The smoky smell of Texas meat and the taste of tacos remain in my mind and fresh on my person as I write a recap of the Progressive Youth Ministry Conference 2016 deep in the heart….of Texas.
This is the third PYM conference in which the organizer, the JoPa Group http://thejopagroup.com is attempting to create a unique, “one-of-a-kind” conference for progressively minded youth workers. It is always difficult to define “progressive” because it is not necessarily a synonym for left-wing liberal (as some naively believe). By definition the word alludes towards a hopeful progress or maturation of something that perhaps was working at the time, is now broken, or simply in need of new energy. I’ll attempt to write more about that at a later time and why I have chosen on two occasions to attend this conference…and am glad I did.
Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt and John West once again teamed up to offer an eclectic array of seminars, speakers and experiences. Although the overriding theme is youth ministry, this year’s specific focus Faith in an Age of Reason. Special sessions included Paul Wallace on “Finding God in the Evolving Universe” and Catherine Keller, “God, Mystery and Science”. These were riveting and thought-provoking as both presenters, and the majority of attendees, see the correlation rather than confrontation of faith and science. This can, and should, open the religiously minded up to new scientific discoveries that actually expand our view of the majesty of God’s presence in the cosmos and our lives.
Progressives are learning and loving to not be afraid of science and do not believe that one must check their intellect at the door before entering a church or following Christ. Scientific discoveries such as the Higgs boson”God particle”, quantum entanglement, and fifth-dimensional black holes are not seen as inhibitors of faith, but rather as enhancers of faith and the cosmic grandeur of God and inter-connectivty of everything. This opens the door of wonder and awe to the possibilities of time-space travel and extraterrestrial life without fear of crumbling faith.
This year’s conference was hosted at the Cathedral of Hope, https://www.cathedralofhope.com/ a congregation of the U.C.C known regionally as a radical beacon of civil rights, justice and inclusivity. I also have another blog post drafted about this particular congregation in light of my personal experience there over five days. Of course, this choice of host church is both symbolic and practical, thus granting freedom for the conference organizers to include members of the LGBT community as speakers and presenters. This is no longer an issue for progressive churches and denominations but what has become an issue is the apparent devaluing of Jesus’s life, ministry, death and resurrection.
The issue at stake for many of the conference presenters and attendees?
How to get Jesus back into our churches and central in our lives. The overall view is that many progressives, the pendulum has swung too far to the point where even talking about one’s experience of God, singing worship songs about Jesus, and inviting the Holy Spirit’s work is see as negative and almost embarrassing.
I was fortunate to arrive on Wednesday to attend “The Pulse” contemporary worship service and have not experienced a more Spirit-infused worship service in quite a while. It reminded me of many evangelical/charismatic services I have attended in the past…except it was not. The same Spirit was clearly present and active as the congregation (mostly LGBT persons) declared their desire to passionately follow Christ and make Jesus the center of their lives. The Senior Pastor time and time again throughout the conference stated that they are a church that is unapologetic about their passionate pursuit of Jesus.
The host church provided exceptional hospitality and an overwhelmingly warm welcome from the first day to the last, for that I am grateful and inspired.
The conference itself provided an array of plenary sessions, workshops, general sessions and alternative gatherings such as a live podcast of Homebrewed Christianity with Tripp Fuller homebrewedchristianity.com and a live concert at the Union Coffee House https://uniondallas.net/ with Grammy-Award winner Phil Madeira http://philmadeira.net/
These were fun, lively, entertaining and thought-provoking.
The seminars I personally attended I hope to write about as well, but it seemed apparent to me that most attendees were interested in the practical implications/applications of theology and student ministry. Most people who attended have youth groups to organize, bible studies to lead and students to counsel. They were looking for ideas and insights and hoping they could return to their churches with heads and hearts inspired to continue their call…and with suitcases uncluttered from PYM “swag”.
The conference provided a good balance of “heady” material with “heart”, as seminar leaders hoped to encourage and equip us for our everyday calling.
Oh yeah…and Rob Bell spoke as well 🙂