What is the UnConference?
I’m gathered with 70+ other people in the church. Many are clergy, some are in other professions, and all are passionate about the reality of the Church’s witness to the Holy among us. We all come from an amazing diversity of places, experiences, and understandings of God. Most of us are Presbyterian, but others have been welcomed into the fold.
I find myself reflecting again on Landon Whitsett’s book, Open Source Church and how we people (especially Presbyterians) tend to gravitate naturally toward centralized authority and struggle to follow Jesus’ example by welcoming many voices into the process of discerning the present work of the Holy Spirit. This conference is not without boundaries or guidelines (as Landon points out in his book that even the pinnacle example of open source, Wikipedia, also has ground rules and guidelines that help shape the work of building this collection of human knowledge). There are those who envisioned this gathering, who set the dates, negotiated the location, shaped the schedule, and processed registrations and money. We have facilitators who are helping the group to shape our conversations, though no one is directing or serving as the talking head (we do not have a “keynote” speaker).
Today, Tuesday, in open forum interests and discussion topics were lifted up and put on a chart of times and locations (which was prepared in advance). Then everyone was invited to engage in one of the conversations put up on the chart. Most did, but there were those who chose to spend there time in solitude or in private conversation. The freedom is awesome. As far as I can tell, everyone is engaging on some level and according to their own comfort level.
There is freedom here as the rules are guided by the group and fluid. There is tenderness here as we share mutual respect and care for one another, even though we hardly know one another. There is intensity as we share our passion for this strange calling to be in Christian community. There is complaining and sharing, and there is being heard. This does not seem to be about being right or wrong, but about listening, empathisizing, appreciating, and understanding.
There are limits to what we can do in three days. But it is also amazing how easily we are able to engage in only three days (really only 43 hours). Some of us have met in person, but the vast majority seems to have only known one another via social networking tools like Twitter. With social media our circles of influence and being influenced have grown dramatically. This conference is an example of the kinds of out growth that can happen as a result of increased connection, even if it is only e-connections. Again, there is freedom and opportunity in the process.
We are in our second day together, but will be saying goodbye in less than 24 hours. It is intense. It is fun. It is freeing. It is a hopeful image of what “Church” can be. The question ringing in my mind is: Can it be sustained? How might it be sustained? Should it be sustainable?