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Faith: The Wild Goose Festival
Progressive Christianity meets co-creation, storytelling, radical hospitality, real relationships, nonviolence and continual evolution in rural Iredell County, N.C.
Below is the first of two parts on the Wild Goose Festival by Jennifer C. Martin, a Richmond, Virginia-based writer and self-proclaimed “Dirtbag Christian.”
In 2011, over 1,500 people attended the first Wild Goose Festival at Shakori Hills Farm in Silk Hope, N.C. It was inspired by the Greenbelt Festival in England, which celebrates its 50th anniversary at the intersection of spirituality and activism this year.
Founded by Gareth Higgins, a writer from Belfast, the first Wild Goose featured speakers like Brian McLaren, T-Bone Burnett, Richard Rohr, Phyllis Tickle, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Diana Butler Bass, Jay Bakker, Shane Claiborne and more. There were also musical performances from Jennifer Knapp, Derek Webb, Over The Rhine, David Wilcox, Michelle Shocked and The Redding Brothers.
Since then, the festival has been held every year in North Carolina. The venue has changed from Silk Hope to Hot Springs to Union Grove in Iredell County, where it took place last month from July 13-16 at Van Hoy Farms and Campground, right off of I-77.
The Wild Goose Festival, in case you haven’t heard of it, is an annual gathering that celebrates the profound interconnectedness of humanity, art, and inclusive values. You could say it’s a progressive Christian festival based on most of the speakers and musicians. Still, plenty of attendees have differing (or no) spiritual beliefs, but share these common values: co-creation, storytelling, radical hospitality, real relationships, nonviolence and continual evolution.
The “wild goose” reference may partially come from Wendell Berry’s “Wild Geese” poem (a banner of this poem greeted you as you entered the festival) and refers to the Holy Spirit being more like a wild goose. The imagery is present in many of the artistic creations, performances and movements throughout the week.
For something important to so many spiritual and/or progressive people worldwide (supposedly, a woman who lives in Tokyo flies out each year for the event), it is surprisingly not well-known in North Carolina, despite the fact that so many speakers, musicians, artists and creators come from there. With barbecue, local food trucks, Cheerwine slushies and regionally made beers on tap as people learn and laugh on the near-wild Union Grove property, however, one can’t help but feel how strongly N.C. is represented with its Southern landscape and diverse musical acts from people like Randi Driscoll, the Rustic Riders, Chidube the Griot, ValLimar and Frank Jansen, Neal Stephens, Greg Walton, hot glue & the gun and more.
For the 2023 venue, the second to take place at the Van Hoy Farms and Campground, the action began on Thursday night with opening ceremonies that involved musical performances. It was sort of like a praise and worship session with an all-inclusive blessing ceremony – plus beer, as part of their famous Beer and Hymns sessions which are held nightly.
Throughout the rest of the week, multiple sessions occurred simultaneously throughout the expansive campground. The hardest part was picking which one to attend with so many in-demand thought leaders like Pete Enns, Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Matthew Paul Turner, Doug Pagitt, John Pavlovitz and Traci Blackmon.
The festival's last day is on Sunday, when everyone gathers for one last big event with top speakers and musical artists. Once again, it feels very much like a church service, with prayer sessions and meditation available… but only if you want.
Festival-goers can bring their tent or RV to camp onsite or choose one of the pre-made glamping options, and those who aren’t rugged outdoor adventurers can stay in hotels or Airbnb lodging nearby, most of them being in Statesville, about 20 minutes away.
It feels like a blend of SXSW and Burning Man if you happen to add a healthy dose of Jesus Christ to the mix. And it is all-inclusive, focusing on racial justice, LGBTQ inclusion, climate justice, disability inclusion, economic justice and more. There are also representatives from the majority of the more liberal denominations like the Episcopal church, the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ and even progressive outliers of Catholics and evangelicals who find balance in their faith and their various identities.
The Wild Goose Festival, with its transformative celebration of unity, social justice and inspiration, continues to leave an indelible mark on all who experience it. People often depart with a renewed commitment to empathy, creativity and positive change in their lives and the world at large – which is why the festival has so many repeat attendees and speakers.
The festival has been headed by Jeff Clark since 2016, who runs it with the help of people like Timothy Kerr, Rick Meredith, Joy Wallis (wife of the founder of Sojourners magazine, Jim Wallis) and thousands of other workers and volunteers to keep everything running smoothly.
The faith-inspired event takes place each year in July, with applications for co-creators, volunteers and vendors beginning in January of each year. For more information about the Wild Goose Festival, visit https://wildgoosefestival.org/
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