UNCO—an “unconference” for church leaders, pastors, families, and seminarians—has been on my wish list of events to attend for several years. Friends like Ryan Kemp-Pappan rave about it as a gathering at which dreams of post-Christendom church come to life, the kind of place where people working on the margins and at the cutting edge of church and culture network and support each other. This year Carol Howard Merritt suggested that UNCO would be a great thing to do as I transition into my new position at Union Presbyterian Seminary. The stars aligned and I attended UNCO15 East earlier this week.
It was a refreshing and stimulating experience that came at a perfect time in my personal and professional life. After a very busy spring and just days after an emotionally draining last Sunday of youth ministry at Fourth Church, it was great to attend a conference that I didn’t have to plan or lead. It was also my first time at Stony Point Center and I loved the overall vibe and what Rick and Kitty Ufford-Chase are doing there. The grounds are beautiful, the peace and interfaith work they are doing is fantastic, and the food—much of which featured organic produce grown at the center—was delicious. They also had an endless supply of tasty iced teas, which is like the nectar of life for me. In addition to UNCO activities, I relished the freedom of walking the labyrinth, resting, and enjoying some much needed quiet time for reflection.
Carol was right that UNCO is a community of people I want to be a part of, and I am so thankful that I had this opportunity to be welcomed into the fold. Though I have been blessed to work in an incredible corporate church that has the potential (especially now with Shannon Johnson Kershner as pastor) to reshape business as usual in established mainline Protestantism, I think it is clear to all who know me and my work that I have a fire in my bones for people in religiously liminal cultural spaces. This is precisely where the UNCO community lives and breathes and has their being, and I found their work profoundly inspiring.
I was asked to give a testimony at the closing worship service on Wednesday. As I reflected on where I have been—reared in evangelicalism but working at the center of mainline Protestantism—and where I am going—teaching evangelism at a mainline Protestant seminary—I articulated my longing for a gospel that really matters in the world, a longing that I think is shared by many people in mainline Protestantism today. The missional church planters, entrepreneurs, and misfits at UNCO are boldly living out this kind of gospel, and I believe that there is an opportunity for them to evangelize traditional and established churches in need of new ways of being in post-Christendom.
Perhaps part of my calling in this new season of ministry is to bridge the gaps between the center and the margins as we all live into the new thing God is doing in the world.