Planning a conference is a lot like baking bread.
I’ve never actually made bread, but I’ve been watching Great British Baking Show, so I think that counts.
You start with the slow build up of planning months in advance. The hurry-up-and-wait period when your dough is proving and nothing feels too urgent yet. The week prior is a little hectic, like deciding when to take your dough out of the proving drawer. Then comes the week of the event when you knead out the minor details and get everything set up for the big day. Finally, it’s go-time. You throw it all in the oven and hope for the best. If you’ve adequately prepared, everything should bake evenly, but sometimes there are surprises. As long as you’ve used the right ingredients—i.e. brought in the right speakers, structured a reasonable schedule—your bread should, if nothing else, end up tasting fine.
At least, this is my experience as the intern for Missional Voices.
I’ll spare you the details of the months leading up to our Gathering, as we like to call it, but I want to give you a behind-the-scenes look at how it all went down.
Let me start by saying I had no reference point for this Gathering, being that I just jumped in as the Missional Voices intern last year. But after hearing from the rest of the team and paying attention to the general vibe of things on our side, I definitely believe this Gathering went more smoothly than some of those in the past. I’d like to attribute a lot of that success to our fantastic hosts at Christ Church Cathedral on Monument Circle in Indianapolis, IN. Special shout-out to Dean Stephen Carlsen and Urban Missioner Lee Curtis for making us feel right at home and then some. Pretty much everything we needed to make our expectations a reality was on-site and ready to go when we arrived. I cannot thank them enough.
The Gathering kicked off with Eucharist followed by the keynote address from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry himself. This was the fourth time I’d seen him over the course of my internship, so I feel like we’re pretty good friends at this point. He set the tone for the remainder of the day, which consisted of a keynote panel conversation and a response from Andrew Waldo, the bishop of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina, all revolving around the theme of racial reconciliation. The rest of the week was spent listening to stories about hearing God’s call and seeing God in action in a variety of contexts, whether it be through community organizing or planting a church or even throwing a party (thanks, DeAmon Harges, aka “The Roving Listener”).
I was a busy bee throughout the week occupying my time with taking photos and managing our Instagram, but I was still able to hear most of the talks. I’m especially grateful I was present for both Bishop Waldo’s keynote response and Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows’ (Diocese of Indianapolis) sermon at the closing Eucharist. These two events bookended our Gathering but, when taken together, provided what I believe was the most powerful and compelling connection of the whole week. In short, both of these bishops—Waldo, a white man, Baskerville-Burrows, a black woman—had been on opposite ends of the racial divide and shared stories of a pivotal moment that happened to them at the age of 12: Waldo had called a black classmate the n-word, Baskerville-Burrows had been spit on by a white man. Waldo’s keynote response by itself was a thoughtful and heart-wrenching retelling of a time when he, as a young boy who himself was bullied, knew the wrong he had done, the pain he had caused to another human being, and then went on to work through that on a journey of reconciliation, which cause him to write a letter to the girl he hurt. But when Baskerville-Burrows shared two days later how at that same age she had been on the receiving end of discrimination and hate, I was moved to tears. How incredible that she was there in the same place hearing his story, knowing how it feels to be that little girl.
This instance was no coincidence but rather the work of the Spirit that calls us to be vulnerable so that our human connections might be deepened and strengthened. Vulnerability in storytelling is a way in which we can participate in God’s work in the world. To be open and reconciled to one another and with God, that is God’s mission for us. How we choose to engage is dependent upon our spiritual gifts and our willingness to trust that God is good and continues to act in our world through us and with us.
-Katelyn, Missional Voices, 2017-18