Tag Archives: wild goose festival

Following the Wild Goose

“How do you like being on the Leadership Council of an international faith community?” This question, posed by a fellow PCA ordinand, now UCC pastor, made me chuckle. “It feels like some kind of huge cosmic joke,” I replied. Here I am, a 64-year-old Nana, highly introverted, pretty much invisible woman and yet somehow that pesky Wild Goose (Celtic image for the Holy Spirit) has led me to this place. And now I was with over 4,000 people at a campground in the mountains outside of Asheville, NC celebrating how rich life can be when we let go of our plans and allow oneself to live into possibility.

For much of my life, I was a good evangelical. Daughter of a UMC Elder, I always felt most at home when in a church. I followed all of the rules. I believed the creeds. I trusted the denomination to teach me all I needed to know about God. And then, at age 50, a brochure for a Masters in Holistic Spirituality crossed the desk where I was Health Ministries Coordinator for a major local hospital. Shortly after, I had a dream. In it, God asked, “Do you want to go along for the Wild Ride?” And with some fear but also excitement, I said “YES!”

The next 5 years were eye opening for me. I was the student who declared, “If calling God
“Father” was good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for me. (God bless Sister Cathy, she didn’t argue which I now know took a huge amount of restraint on her part.) Over time I read about so many ways that people understand the Jesus message, that I felt real anger at the UMC. When I tried to discuss this with my father he said, “That isn’t anything new.” That upset me even more. I am an intelligent person. Why should the denomination choose for me what I should or shouldn’t believe? And so, I listened to the Still, Small Voice, urging me to let go and fly.

There were times when I felt totally adrift. Whenever I tried to talk to other Christians about my questions, I was quickly shut down. No one ever said it out loud, but I’m pretty sure they branded me a heretic. One person even corrected me about what the “minimal standard” is for calling oneself a Christian. And his definition wasn’t “love one another.” It was a set of beliefs that no longer held validity in my own understanding. Thankfully, I had a spiritual director who was there to listen to me and support me. In her office I didn’t feel like I was crazy. She made me understand that this was a moment of transformation for me. I wasn’t a failure as a Christian, I was growing! The Wild Goose had taken flight and I was truly along for the Wild Ride.

Jump ahead to this summer and the Wild Goose Festival. Here I was, surrounded by other “misfits.” We were messy in our spirituality and not afraid to say it because we knew that the others sitting with us were living a similar path. We don’t pretend to have answers any more. Instead, we are learning to be comfortable living with our questions. Always seeking. Always expanding. What a place of freedom!

My favorite T-shirt last year was worn by a ginger haired, teenage boy with a captivating smile. It read, “This is the gay the LORD has made.” This year’s shirt winner was “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” But a new question was on the horizon. What exactly does it mean to be a Progressive Christian? For some, it means being LGBTQ+ affirming. And that’s a good start. But being progressive, for many of us, means much more than that. It means being open and supportive of how the Greater is at work in each of us. No exceptions. And that is hard. At Wild Goose Festival, I’ve been with Shamanic Christians, Wiccan Christians, Presbyterians, Quakers, United Methodists, UCC folk, ELCA folk, Episcopalians, Humanists, Atheists, and even Baptists. And none of us tried to convince the other that they were wrong. We gathered around tables and in workshops and were authentic. And it was like a glimpse of heaven on earth. The Psalmist said it best, “How good it is when people can live in harmony.”

It has been my privilege to serve on the Leadership Council of the Progressive Christian Alliance. Our open FaceBook page has well over 6,000 members. We offer a place where folks on the margin, folks expanding the margins, and folks who feel invisible can be authentic. Can ask questions and know they will be heard. A place like Wild Goose Festival where we can define for ourselves what it means to be a Progressive Christian and no one will shame us. For we’re all on a journey of Spirit. And who knows where that Wild Goose will take us next?

