You’d think one Wild Goose Festival is enough, what with the drag Gospel performances and the “neo-pagan” cosmic mass. But unfortunately, there is a new progressive, “spiritually inclusive” festival that will meet March 29-31 in Austin, Texas.
The New Story Festival plans to be an annual gathering meant to “forge new community and share their unique gifts with one another—creating a better story for better lives and a better world,” according to the event website.
This year’s festival is gathering on the campus of Huston-Tillotson University, a private college affiliated with the United Methodist Church and United Church of Christ.
New Story’s website also notes many event organizers “are energized by the progressive Christian tradition, which recognizes the transcending presence of love everywhere.” Among the event organizers includes a Baylor graduate, Ph.D. Fuller Theological Seminary student, a United Methodist pastor, a Justice Doula, a Presbyterian minister, and a Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary grad who now works as a Human Rights Campaign street canvasser and prefers they/them self-identifying pronouns.
But lest you think this is a distinctly progressive Christian gathering where organizers hope to share the Gospel and see lives transformed, the website explains:
[W]e seek to be spiritually inclusive, inviting anyone who shares these values, from any religious tradition (or none at all), to join in this community co-creating a better world. We mean it: whatever your tradition, we want you to be welcome here. This will not be an exclusively “Christian” or “religious” space. Rather it will be an open space where anyone is free to offer whatever gifts they have to share.
Two notable New Story headliners are Nadia Bolz-Weber and Brian McLaren. Recently Bolz-Weber has been busy melting purity rings into a golden vagina sculpture and promoting her new book Shameless: A Sexual Reformation. McLaren was a prominent guru within the Emergent Church movement and the author of A New Kind of Christianity.
The New Story Festival appears to be loosely partnered with the Wild Goose Festival, an annual progressive Christian gathering in Hot Springs, North Carolina. The New Story’s Creative Director Garreth Higgins is a co-founder of the Wild Goose Festival. It was through the Wild Goose listserv that I first learned of New Story Festival, and many of the photographs used on the event website were taken at the Hot Springs gathering.
New Story sessions offered at this year’s kick-off gathering are even reminiscent of Wild Goose sessions. Among the more intriguing New Story session titles are “Christian Responses to Confederate Statues,” “EcoTheism,” and “Reclaiming Your Faith: Taking Jesus Back from the Non-Affirming Church.” (I’m almost positive that I attended three sessions covering the same topics and with similar titles at Wild Goose Festival 2018.)
Few details are offered for why another Wild Goose-like event is in the works or even necessary. But perhaps one hint is the vague description, reading, “Believing that ‘the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better,’ the New Story Festival seeks to lead us into a better story.”
It could be that the New Story’s seeming birth out of the Wild Goose Festival was triggered by the controversy surrounding North Carolina as an event location. The IRD’s Jeff Walton reported that some activists felt the state’s 2016 “bathroom bill,” presence of Confederate flags, and spotty cell phone reception in the rural area left Wild Goose participants feeling unwelcome and vulnerable.
Wild Goose Festival is set to resume this July in Hot Springs, North Carolina.
Perhaps New Story Festival’s location in Austin, a progressive oasis, offers a more comfortable, urban environment for social justice activists. One might also hope New Story can attract more than the typical older, white Mainline Protestant crowd found at Wild Goose Festival each year.
I’m skeptical. Besides the muddy campground and sweltering July heat, the New Story Festival sounds like the same tired old, Gospel-undermining progressive Christian gathering — and story — to me.Google+