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Wild Goose Wrap-Up or 6 Characteristic of the “Emergent Church” as Seen at the Wild Goose Festival

by | Jul 3, 2014 | Change Leadership | 3 comments

As many of you know, I had the privilege of attending the Wild Goose Festival, the premiere event for leaders in the “Emerging Church” in my role as Minister for Digital Programs for Extravagance UCC, an online new church start. The emerging church movement seeks to re-imagine a dynamic, life-giving, justice-centered, faithful church. Lots of “formers” attend this gathering. Former Evangelicals. Former Roman Catholics. Former Mainline Protestants. Some have found new faith homes. Others have not. Some have landed as atheists or agnostics. Some still attend the churches of their childhood.

Regardless of the details of their faith journey, the people who attend this gathering are passionate, fun-loving, welcoming and Jesus-loving people. They are in love with the radical message of Jesus and truly seek to live it in real life — whether that is through befriending the disenfranchised in their communities, teaching alternatives to fundamental readings to the Bible, or engaging in interfaith conversation and activism.

To give you a glimpse of what this “Emergent Church” looks like, here are 6 characteristics I observe about this new Jesus-centered community based on my first experience at the Wild Goose Festival:

1.) Old School IS New School. The Wild Goose Festival prominently includes musicians in the schedules of performances, panels and workshops. Virtually no act was “contemporary.” One of the most popular activities was “Beer and Hymns,” a practice that included a hymn sing under the stars in the beer tent. Each classic hymn is punctuated by a toast. Workshop presenters did not retract from exploring scripture, but rather reading it and embracing it in a new way. Ancient spiritual practices such as labyrinth walking, yoga and chanting are featured prominently in the mix. The Emergent Church will not be some wildly unrecognizable form — it instead embraces old, even ancient practices and puts a new and interesting twist on them.

The Carnival-like festivities at closing worship & Eucharist. Photo by Nicole Havelka

The Carnival-like festivities at closing worship & Eucharist. Photo by Nicole Havelka

2.) Messy. I’m not just saying this because we spent the better part of 3 days in mud-stained tents dodging puddles and ever-emerging rain storms. The Emergent Church feels chaotic, even to the most change-embracing personalities. Be prepared for the unpredictable movement of the Wild Goose Spirit to move at any time.

3.) Wildly Inclusive. People of all faiths or no faith are welcome. People previously excluded from traditional church because of viewpoint, sexuality, gender are welcome. Those who are leaders in “traditional” denominations are welcome. I attended a Jewish Shabbat service, a Catholic mass and a Protestant Eucharist Service. This community does not blend these diverse people and traditions and boil them down to nothingness — it brings the fullness and richness of these traditions together in order to get a wider glimpse of the expansiveness of God.

4.) Radical Hospitality. Walking through the “tent city” that becomes the Wild Goose community for 3 days, you are never far from a “tribe” willing to adopt you. Everyone is welcomed as family — no matter how messy or messed up. No questions asked.

5.) Liberating Justice. A deep passion for God’s justice runs deep in the Emergent Church. The gospel calls for a radical upending of poverty, violence, racism, environmental degradation and oppression of all kinds. The emergent church lives these values with every fiber of its being.

6.) Comfort with Uncertainty. This characteristic is probably the hardest for the “traditional” church to live with. These faithful do not build an institution to last forever. It’s a community that puts up its tents and unpacks its bags like a giant carnival act or traveling revival. It’s flexible; it’s dynamic; it’s ever changing. Just like that wild, unpredictable Holy Spirit. 

Here are my other Wild Goose blogs.


  1. Nancy Hilbrick

    Thank you for your posts Nicole. This one particularly is energizing and encouraging for even us “old liners”. Hurray the Hold Spirit!
    I have hope that my grandchildren will enjoy a vibrant faith such as you have experienced this week.

  2. jcmmanuel (@jcmmanuel)

    I welcome the “wildly inclusive” phrase (that’s a nice way to put it). “People of all faiths or no faith are welcome”. This is good, because it probably means that Christians begin to understand that God is really a closed door sometimes. In my case, God lost me some 3 to 4 years ago. I never wanted to be atheist. I still see it as a very personal thing – it just happened, approximately 1 year after I made some stupid (but unintended) mistake with my best Christian friend – for which I immediately and deeply apologized. But then something happened that I’ve never anticipated: there was no way I could obtain forgiveness. I don’t know why, I don’t want to complain or point fingers. I made the mistake, I was wrong – I was at the origin of the problem. But I didn’t expect “justice” would take over completely when someone gets hurt. You don’t expect this from a Christian.

    I may not point fingers – but I do know that this seemingly ‘ordinary’ event hurt me so deeply, as it was so opposite to what I expected a Christian would do, … Somehow something got broke inside. Finding no forgiveness turned out to be a deal-breaker of major proportions. I never anticipated it. You see, somehow it seems like we expect Christians to show at least a few essentials – certain things have to be fundamentally different from what others do – forgiving was one of those recipes that we remember as being so characteristic for the Jesus story.

    But the Christian God doesn’t really make people that different, does he? It is not my Christian friend who “made me atheist”. It was the Christian God who did it – by showing off his absence. Everyone can offer compassion to someone who did nothing wrong – a poor man living at the outskirts of society for instance. But when someone hurts or humiliates us, then all of a sudden, many Christians don’t do the Christian things. And why is that? Because they are human. And we can talk about the things the Spirit of God does through people – but at some point, I realized that in the reality of everyday we simply don’t see that happen. So what use is it then, to “believe in god”?

    Today, I still want to be a forgiving person – as an atheist maybe more than ever. My teacher isn’t god, nor a divine Christ – but there have been wisdom teachers, like the Buddha and Jesus, for sure. I like that. And if someone hurts me, I won’t try to let God do what I should do myself. I just have to accept my 50 percent of the hurt caused by someone else, and forgive. That’s how it’s being done – those beautiful “Jesus things”.

    I’m not sure yet what Emerging Church really is, but reading about your acceptance of “no faith” (and “wildly inclusive”) is certainly a good signal. I have “inclusive faith” too: I believe in people of good will. Together, such people can change the world.

    So… go for it, Rev. Nicole.


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