From the Co-Chair: Reflections of My Time on the Leadership Council

One of the questions I’ve heard from many considering whether to serve on the Leadership Council (LC) of the Progressive Christian Alliance is, “What do you do?” I believe that each LC has its own “flavor” and so the duties of the Co-Chair look different depending on the goals that have been set by our members and the gifts we each bring to the table. Here is a quick look at what these (almost) three years have held for me.

It might be prudent to mention how I got on the LC in the first place. At the last election, when we were asking folks to nominate someone for Chair, I sat quietly and reflected. Lawton Higgs, Sr kept coming to mind. Lawton demonstrates a deep passion for justice and also has wonderful organizational skills. I contacted him, asking if he would be willing for me to submit his name. Somehow in the conversation I got nominated as his Co-Chair. And what a gift it has been to have him (and now Gina) as our Chair!

The goals we set for our LC’s time of service were: to create a structure so that future LC’s and members would have clear documents to support PCA as it continues to evolve with Spirit; to increase ways for folks with our vision to connect with us; to obtain 501c3 status so that we are recognized as a legitimate religious organization and to seek accreditation from BCCi (Board of Chaplaincy, Inc.) so that our chaplains could be certified as PCA clergy. We’ve accomplished all this and more!

The first year, Lawton attended the Wild Goose Festival outside of Asheville, NC. This is a wonderful opportunity for PCA to be more visible and to reach other progressive Christians. As his health became less certain, it was my joy to attend in 2017 and I will return in 2018. We have several persons affiliated with PCA who are offering workshops and I hope that if you attend you’ll look for this sign by my little RV and say “HI!” Perhaps we could share a meal together.

During that first year, Fred-Allen Self (secretary) and I worked diligently to update the Constitution and Cannons of PCA, making the wording clearer to understand. That document was brought to our members for a vote and it passed. Simultaneously, JT Ramelis (treasurer) was getting us incorporated and filling out endless documentation needed for the 501c3 application. Through his efforts we now are officially a not for profit entity.

We brought Lyle Devine and Marie Ba’tel on as Co-Chairs of our Ordination Committee and worked together to get a system in place for those seeking to become PCA clergy. We now have a quarterly discernment of those who submit applications. Some are ordained. Some are connected to mentors when they are not quite ready. Additionally, Marie is the first responder for folks who want more information about PCA and our ordination process while Lyle makes sure that those in process meet our standards. This has freed up our LC to focus on other duties.

In 2017 I submitted the paperwork necessary for PCA to be recognized as a Faith Community by BCCi, the major professional organization for chaplaincy certification. We’d been told this was a lengthy process and could take over a year. One day, I got an email from the reviewers asking why we had submitted the application since we didn’t have a PCA clergy person seeking certification at that time. My response was that many of our clergy have been members of mainline denominations but were not offered ordination because they were from the LGBTQi community or their theology was too broad. Chaplaincy has been a way for them to fulfill their calls and they do this well. These people, I told them, had suffered enough. It was our goal to make sure that those qualified to seek certification have a clear path. I worried how that might be received by the Board. Much to my delight, they not only affirmed us but applauded our foresight in applying ahead of the need. Today, our first PCA clergy person is seeking endorsement. I am so proud!

Our vision of that “mustard seed of grace” growing has been overwhelming during our tenure. Our founders surely were Spirit led when they birthed The Progressive Christian Alliance. It is now necessary for us to set up a tracking system to improve our connection with one another, and we need better ways of creating community. With that in mind, we are implementing Wild Apricot (hopefully in July) which will enable us to keep records of our members, affiliate congregations, and clergy. Too often, people approach us seeking a community where they can feel welcome but we don’t have a current list of members or congregations to offer them. And we want to be sure that our clergy are up to date on security checks and upholding our clergy promise. We hope to have PCA clergy write more blogs for the website, sharing how their ministries are impacting a world that needs our words of a loving Godde. We also hope to find a way to hold a convocation once we know where our members reside. The first one may have to be an online event, but it is still one of our priorities.

