Living Liberation: A Q&A with Wild Goose Producer Rosa Lee Harden

Living Liberation: A Q&A with Wild Goose Producer Rosa Lee Harden May 20, 2014

“If you are a follower of Jesus who listens to the news and wonders if there’s anyone else out there like you; if you want to follow Jesus in loving your neighbor (and everybody!) and want to do that in all of your life and you’re lonely, come to the Wild Goose Festival. This is where we gather.” — Rosa Lee Harden, Producer, Wild Goose Festival

Summer is just around the corner, and that means it’s almost time for another wild and wonderful Wild Goose Festival! This will be my fourth festival and despite the unbearably hot weather in a climate that makes every dang minute a bad hair day, I continue to flap my wings to the Goose. This year I’m taking along some friends from my UCC church here in Denver to camp out along the gorgeous French Broad River in Hot Springs, North Carolina, and take in awesome and inspiring talks, incredible live music, laugh with old friends and make lots of new ones, and spend four days and nights in holy-spirited community with other progressive Christians from around the country.

One new thing about the festival this year is that there’s a spirited businesswoman at the helm, and she has energy and enthusiasm in spades. Last week, I caught up with Rosa Lee Harden by phone to ask her about this year’s event and what to expect. Harden is an Episcopal priest at the Cathedral of All Souls in Asheville, NC, and also produces the Social Capital Markets events that bring entrepreneurs and investors from around the world to find ways to focus on creating positive social change for those in poverty and for the planet.

Hey Rosa Lee!  If you could summarize the Wild Goose Festival in one sentence, what would it be?

That changes every week!  Fundamentally, it’s a festival where Christians who want to follow Jesus, and have a progressive attitude, can gather. We come together to build a community and take strengths from each other.

This is your first year as the festival producer … how’s it going so far? What’s a day in the life of Rosa Lee Harden look like?

It’s going well, but you’re asking me at the wrong time. We are six weeks out right now and this is the hardest week!  We’re in that valley between all these people have said they’re coming … and now we have to produce it!

I produce two big festivals – the SoCap event in San Francisco and this one, so I switch hats a lot. The biggest thing I’m doing is building a team. A lot of folks are passionate in their love for this festival. We produce the festival using a huge number of volunteers – we have zero full-time employees — so it’s a lot of volunteer management.  And I couldn’t do it without my volunteer coordinator, Tamara Feightner.

Tell us about the history of the festival — how it’s evolved over the past several years and what we can expect this year.

Even though the festival is only four years old, it has a long history with a lot of people over the last decade who have dreamed about having an event similar to Greenbelt (the UK festival) in the U.S.  In 2011, it finally all came together for an inaugural event in North Carolina with Gareth Higgins as founding director. This will be the fourth festival in a row in North Carolina – plus one in Portland, Oregon. The UK and US have very little in common around geography and religious background and framework, so we’re experimenting with what it looks like to have a sustainable festival in this country. We’re expecting more than 2,000 people at this event, and managing growth while you’re experimenting is always fun! But we feel like we’re doing something right, because people keep showing up and telling us how important it is.

A big thing that will be different this year is that we took on a huge challenge to try to address something we’re all haunted by, and that’s Martin Luther King Jr.’s words that “11am on Sunday is the most segregated hour in America.” We have set a bold task before us and brought together a very diverse planning team to talk about anti-oppression and justice — issues those of us who deeply follow Jesus are interested in. Why are our prisons full of black men? Why is the death penalty still so supported? Why can’t we live liberation … the liberation that Jesus gives? So we took that challenge on to talk about what liberation means – in our churches, in our friendships, in our psyches, in our spiritual lives, etc.  The theme of this year’s festival is Living Liberation.

We have some amazing people speaking this year on how to live liberation when you’ve been hurt by the church. What are some of these places we can improve for all of God’s children, not just some of them? You’re going to hear a lot of new voices this year, and you’re going to be amazed.

For those of us who have been to the festival before, what might surprise us about this year’s gathering? 

In addition to new voices, the Carnival de Resistance — produced by Jay Beck and Tevin East — is bringing together stilt walkers, fire dancers and theologians all together under one roof!  It’s going to be the coolest thing ever!  People keep asking us why we don’t have more headliners…. the Carnival is the headliner … they’re just amazing.

And for those who have not been, why should they come to the Festival this year?

If you are a follower of Jesus who watches TV and listens to the news and wonders if there’s anyone else out there like you; if you want to follow Jesus in loving your neighbor – and everybody! – and want to do that in all of your life and you’re lonely, come to the Wild Goose Festival. This is where we gather.

What’s the average festival-goer like? Who will feel welcome?

We’re hoping that everyone will feel welcome. We have a really broad age diversity … we have 93 children under 10 already signed up! And we are planning programming for every child that comes.  There will be people like me who grew up in the 60s who are Jesus freaks and wear birkenstocks and have grey hair. You’ll see more tattoos than you can imagine!  Anna Golladay from Faith Marks from Chattanooga will be there with a tent full of art about tattoos and faith. Also, we have quite a few LGBTQ speakers this year.

Progressive Christianity has been working to claim its voice in the mainstream culture and media for years now, with some specific momentum in the past five years or so.  How is the Wild Goose Festival a part of this evolution in Christianity, and especially, a new expression of Christianity?  

I wouldn’t say we’re a new expression of Christianity; I would say we’re a very old expression of Christianity — like following Jesus. The change is that the media has come to associate being a Christian with a particular kind of politics, which in my opinion couldn’t be further from being Christian. We’ll have at least three conversations at the festival this year about how can we do a better job expressing our faith in a way that the broader population can hear it. We’re going to have a media training workshop to learn how to talk about our faith in public in a way that the mainstream press can recognize. And we’re going to have a panel of people who are working on trying to raise the profile of progressive Christians in the media, moderated by Doug Pagitt of the CANA Initiative.

Are there plans for a Wild Goose West in the works?  And where do you see the future of the this festival headed?

The plans aren’t final, but we are tyring to get to the West Coast before the end of the year.

My hope for the future of the Wild Goose is that we would grow the infrastructure to be able to take the festival on the road. Maybe two to three smaller festivals a year, on the East Coast and West Coast. But it’s hard to produce the festival in a new place every year with volunteers and part-time people. We really need folks to support us; it’s a labor of love right now … we’re doing as much as we can with the resources we have. Buy a ticket, join our Fellowship of the Wings and give us $5 or $50 a month to help build the infrastructure to build a sustainable model that can get us all over the country.

Any last words, Rosa Lee?

Thanks for reading all the way to end!  Here’s a special ticket discount for those of you still here. Go to the Wild Goose Festival site, and enter PATHEOS for your 30% discount on a festival pass. See you in North Carolina!


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