Wild Goose Festival: The good and the not as good partsBy Amy Yoder McGloughlin
Phyllis Tickle is right. Something is happening in the church. There is something new emerging. And, looking back on church history, it’s not unexpected. In fact, it’s right on time. The church makes major shifts every 500 years or so. She describes this shift as “the emergence,” the transition the church is making from the Reformation to whatever is next.
This “whatever is next” is what the Wild Goose Festival is about. But, the difficulty is this: We don’t know exactly what is next, or how this emergence will evolve Christianity.
Yet if the Wild Goose Festival is any indication, there are a few things we do know about this shift toward emergence.
First, we know the church is moving into post-Christendom, a time when Christianity is no longer synonymous with power. This lack of religious prominence creates some subversive opportunities for the church.
Second, the role of the Spirit is key. The name “Wild Goose” comes from the Celtic understanding of the Holy Spirit — full of beauty, unpredictability and grace. The work of the Spirit is moving the church to be outside of its physical and conceptual structures.
Finally — and I think this is a big concept — relationship trumps theology. To know the “other” breaks down the walls that our certainty creates, and calls us to re-examine our understandings of God and the “rules” of the church. This final theme of relationship goes hand in hand with the work of the Spirit, and the way we are interpreting Scripture in more grace-filled ways.
These are my perceptions of what is driving the emergent church movement. And they are big shifts for the church — some perhaps less seismic for Mennonites than for other denominations (which explains the strong Mennonite showing at the festival), but still big for the whole church.
If the Wild Goose Festival was any indication of the strengths of the emergent movement, it was also an indication of the areas of need. The festival felt chaotic at times — like there was too much going on, too many seminar options, too many things to do. I imagine the organizers wanted to give participants many options, knowing that people come to the event for different reasons. But I think people would still come if there were fewer options, with more time to linger on each subject. The sessions themselves were too short, too introductory, and because they were short, participants were unable to engage deeply.
There was not enough communal worship, and the worship we had was not what I (an admittedly orthodox, liturgical Mennonite) would call worship. It was sharing stories with our neighbors, but the living room style worship lacked a depth that I craved.
I also didn’t hear nearly enough Scripture. Even as a progressive Christian, I believe in all the words of Scripture, including the dissonant words, and the ones that make me angry. I heard a lot of the typical social justice Scriptures used during the festival, but sometimes it felt like the leaders were pulling out only the texts they liked to suit their purposes, rather than holding up the hard Scriptures, and wondering about them too.
There is something to this emergent church movement. It is not going away. It will be shaping our next 500 years of church history. I’m sure of that. It has plenty of time to grow and mature as a movement, just as the Reformation did. I continue to look to this movement and festival for signs of where the Wild Goose — our inspired Holy Spirit — is moving the church.
Amy Yoder McGloughlin is pastor of Germantown Mennonite Church in Philadelphia.
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