July 31, 2014

Let's Start A Fire!

Mike Angell told me that he was going forward with a national conference for young adult and campus ministry leaders from across the Episcopal Church right after he was hired to his current position. With only 6 months to design and promote before the conference would actually happen, I had my reservations. But those reservations were proven unnecessary.

I’ve just left Minneapolis where around 100 leaders from around the country came together over 4 days for a gathering called, Kindling. Over the years, I’ve been to lots of Christian conferences and I’ve long held the opinion that the hallway conversations, the small, spontaneous groups gathered around drinks were the best aspects of those events. My confidence in the programming is typically low. This isn't to say that some conferences do not at times deliver excellent music, speakers, venues, formats, etc. It's just that it typically doesn't seem to quite scratch the itch I sense in myself and others I connect with in attendance.

Kindling was different.

In full disclosure, I was invited to be a part of the design team. Yet, I still stand by this claim: Kindling pulled off what others have only tried.

Here's why:

Keep calm and carry on.
As I admitted, I was able to help with this event therefore getting a "behind the scenes" look at this event. Often, those that orchestrate such events are riddled with anxiety and worry over any variety of aspects. Those that lead this event exuded a calm and entered into the event as much as those that came simply as attendees. This effects so much for everyone at an event. And we had fun! I've grown tired of Christian conference that take themselves too seriously. I didn't know Episcopalians could have so much fun. But, holy cow we had fun!

The floor is yours!
We used "open space technology" for running our break-out sessions between plenaries. This meant that the conference was able to be responsive to the needs of those gathered. All were invited to have a voice. If you heard a plenary session and needed to talk about something in particular in response, you simply offered a subject, a location and attendees "voted with their feet." I confess that I was a bit anxious about this aspect going in. But with only a few hiccups, this worked out really well for a majority of folks. Better than other attempts I've seen, this brought the "hallway conversations" into a main aspect of the conference programming.

Informal yet sacramental.
It's impossible to please everyone at events like this. We all have our preferences regarding music and worship. But Fran McKendree did a fine job of holding the casual nature of the gathering in balance with the respect and reverence found in this tradition. There was creativity while still embracing the "flow" of Episcopal worship.

And it can't go without adding that Kristen Kane-Osorto, Bianca Vasquez, Tom BrackettRyan Marsh and Anthony Guillen were fantastic speakers.

I want more.
Here's my only regret: I wish more young leaders were there. In my limited experience of two years with this event it has been billed as an event for young adult leaders at a diocesan level and campus ministers. But there's room for lots more leaders! More young leaders still in school and helping lead campus ministries. More young leaders starting new expressions of this tradition. More young leaders in parishes of all kinds.

It was a treat getting to meet so many young leaders doing fantastic work across the country. We all made new friends. And, as Mike put it, it's time to dowse this fire, head back to our own tribes and start new fires.


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