|Everyone gets a chance to lead and speak up during "Unconference" at SFTS
By Tad Hopp
San Francisco Theological Seminary was blessed to serve as the host site for the third annual “Unconference” (UNCO). More than 30 people traveled from near and far to attend the three-day conference held July 30-August 1 on the SFTS campus. Many of the participants were SFTS alums who were excited to make their way back to campus to participate in the conference.
UNCO is unique because unlike other conferences, it has no set theme. The conference participants decide what they would like to discuss and then break out into small groups to delve into topics they feel are most important to them. Everyone at the conference assumes a leadership role either through suggesting a topic or moderating a discussion. This also insures that everyone is invited into the conversation.
“The conversation at UNCO created space for the Spirit to nudge us in the direction of the church that is yearning to be born,” said Rev. Jim Kitchens, interim pastor at nearby Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco. “As one of the older participants in the conversation, I was struck by the deep faithfulness of the Millennials who were at the heart of the gathering. If we can create worshiping communities and ministries that embody some of the ideas we talked about at UNCO, then I'm very hopeful about the future of the church in general, and the PC(USA) in particular.”
UNCO started on Monday afternoon with a brainstorming session where participants were asked to write down the topics they wanted to elevate for further discussion. That was followed by dinner and an opening worship service where participants shared stories of the journey that led them to the conference and why they were excited to be here.
Participants spoke about needing a break from traditional church and that UNCO represents a different, much-needed conference model. Some expressed the feeling that UNCO feeds something inside them that they aren’t able to get anywhere else. All the participants were thankful that UNCO exists. At the close of the opening worship, participants were encouraged to write down the “yes” and the “no” that they were struggling with in their lives. They were then invited to share their responses with a prayer partner.
The next day, participants were divided into different breakout groups for engaging and stimulating conversations about the topics that seemed to have the most appeal. For this year’s conference, those topics were:
· Bivocational Ministry
· How to Do Membership/Church Differently
· Minister and Artist: Outside Walls
· Church as Incubator
· Cooperation Among Churches
· Progressive Theology and the Church
· Alternative Christianity & Interfaith Dialogue
These topics were discussed at length in lively sessions all day Tuesday, and were revisited on Wednesday to discuss what to do with the ideas that were developed around these topics. At the closing worship service on Wednesday, participants were commissioned with pieces of rope to be reminded of the work ahead and how it will be challenging, but necessary.
Sarah Chancellor, an incoming junior at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, said that she left UNCO “with a stronger sense of my own call and a wider view of the church. I know that the church must change and grow but I’ve had a hard time visioning that change. UNCO helped bring some of that into a little bit more focus for me.”
For more information about UNCO, including detailed notes from each of the breakout sessions, visit the UNCO website at www.unco.us.
Tad Hopp is a second-year Master of Divinity student at SFTS who participated in UNCO.