The Origins of the Wild Goose Festival

Today will see the birth of a gathering that has been gestating for many years.  The Wild Goose Festival in Shakori Hills, NC begins at 6pm EDT tonight, and I’ll be in the crowd, cheering on those who midwifed it, among them Mike King and Gareth Higgins.  In Mike’s post yesterday, he wrote, “Seven years in the making,” and he’s right.

In 2005, the group who had inaugurated and planned the Emergent/YS Conventions in 2003, 2004, and 2005 decided to bring that gathering to an end.  It had run in connection with the National Pastors Convention. Here’s the backstory: at the 2005 Emergent/YS Convention in Nashville, Doug Pagitt and I had breakfast with Lyn Cryderman of Zondervan.  He told us that Zondervan wasn’t interested in publishing the Emergent/YS line of books anymore.  Our response was basically this: if you don’t want to publish our books, why do you want to produce our event? (Zondervan owned the National Pastors Convention — they have since shut it down and sold the rights to YouthWorks.)

The following fall, a posse of us gathered in New Mexico at Glorieta Conference Center; this was an annual event, organic in nature, and meant to counterbalance the more corporate feel of the convention.  Around that time, Doug Pagitt convened a meeting that would begin what comes to fruition today:

With the end of the Emergent/YS Convention, Doug thought the time was ripe for another big gathering.  He gathered a group of leaders in San Francisco for a meeting about a possible event.  I wasn’t there, but there are conflicting reports about why that meeting didn’t result in more specific plans.  I do remember picking Doug up at the Minneapolis airport and we had one of the two fights that we’ve ever had.

Doug’s vision was an urban festival, somewhat along the lines of a state fair, a renaissance festival, or the Olympics: In a major metro area (Doug wanted it to be in NYC, which is what we fought about), there would be all sorts of varied experiences offered by many different groups and ministries.  There would be opening and closing ceremonies, but otherwise it would be a massive free-for-all.  Kind of a Fringe Festival of Christianity.

While that vision didn’t get off the ground, others picked up the baton — notably, Robin Fillmore, then working at Sojourners.  I was involved in this leg of the journey, beginning with a conference call between me (then national coordinator of Emergent Village), Richard Rohr, Joy Wallis, and Robin.

By mid-2007, Sojourners had invested some money in a feasibility study and a consultant for what then had the working title, North American Greenbelt.  There were monthly conference calls and a planning retreat that summer — looking back, I think about three of the twelve people on that retreat will be at WGF.

The consultant and I had a tense relationship and my participation diminished over time.  But in early 2008, Robin visited Minneapolis as a potential host site for the festival.  Before touring the Minnesota State Fair grounds with Doug and me, she met us at Solomon’s Porch, and it was there she saw the large, paper-mache Canada Goose hanging from our ceiling.  When Doug explained that a wild goose is the Celtic version of the Holy Spirit dove, she renamed the festival on the spot.

From mid-2008, I was less involved.  Mike King picked up the ball when Robin left Sojourners.  Joy Wallis stayed involved the whole time, as did Karla Yaconelli.  Others have been more and less involved over time, like me.  I circled back into involvement when Gareth Higgins, one of my dearest friends, was named the festival director — I’ve been volunteering for him on the speaker hospitality team.

Many people will be recognized today through Sunday, as they have brought the Festival to life.  But I hope that some will remember that the seed was planted by Doug many years ago and nurtured by Robin as well.

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  • Excellent! We need to remember our histories, as strange as they may be. I remember being really excited to hear of a ‘north american greenbelt’ in the making and am happy to see it birthed. Wish I was able to be there to experience the goodness. If you don’t mind, if you run across Kevin Alton there (leading the youth community area) give him a hard time. &:~)

  • I remember very well that retreat in 07. I was talking with Bowie on how intense it was, and how crazy unreal it felt to reflect back on it while drinking in the beer tent.
    Lots have happened since then.
    It was good to see the festival finally happened with so much goodness and beauty as it did.
    Peace and congrats on all the new turns your journey is taken.