Wild Goose takes flight in Hot Springs

By Michael Rich | Aug 15, 2013
Photo by: Michael Rich Folk Psalm

The wild goose is a Celtic metaphor for the “unpredictable spirit of God” according to the official program.  The festival in Hot Springs August 8-11, along with the weather, was as unpredictable as it was spiritual.  Billed as “four days of music, justice spirituality and art”, over 200 participants experienced dozens of speakers, musicians, authors, artists as well as preaching, teaching and worship.

It was an intergenerational gathering of persons from many places across the globe, though the majority were from east of the Mississippi.  This was the fourth gathering since 2010, and the first in Western North Carolina.  Organizers looked for a venue that had camping for up to 2000 people, access to a town with some amenities, and a nearby city that has an airport, hotels, and a youthful vibe.  Hot Springs Resort and Spa became the first choice with its excellent offerings and its proximity to Asheville.

The past two summers, this event was held at Shakori Hills near Pittsboro, NC and drew between 1200-1500 each year.  Gareth Higgins, Festival Director, remarked on the success of the 2013 event. “I see three things standing out this year. One, the incredible artistry in the musicians and theater.  Two, the uncensored conversations held in an unthreatening atmosphere. And, three, the weather did not matter as much as we thought it would.  After everybody gets wet, nobody cares what they look like, and the conversations get deeper and more authentic.”

In an interview with a documentary crew, Higgins emphasized that this conference was built around narratives of hope in the midst of a changing and confusing world.  “You can see three themes that are emphasized each day: reducing violence, human diversity, and ecological consciousness.  Each day is framed by conversations with elders in the community, and concludes with vibrant and powerful music.”

Each morning began with an Elders Session, featuring Dr. Phyllis Tickle, a writer, historian, and considered “the grand dame of the Emergent Church Movement”; and, Vincent Harding, an African American historian and scholar, who was instrumental in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s.  Each session was moderated by Krista Tippett, who is known for her NPR radio show, “On Being”, a weekly discussion of faith, ethics and meaning.  These sessions will be featured in future programs.

The weekend was filled with well known speakers, like best selling author Phillip Yancey, who has more that 15 million books in print and translated into 35 languages.  Brian McLaren, a speaker, activist, best-selling author and public theologian had major time slots on Saturday and Sunday. And Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran pastor in Denver, a leading voice in the emerging church movement, who has become well known for her articles in The Christian Century and is a regular preacher at the Festival of Homiletics, an annual, international conference on preaching had a major presentation on FRiday.

The Wild Goose Festival, though it had a national scope, there was also local flavor and presenters.  “Folk Psalm,” a collection of musicians from across the state, with mountain roots, led singing of the Psalms with a serious bluegrass flavor (the only bluegrass band to ever sing at Duke Chapel in Durham).

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, from King, North Carolina shared stories from his rural roots, and his experience of living in a hospitality house in inner city Durham, NC.

Fred Bahnson, a farmer and theologian from Brevard, led daily discussions on Food and Faith and promoted his new book that was just published, Soil and Sacrament.

The most local presentation was a Saturday afternoon experience led by Brian Combs, the founding pastor of the Haywood Street Congregation in downtown Asheville.  Combs served Faith and Francis Cove United Methodist Churches in Haywood County prior to his move to Asheville.

His presentation was an example of what someone might experience at Haywood Street most Wednesdays, including a dialogue sermon, holy communion and a bold symbol of faith and service.  Assisting with the experience was the Blue Ridge District superintendent, John Boggs, who pastored Long’s Chapel UMC, Lake Junaluska, in the 1990’s.

Melissa Coper, a young, United Methodist minister from Florida, serving in camping ministries, may have summed up the festival best when she remarked, “The Wild Goose Festival is a great group of people with big hearts and new ideas. And for me, it is like returning to what got me started in ministry in the first place.”