I spent much of my first week as a Real Pastor muddy and wet and surrounded by awesome people. I was a volunteer at the Wild Goose Festival, a pretty fab festival/community about spirituality, justice, and creative expression.
The Atlantic called it “Woodstock for evangelicals,” which is not too far off base but also doesn’t capture the uniqueness of the community. For one thing, I felt totally comfortable and accepted there, which is not usually true of anything “for evangelicals.” (Are you picking up the dripping sarcasm?)
And man, if I had denominational prejudice coming into this weekend, these folks just killed it. I had some fantastic conversations with people who came from all kinds of church backgrounds. (It felt like I met more Baptists than anything else, and even one guy from a PCA church.) But plenty of fabulous PCUSA friends, too.
But more than the content of our conversations, I think, what really struck me was the incredible openness and honesty and genuineness and trust. We brought our whole selves there, and they were okay. I heard (and shared) so many personal stories, those kind of awkward pieces that we don’t normally share except with really close friends, and to have those stories received gently and graciously by people I’d met mere hours (or less) before was unique and strange and beautiful.
My weird artsy self could pull out my sketch journal during a talk or a performance and not get funny looks. People actually seemed to respect that creative response.
My existence as a young pastor with one foot in traditional denominationalism, theology nerd and artsy kid and socially-awkward extrovert, that self was totally present in all its quirks, and was not just accepted but affirmed. People seemed to want to hear my opinions and perspectives – even the people I had just met who came from some “other” tradition, those kinds of situations where I’ve learned to tone myself down a little to avoid confrontation.
I didn’t really expect that, but it felt immediately like home. In a lot of ways that’s what I wish for the church more broadly – that we can really get down to the business of loving one another for who we are, not for who we think we ought to be.
If you asked me that question about why millennials are leaving the church (and didn’t you??) I would say this issue hits at the core of it. I can’t help but think people are leaving or disenchanted because of all the unrealistic expectations and non-acceptance and general disconnection of the church from the realities of the world. So often church is seen as this place where you’re expected to be this holy, perfect person, which is never true for any of us.
I want to keep building places where people can be themselves together. Where weird mixes of people can come together and really care about each other. Where we can really be church together in a way that we seem to have forgotten.
Where not fitting in is a good thing.
Where a van full of random strangers is the norm.
Part of me wished at first I had tried to be more involved – to be a volunteer chaplain, or applied to speak, or just had some kind of more formal way to offer something – but I’m really glad I didn’t, this year. I didn’t realize how much I needed this space of just being. I went to some talks and some performances, but sometimes the best thing about them was the people I sat down next to, and the conversations we had before/during/after. I spent a lot of time sitting by the river.
I needed that. But I also feel like maybe next year I will try to present something. More than anything else, this weekend made me feel like I have something valuable to say. And I will try to nurture this community, because God knows we need more places like that.