By Joshua Hearne
My wife and I have been to every General Assembly since I finished divinity school. While that may not be all that long compared to the track record of our sisters and brothers who served as midwives to this beautiful Fellowship, it certainly feels like a while to us.
Over those years, some things have changed. We’ve gone from being novices to the ways of the Assembly to being expert exhibition space navigators. We’ve learned the joy of seeing old friends, making new ones, and we’ve added a new General Assembly roommate in our daughter, Lucy.
We’ve gazed in awe upon the might of the #baylordisplay. We’ve watched brothers and sisters being commissioned and lifted them with our prayers, we’ve stood on the stage and felt a thousand people lift us up in prayer as we were commissioned, and we’ve welcomed new missionaries onto our team.
The last couple of years, we’ve even been able to present a few times on the work that we’re doing among the homeless, near-homeless, hungry, poor, and addicted. We start looking forward to the Assembly in March or April of the year, but this year something was different.
We were still going to be able to make it, but we were going to have to leave early. In fact, we were going to have to leave on Thursday afternoon right after our breakout session on how congregations can confront poverty through the practices of an intentional community like ours.
You see, we’ve wanted to go to the Wild Goose Festival every year since the first one in 2011 and this year I had been invited to speak as part of the festival. We first heard about it from others who are living in community in North Carolina and we were very excited to go to this nearly four-day festival “at the intersection of justice, spirituality, and art.”
In fact, we’ve made plans to go every year, but the Wild Goose Festival almost always seem to overlap with General Assembly. So, we’ve missed the Wild Goose Festival three times and members of our community have gone without us.
For weeks after, stories of the Wild Goose filter through our little community and new books are read furiously and recommended regularly. Over those years, the Wild Goose Festival has found a new home in Hot Springs, N.C., and it has evolved into something of a yearly reunion among people actively engaged in advocacy, grassroots faith-based organizing, intentional community, alternative congregations, and/or the fringes of modern American Christianity.
It is also a place where hundreds upon hundreds of people gather who are not sure how to reconcile the voice of the Spirit and their faith with their commitments to justice, peace, and equality. So many of those gathered are precisely the people conspicuously absent from so many congregations. They’re trying to find their way in faith and the Wild Goose is an oasis in an otherwise daunting desert.
So, we went to General Assembly early this year and tried to cram several days of lunches, meetings, and exhibition swag gathering into a little less than 48 hours. I had a great time sharing about how our intentional community (Grace and Main) of hospitality and service lives and serves among the homeless, near-homeless, poor, addicted, and hungry by inviting them into our lives and homes, while living out the values of the Kingdom in our neighborhoods.
We talked about how more traditional congregations could take up a version of some of our practices, like radical hospitality, radical generosity, incentivized risk, active and slow relationship building, and a few others.
But, then we were off to Hot Springs, N.C., where members of Grace and Main had already arrived and set up camp. They had made a sign for our little community’s home away from home with “Grace and Main Fellowship” written on brown paper bags with black duct tape. We had left the General Assembly, a place where we feel at home among brothers and sisters, to find ourselves in the woods near the French Broad river at a festival full of folks among whom we were increasingly learning to feel at home. It was hard to leave the GA early, but it was nice to be welcomed home to a place we’d not yet been.
During our time at the Wild Goose Festival, we found ourselves constantly surrounded by music and conversation. With over 50 different bands and performers, you never had to go far to hear something beautiful. Meanwhile, with even more speakers including the likes of Jim Wallis, Alexia Salvatierra, William Barber, Jr., Sara Miles, Brian McLaren, and Frank Schaeffer, a meaningful conversation about justice, love, faith, hope, resurrection, and changing the world was never far away.
A spirit of sharing and community pervaded the camp ground where nearly any chair was open and almost every table had room for one more hungry person. We even had an opportunity to visit with some fine folks from CBF congregations like Calvary Baptist in Washington, D.C.
No matter how different you are or feel, the Wild Goose Festival genuinely feels like a comforting and welcoming place, but at the same time it feels like a challenging and provocative place that is full of people who are unwilling simply to maintain the status quo of their neighborhoods and cities. Over a dozen times I was asked about our community and how it works with an understanding that is uncommon at most of the gatherings we attend–folks knew we were doing something different and were wondering if our different was anything like theirs. Often, it was.
Were it within my power to make such decisions, I would schedule the General Assembly and the Wild Goose Festival so that they don’t overlap!
As long as they overlap, we’re going to be doing this half and half dance so that we can visit both. The General Assembly reminds me of the Fellowship that welcomed me in when I wasn’t sure what I believed, how strongly I believed it, or whether or not this Jesus guy really meant the things he said.
It was the CBF that was my oasis in the middle of a daunting desert of uncertainty. I was welcomed, I was loved, and I was given time to breathe and figure out what I believed among folks who were eager to see me find my way.
So, we will keep going to the General Assembly because that’s home. But, we’ll keep going to the Wild Goose Festival, because there are countless other folks still looking for an oasis and asking questions of how to live and how to be Christian in 21st century America. I guess it’s okay if we can’t schedule things so that they don’t overlap, because the overlapped schedule is one more clear reminder of where we are: caught in between what was and what will be.
So, in the meantime, we’ll keep packing a tent to go to the General Assembly and we’ll carry our pens and nametags with us to Wild Goose. Next year, wouldn’t it be beautiful to see even more tents camping in Hot Springs under a handmade banner proclaiming our continued commitment to being the Church in new ways and old places. Will you join us?
Joshua Hearne, and his wife Jessica, are CBF field personnel in Danville, Va. To learn more about their ministry and support them financially, visit the CBF website.