Naked Emperors, Undead Christians, & Seedling Signs

What does it take to build an authentic and substantial social and spiritual movement in the 21st century? We love it when friends “get” what we’re about, and want to work with us to accomplish precisely this. Recently the Mennonite Weekly Review published a piece about the Wild Goose Festival and our connection with the Greenbelt Festival in the UK. Here are some highlights from the article, by Vic Thiessen, former Director of the London Mennonite Centre, now re-located to Winnipeg and working with the Mennonite Church in Canada, and, we’re happy to say, deeply involved in the film program for Wild Goose:

The Greenbelt Christian Arts Festival has been a draw for Anabaptists in the U.K. for decades.

Now it’s crossing the ocean.

The festival has been going on in England since 1974, presently drawing more than 20,000 people each year. It is one of the most exciting things happening anywhere in the Christian world. Now, plans are under way for a version of the family-friendly event to come to North America as the Wild Goose Festival.

‘One of the most exciting things happening anywhere in the Christian world.’ To the unacquainted, this might sounds like cheap hyperbole, yet another self-aggrandizing soundbite in an over-hyped world. And yet, for those of us from North America who make regular pilgrimages to Greenbelt – like Vic – it’s simply our experience. Something powerful happens when like-hearted people seeking to embody love and justice while exploring creative spirituality get together to celebrate and display the wisdom path of Jesus in unprecedented ways. We definitely owe Greenbelt for this inspiration, as well as the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition, among others, as Vic continues:

Wild Goose’s draft mission statement focuses on inclusion and on the development of a radical community of grace, joy and peace that will seek to change lives and bring God’s healing and hope to the world. If this sounds familiar, it should: Some of these ideas and language are used in the “Vision: Healing and Hope” statement adopted by Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA.

It’s true. While the Wild Goose “Flock” comes from a wide range of denominational backgrounds, our ethos and guiding spirit have been profoundly influenced by Anabaptists, Quakers, and other Radical Reformation communities (as well as their antecedents, like the early Celtic Church) who carry a torch for God’s upside-down Kingdom. Though more established, top-heavy, and temporally powerful institutional churches tried to marginalize their testimony of peace, simplicity, and the nearness of God’s presence, their light could not be put out. Further, we’re witnessing a beautiful reunion in this post-Christendom world, as many of the formerly persecuting denominations have formally apologized, making moves toward reconciliation and adopting the very ethos they once rejected. The late philosopher Richard Rorty once wrote that “My sense of the holy is bound up with the hope that some day my remote descendants will live in a global civilization in which love is pretty much the only law.” Surely such an atmosphere makes this seem nearer? We hope.

We were enthralled with the Anabaptist feel of the music, dramas and talks, many of which provided Christian perspectives on peace and justice issues. In a country where only a small percentage of people attend church regularly, it was astounding and thrilling to see this huge crowd, averaging around 30 years old, gathered to hear about what it means to follow Jesus today.

Some of us are not quite sure what “Anabaptist music” sounds like, but we concur with the author that it’s astounding: Across Europe where outward, institutional Christianity appears to be dying – indeed, where the body seems to have been cold for a long time – Greenbelt is a seedling sign of life, a counter-indicator of resurrection. In the U.S. and across North America our situation is somewhat different: Signs of religiosity are still everywhere, from megachurches to the halls of political power. And yet, increasingly, many of us are feeling that the emperor of American Civil Religion has no clothes. Where European Christianity has been declared dead on arrival, much of the form of North American Christianity resembles Vampire Christianity – walking around, undead, and – as Dallas Willard once remarked – wanting Jesus only for his blood.

Because of the Dark Night of the Living Dead our faith is presently going through on ourcontinent, our numerical aims for Wild Goose 2011 are far more modest: We’re hoping to gather a large handful of the Flock next June, and we plan to intentionally cap our attendance numbers to allow for the most participative, generative experimental gathering. It did, after all, take decades for Greenbelt to reach its present critical mass; here in North America, there are far glossier, glitzier, and glamorous religious goods and services that can be consumed. We won’t appeal to everyone and that’s okay. Because we know, just like our friends across the pond, that

Many…are longing for a Christianity with integrity that addresses issues like war, poverty and the environment. Like many in the Emerging Church movement, which has close ties to Greenbelt, British Christians are looking for Anabaptist-style theology and finding it at Greenbelt.

The Wild Goose Flock is comprised of “emerging” Christians to be sure, and also “missional,” “organic,” and “fresh expressions” and – to be quite honest – church dropouts. Further, we’re Catholic, we’re mainline Protestant, we’re evangelical. We’re Pentecostal and charismatic; we’re First Nations followers of the Way; we’re spiritual, but not religious. We’re Mennonite and we certainly hope we’re a Society of Friends.

Greenbelt’s mission is to ‘re-imagine the church as an infectious global conspiracy, working for God’s peace, healing and friendship in previously unimagined ways.’ Greenbelt’s coming to North America is an opportunity for Mennonites here to get involved with what is anticipated to become a high-profile event on the cutting edge of Christian faith. It may have a significant impact on the way Christianity is perceived in North America. Now is the time to get on board.

Only time and our shared experience will tell if the Wild Goose Festival is the “second coming of Greenbelt.” But we fully concur: This is an unprecedented opportunity for people of faith, hope, love and goodwill to alight together, chasing after the Goose. What we’ve sown in tears of sorrow over the state of North American Christianity, we may just reap in joy of new beginnings. We’ll be taking flight together as we make temporary migration to Shakori Hills, North Carolina, June 23-26, 2011. Will you join us?

Please stay in touch – via this blog, Facebook, and Twitter @WildGooseFest.

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3 Responses to Naked Emperors, Undead Christians, & Seedling Signs

  1. Tiggy says:

    We in England feel the same way about it. :-) And I’ve been going since the seventies. It actually did have big numbers even then, but now people who’ve grown up with it take their kids along and soon there will be grandkids.

    It sounds like Wild Goose will be more radical in some ways, though my hope for both festivals is that they are also attended by some who are from evangelical and charismatic churches who will then go back and feed new ways of thinking into their churches as we did in the seventies and eighties. Many younger evangelicals and charismatics are quite open and responsive to new ways of thinking about God. There is also quite a substantial Catholic presence at Greenbelt and a Catholic mass is provided.

    I think as we all have so many friends on both sides of the Atlantic these days, that the two festivals will provide a great place for meetings and reunions each year. I hope to get to Wild Goose one year and have my US friends come to Greenbelt. I’m not a Mennonite, but one of my Greenbelt friends is!

  2. Kelly Deppen says:

    I feel my heritage (anabaptist Brethren) converging with my charismatic leanings now…at a festival in the future.

  3. Ken Silva says:

    Sounds like a wild goose chase to me.

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