Thursday, October 30, 2014

Unco 14 West

For the past few years I've been attending Unco (for "Unconference") East in Stony Point, New York, each May. This year, however, I was in Saskatchewan at a symposium on the theology of occupied land when Unco 14 East was held, so last week I flew to San Francisco for the Western version.

Unco West is held at San Francisco Theological Seminary - a very gracious host, by the way - in San Anselmo in Marin County, across the Golden Gate Bridge from the city of San Francisco. As I have never visited California before, memories include driving across the iconic bridge; the view of the city, Alcatraz, and Oakland at dawn as the sun rose and the fog lifted; seeing great architecture downtown like San Francisco City Hall and the opera house; tall redwood trees - the ones at the seminary are, I'm told, young, so they're only hundreds of years old; and being in the Bay area as the San Francisco Giants competed in baseball's World Series (unfortunately, they were playing in Kansas City).

Unco really is an un-conference, a reaction against expensive church conferences with highly paid keynote speakers. There are no keynotes - and no agenda, as the entire conference is crowd-sourced from the participants, many of whom have only met on social media. Some people wanted to talk about fundraising for new ministries - fine, who will lead, and which room and which time slot do you want? Some were interested in a new model for church committee structures, based on the liturgical seasons, and I participated in that one. I led a session on people with disabilities in the church, although the real discussion leadership came from my friend J.C. Mitchell, who has a ministry in Seattle for families with children with disabilities.

While I was there, the news broke that there was some kind of attack going on in Ottawa - in the parliamentary precinct and downtown, areas that I know well as I used to work there and I still know many people. My wife wasn't answering her phone and I couldn't be certain that she hadn't gone to Ottawa (it turned out that she was in Dundela, Ontario, home of the McIntosh apple, getting, yes, apples). But I was immediately surrounded by prayers and concern from American friends. The photo is of art drawn at one of the tables during that difficult day.

And I can't improve on this reflection on Unco 14 West and the San Francisco experience from Whitney Wilkinson, complete with her great photography.

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