sense of what the tone of the event was for those who weren’t there. Reports are beginning to spring up around the ‘sphere, as is the odd unjust criticism… but those of us who were there are still processing. I know I am. More discussion will follow, but the point of the whole event was not to “get” something to bring home and share or impart or revolutionize ministry models. Anyone who tells you differently wasn’t there. Although there’s a boatload of stuff to be said, those who were may not end up saying it very quickly because most of us walked out with a commitment and an urge, a strange inner drawing to pray the Daily Office and to continue dwelling in Luke 10. (Verses 1-12, we were using the NRSV while there.) I say this with caution, but for the first time in my life I’ve returned home from a conference (and I’ve been to and run my share) without a set of ideas that are to change everything, without a kind of post-conference emotional high, but instead with a quiet desire to simply change what I’ve been doing with my time. And friends. Oh, but I’ve got some high-quality new friends, and that’s been the first thing I wanted to talk about with my wife when I got home, identifying people in photos for her… people for whom she really has no context yet, but who are nevertheless important to us.
Not the kind of conference I’m used to… and I don’t want to call what we did a “conference” at all. I’ve been saying for more than a year now that we need to change the way we gather for things like this. If you need to think more about what an “unconference” is — and I recommend you do — check the Wikipedia definition to get your bearings, consider Kathy Sierra’s question about why we still attend conferences anyway, and maybe even look into How to DIY Unconference.
Thanks much for sharing, I very much wanted to be a part of this gathering. Here in the KC area we have a small group of folks who have been talking about a missional order for some time. It is funny that just last week we met to continue the discussion and one of the things that we all agreed was to be praying the Daily Office.
tired? maybe you have that effect on people, Brother M!
It’s either that or I was giving people migraines. Hard to say which is the more common effect…
KC, huh? We should start networking a bunch of us together more intentionally. What does what you’re doing there look like?
I hear what you’re saying, Bro. I took an (un)retreat this last summer. I could give an introduction like you did about what retreats are–idylic, peaceful setting, soul-cleansing devotions, spiritual exercises in group/individual settings to drive you deeper into God and inspire and refresh your soul.
Instead, I went to an old monastery in the heart of a noisy neighborhood in the city. There was no leader, there was no program, there wasn’t a “group” to attach to. The only structure was to pray the Office with the monks and share meals (in silence) with them.
That was July. Since then nothing in me is the same. From that (un)retreat, I left with “a quiet desire to simply change what I’ve been doing with my time”.
Even my wife has noticed a difference.
Enough with the pre-packaged conferences and retreats! I mean, with all the agendas when does God get a chance to show up?
Networking together would be great, but I should have clarified a bit – KC as in Kansas City.
Oh and I’ve been praying the Office since then. Vigils and Lauds in the morning with 30-45 minutes of Lectio Divina between. Vespers after work and Compline at bedtime. Mondays and Fridays (all my schedule allows) I pray Vespers with some nuns attached to a nearby Roman Catholic church.
That’s the cool thing about the Office–it’s the prayer of the church. There’s a chance there is a community of religious around you that is already doing it. Ask and you may be allowed to pray with them.
you crack me up…I love the title, “unconference” because the collaborative character of our time together MADE the experience what it was…it was an excellent time…no experts…no long talks where all of us were frantically taking notes…in fact, I know that you were probably playing video games on your computer the entire time. You can’t fool me…I’m a college professor and I bust students all the time that look like they are paying attention as they are killing aliens on their screen and looking to get to the next level. Anyway, I’m glad I caught you with your mask off…now I know the real bro maynard!
bob, great suggestion!
Bro. M…Thanks for the great perspective. I agree that many of us will be processing this for quite a while.
Personally, I was glad that Tom’s birthday was celebrated–that was the only time we sang the entire four days! And might I add, there was a great set of voices there… I did, however, get struck by the fact that our saying the Office together sounded a little too much like the Borg collective voice for my liking…but I’m still recovering from being the Borg Queen at my CST…merrily assimilating all the new folks ;^)
Robin…dude, you crack me up! The Abbess almost got out her ruler to crack various sets of knuckles on the right and left–reading e-mail, blogging and zooming in on our location with Google Earth…I’ve already shared on Len’s blog about the challenges of distractions! :^)
I think I’m finished tinkering around with my new blog…and have it set up to process Daily Office and Dwelling in the Word. I have Luke 10 in 7 or 8 versions there, to make it fresh each day…but, sadly, no RDCV ;^) (couldn’t resist–wee joke)
Thanks again for your perspective. I’m looking forward to the other bloggers getting their thoughts out there. But just as we sat in silence more than most people would believe…the silence may continue a bit longer.
It sounds like we share a similar aversion to the conference machine. Thanks for what you’ve shared. It gives me hope that we truly are headed in a new direction.
