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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Presbyterians and their friends gather under the Tent of Make Believe


1001 New Worshiping Communities welcomes spiritual pilgrims at Wild Goose Festival

October 19, 2023

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Record high temperatures in July didn’t deter thousands of spiritual pilgrims from gathering in the western North Carolina mountains for four days of inspiring worship, book talks, panels, music and dancing — lots of dancing.

In its 12th year, the Wild Goose Festival has become a nexus for people reimaging and reigniting Christianity alongside repairing the world. There’s so much imagination present that its website won’t put the festival in any one box: “It’s hard to sum up in a few words. We try, when we say things like: It’s a four-day spirit, justice, music and arts festival. But it’s so much more than that.”

“Progressive Christians are in the minority within U.S. Christianity, and it is vital to network, share wisdom and encourage each other,” the Rev. Mike Holohan said as he reflected on his third year at the Wild Goose Festival in Union Grove, North Carolina. As the pastor of a new worshiping community named Commonwealth of Oakland, with members across four time zones, Holohan considers the event a chance to reunite with church members who travel from Costa Rica; Washington, D.C.; Ohio; Colorado; and other places.

This was the third year that the 1001 New Worshiping Communities movement of the Presbyterian Mission Agency has been present at the annual event that draws nearly 5,000 people to large white tents, campsites and accommodations that span across VanHoy Farms and Campground near Harmony, North Carolina. Under the guidance of the Rev. Jeff Eddings, associate for Spiritual Formation and Coaching, the 1001 movement co-hosts speakers and gatherings for worship, music and other creative expressions under a large white tent inspired by Mister Rogers’ welcoming vision of compassionate community. The space, co-sponsored with Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Rogers’ alma mater, was dubbed “The Tent of Make Believe.”

First-timer Adam Barnes of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice noticed among the crowd “a lot of trauma from evangelical and white Christian nationalism.” Barnes spent a quarter of his time under the Tent of Make Believe, where he presented a more just and compassionate faith with others in his community, Freedom Church of the Poor. “It’s important for the world of progressive and recovering evangelicals to know that mainline denominations are supporting,” said Barnes.

Another third-time participant, the Rev. Katy Steinberg, founder of the Missing Peace community and pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Daytona Beach, Florida, spent lots of time under the tent. “It was the place to be,” said Steinberg, who noted the impact of the very real offerings of water, free peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a lounge area under the Tent of Make Believe. Steinberg described Eddings and his team as creating “connectional invitation without being pushy.”

“Tom Cox, leader of Esfera Faith, gave an excellent presentation on the climate crisis that did not mince words about our dire situation but also offered hopeful stories and action steps to keep us motivated,” Holohan said, describing some of the powerful talks happening under the tent, where people sought refuge from the heat. Holohan also caught a talk by fellow new worshiping community leader the Rev. Sue Yoder.

Yoder, facilitator of the Blank Slate community in Kempton, Pennsylvania, who has “long wanted to attend Wild Goose,” presented on her book, “Hear Us Out,” based on a multi-year research project she’d conducted on individuals much like those attracted to Wild Goose. Yoder, like many of the 1001 leaders, took advantage of the half-price entry fees offered by 1001 New Worshiping Communities and even stayed at the Wild Goose House with other 1001 leaders. She noticed the generous crowds who gathered for her book talk and also for one by the Rev. Dr. Ben Boswell on white privilege called “Bearing False Whiteness.”

“If you are looking for a place to connect with progressive thinkers, theologians, people,” Yoder said, “Wild Goose is your venue!”

The next Wild Goose Festival will take place July 11–14, 2024, in Union Grove, North Carolina. One can only imagine what kind of welcome 1001 New Worshiping Communities will create then.

Beth Waltemath, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus: Wild Goose Festival

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Clara Nunéz, Associate, Program Administration, Self-Development of People, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Patricia Nunez, PT Admin Asst. Stony Point Center, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray

Gracious God, we thank you for congregational initiatives that transform hope into reality. Amen.