The Wild Goose Festival held its first-ever regional event on Saturday — and not in one of the major urban centers its leaders originally envisioned.
Cities like Atlanta, Chicago and Nashville were initially considered to host the one-day events. But a passionate and motivated group in Jacksonville, Fla., hosted the inaugural event on Saturday.
“They just got to work faster than anybody else,” said Vanna Fox, a Baptist minister and senior vice president of the North Carolina-based Wild Goose Festival.
The inspiration and energy of the The Well at Springfield was embraced because it demonstrated the Wild Goose approach of letting the spirit guide the process, Fox said.
“We are just letting it unfold naturally,” she said of the roll out of regional events.
The annual four-day Wild Good Festival has evolved in similar fashion.
The camp-out held each year near Asheville, N.C., began in 2011 with more than 1,300 attendees drawn to the music and speakers on progressive theological and social-justice issues.
The festival continues to expand as an experiential community grounded in “faith-inspired social justice” that is expressed through “art, music, story, theater and spectacle.” More than 3,500 attended in 2016, Fox said.
The 2017 event runs July 13-16 and features speaker author and theologian Jim Wallis, scholar Diana Butler-Bass and William Paul Young, author of The Shack. Nadia Bolz-Weber will deliver the opening sermon, Fox said. William Barber, leader of North Carolina’s Moral Mondays movement, also will speak.
Those attending will be from all over the theological map. Registrants so far range from Baptists and Episcopalians to Pentecostals, Mennonites and the AME Church. Other faiths represented include Buddhists, Hindus and agnostics and atheists.
Intersecting people, ideas
Fox said regional events like the one held in Florida over the weekend are not meant necessarily to replicate the annual summer festival in Hot Springs, N.C. However, they are to match Wild Goose values of openness, acceptance and diversity.
But organizers in Jacksonville hustled to make their Saturday event as much like the parent gathering that inspired them.
Their goal was to foster a community of Christians and other faiths — or none — interested in the rights of marginalized people, the poor and those who feel alone as progressive Christians.
“We want to intersect people here in town who maybe have a passion for LGBTQ rights or for justice or homeless issues,” said Tim Kerr, one of the lead organizers of “Intersections: A Day of Spirit, Justice, Music, and Art.”
Like others behind the event, Kerr attends The Well at Springfield, a Cooperative Baptist church plant known for its outreach efforts in the urban area where it worships and serves.
Kerr and his wife, Jan, have attended the Wild Goose since its first year. He said the annual summer experience has shaped him spiritually and sharpened his focus on social justice issues.
Seeing how open the festival was to different religious, ethnic and gender identities inspired his and others’ interest in bringing Wild Goose to Jacksonville.
“The inclusion and the grace was a big thing,” Kerr said. “I grew up Southern Baptist — fundamentalist. The ability to believe in science and still have faith was a breath of fresh air.”
The fellowship that exists at Wild Goose, with most participants camping at the event, also has kept him coming back, Kerr said.
“You can be part of a group of folks that have fun and still have a deep, deep abiding faith.”
The constant interaction of art, music and justice at Wild Goose were different than anything Susan Rogers, pastor at The Well, said she had experienced before.
A desire to share that experience with the greater Jacksonville community has influenced the effort to bring Wild Goose to the northeast Florida city, she said.
That event followed the Wild Goose lead with featured speakers, musicians and activists. There was a tent dedicated to justice issues, another for spirituality and a third for art.
Musicians performed at a main stage and nonprofit groups staffed tables. There also was a beer garden and meditation area.
“This is a collection of people who are taking risks, stepping outside the norm to offer creative and innovative ministries,” Rogers said.