I am sitting here laughing to myself, remembering some of all the conferences I attended. The start of you post is sooo funny. I’ll be laughing for awhile…oh my gosh…I may have to blog some of my memories.
I think I got whiplash from trying to follow the folks speaking @ the un-conference. You’d think me being in the centre of things would make me special, eh! But it wasn’t THAT kind of get together.
I read this on my phone up at the Lake today, while I was supposed to be pulling the water out (which I eventually did). Cracked me up. Sounded like a little too much of my past, as well.
And Grace, I’m glad we’re on the journey together.
Yes, if we could figure out a way to do unchurch – simple, organic, easy to duplicate like podcamps are. Something I’ve been thinking about lately.
Thanks for the post.
I know what you mean about the “big” names knowing little more than the rest of us. I love Alan, Sara Jane, Mark, and Andrew – smart people one and all (I’ve never connected with the guy from Northumbria)
I was just at a small event with Sally Morgenthaler. She’s a great communicator, but what she communicated that evening was that she doesn’t know what it’s all about any more than the rest of us. Kind of reminds me of an old Violent Femmes album, “The Blind Leading the Naked” or something like that.
Come to think of it, that sounds more interesting than knowing it all …
That is exactly what we talked about last week with the Daily Office, the idea of being connected as we pray the office together.
You asked what it looks like for us. Well so far we have simply clarified three primary commitments: Sacred Rhythm (contemplative life), Continuous Conversion (transformed life, along the lines of Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s chapter in “Inhabiting the Church”) and Participation in the Missio Dei (sent life).
We are working on a site where we can articulate/unpack all of this and create opportunities for those involved but separated by geography. This is just a small bit of our simple attempt to create something that we find a great need for, both for leaders and for those that are looking for a different expression for their spiritual journey.
Good stuff today.
First a word of thanks.
>>both are gathered around subjects and in places where it’s necessary to be discussing such matters. They’re just doing it in their way, and they don’t look the same.
Since I recognize that picture (grin), I appreciate you seeing that what we did in Pensacola with an association of churches is a good and needful thing. It was a good day to see God at work in the midst of some tragedy—- a tornado ripped through town destroying a day care center and damaging a church. I was blessed to see this association of churches respond quickly and graciously.
It was not much “discussing,” though, as they asked me to do a seminar. But, it was good to see the different kinds of churches represented: men and women from all different contexts. One of the things I like about denominations is that I am always encouraged to see churches from different ages and races comes together to talk about how they can do missions together.
You are on the right track and I appreciate your spirit.
If the mission of God can only be owned by one group of people, based on culture, music, meeting location, size of church, denomination, or race, than it is not really God’s mission—- it is ours.
Yesterday, I was speaking to a group of mainline denominational leaders in St. Louis(ironically, around round tables, grin), and I encouraged them to engage their communities with the unchanging message of the Gospel…
One of the basic premises of the missional church is that we join God in His mission. Doing that will take all kinds of groups and all kinds of churches—- it is a big mission and it calls for a broad commitment from all kinds of churches.
Second, a word of exhortation.
>> Reports are beginning to spring up around the ’sphere, as is the odd unjust criticism…
I have seen some of the criticism and, let me encourage you. Don’t get sidetracked. If God calls you to do things different next time, do it… but also keep pressing ahead with the agenda God gave you.
I wish I could have been there—- I know Andrew Jones and Rick Meigs, but have never met you, Bill Kinnon, or Alan Roxburgh in person. I look forward to meeting one day!
As I look over the names in my Bloglines reader, a significant number were there at the conference.
Thanks for your work!
Bro Maynard, thanks for posting this.
I was hoping to make this gathering, but couldn’t do it. But I find myself in a very, very similar space these days, and have been ruined by re-reading Luke 10 since you posted that it was the central text. The whole chapter, I’m seeing different things in than before – the relationship between serving neighbor and waiting at the feet of Jesus, in particular. They’re not disjointed.
Keep posting, and I hope we can chat this out in real life over a pint or two one time soon.
Grace and peace, my virtual friend.
I like the threefold commitments you lay out… good stuff. Let me know if/when you get a site up to unpack them as they play out in your community.
Would have been great to have you there… and you wouldn’t have been the only SBC-er to sneak in! ;^) I’m sure we’ll meet one day… and thanks much for your comments, I appreciate the encouragement. I thought that photo might look at least vaguely familiar to you… but I take the whole set as a sign of the vast landscape over which these conversations are taking place. We forget sometimes that the Reformation was not started by a solitary monk in a backwater who had no contemporaries singing songs of revolution. It’s all part of the concert… and even if it didn’t sound like “discussion,” I would warrant that most such discussions begin with an address.
I can forsee sharing a beer someday… as I said to Andrew Jones many moons ago. At least you’re on the same continent… and in the general neighbourhood where we were meeting, no less! Still, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on Luke 10 etc. We actually only looked at verses 1-12, but yes, there are some great connections through the whole chapter.