It amazes me, looking at this blog, that we’ve come so far in so short a time. Lawton, JT and Fred-Allen had to resign so we now have a system where elections are at intervals so that all of the LC doesn’t change over at the same time. This should smooth transitions in the future. What a joy it has been to serve the PCA family. We have our squabbles as all families do, but when I get to welcome a new person to our community it is truly a moment of Godde’s grace for me. Our Constitution & Cannons mandate that a term in any position on the LC is 3 years. (One can serve in another position for an additional 3 years.) Recently, I was with one of the founders and he said, “Every 7 years leaders should step back. That enables new ideas to rise up. For the organization to flourish it must be constantly asking, ‘Who are we? Why do we exist? What needs are we not meeting yet?’” Wisdom. Would I do it again? Absolutely. I have grown in my skills and in my ministry as a result of serving on the Leadership Council of the Progressive Christian Alliance. I am also humbled by this opportunity you’ve entrusted to our care.

Thank you.

Rev. Beth Abbott

Co-chair, Leadership Council

Open Letter to the Organizers and Volunteers of the Wild Goose Festival

April 27, 2016 – For Immediate Release

Contact: R. Lawton Higgs, Leadership Council Chair at info@progressivechristianalliance.org

To the Organizers and Volunteers of the Wild Goose Festival:

We, the Leadership Council and members of the Progressive Christian Alliance, have been very excited about the Wild Goose Festival and had even been planning to have a meetup of our board and members at this year’s festival. However, in light of the passage of HB2 by the state legislature of North Carolina where the festival is held, and the fact that there is no clear anti-harassment policy on your website, we have decided that we will not be attending Wild Goose Festival this year.

While we appreciate the statements of inclusion that you do have on the website (on your about page and your blog statement posted on March 24, 2016), there is no clear definitive statement of inclusion on its own and there is no listing of a clear and detailed anti-harassment policy. It would be wonderful if all attendees could be counted on to follow the way of inclusion that Jesus intended, but as we are all humans, there is no guarantee, of any kind, that harassment will not occur. Harassment of all types is a sad reality at any convention or festival and a particular issue for transgender and gender-variant persons.

We recommend looking at the anti-harassment policies of other conventions and festivals, as well as training your volunteers on how to listen to victims without shaming and judgment. Compassionate responses are especially important for transgender persons, who, despite your calls for support in your blog post, have an extremely high likelihood of harassment even in the most progressive of communities.

For examples of clear anti-harassment policies, we’d recommend the following:

Geek Feminism Wiki: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Conference_anti-harassment/Policy
Ada Initiative: https://adainitiative.org/continue-our-work/conference-policies/
Pantheacon Anti-Harassment Policy: https://pantheacon.com/wordpress/con-policies/anti-harassment-policy/
Black Hat Convention: https://www.blackhat.com/code-of-conduct.html

While these aren’t specifically from Christian groups, they are groups who are at the forefront of instituting policies that not only have clear expectations and consequences around sexual harassment, but also around harassment and bullying of others for belief, gender identity, age, race, body size, or other differences.

We do support the aims of the Wild Goose Festival and all the good it has done since it began in 2011. It would be wonderful to be able to bring our members to this event in the future but until the event has a clear, detailed statement of inclusivity, an anti-harassment policy to ensure the wellbeing of others (particularly LGTBQA persons), and the North Carolina legislature repeals HB2, we cannot in good conscience recommend that our members, many of whom are LGBTQA persons, to attend the Wild Goose Festival.

Signed,
R. Lawton Higgs, Leadership Council Chair
Beth Beyer Abbott, Co-chair
J.T. Ramelis, Treasurer
Fred-Allen Self, Secretary
Gina A. Pond, Councillor-At-Large


About the Progressive Christian Alliance:

The Progressive Christian Alliance (http://www.progressivechristianalliance.org) is an international, transdenominational association of Christian ministers, ministries, and laypersons. We are a diverse fellowship inviting others to share in our common spiritual journey while walking our unique and sacred pathways. We believe that following Christ’s example means working for social justice and hospitality to all people, especially those who have not found hospitality elsewhere, and a heartfelt, thoughtful approach to being in relationship with God.