Wild Goose in Review

From June 23-26, I was happily camping out in Pittsboro, NC with 1000 other people chasing after the Wild Goose (a Celtic metaphor for the Holy Spirit). There are many things to celebrate in such a gathering, not least of which was a genuine feeling from the organizers that they worked very hard to make it a place for interaction and conversation with the presenters and performers, not simply a series of lectures. Many of the speakers not only gave solo presentations but participated in a dialogue or panel. I’ll do my best to summarize my experience using the HLH format: “High,” “Low,” and “HUH?”


*Welcoming: I am grateful for the organizers who tried hard to make it a place where anyone felt welcome. I’m not saying this happened perfectly, but I could feel just how much effort went in to trying to make it a reality. I’m glad that there were both “conservative” and “liberal” speakers who were able to come under the common desire and interest in justice, spirituality, and the arts. I’m not interested in a solely (self-labeled)liberal Christian gathering and I’m not interested in a solely (self-labeled) conservative Christian gathering, and while some people might have said Wild Goose was liberal, you didn’t have to hang around too long to realize that it was not a homogeneous group of speakers or attendees. It will be difficult to get non-white people to camp out for 4 days; that’s just a reality. While I hope for more black and Latino folk to be there next year, I know that’s going to be an ongoing challenge.

*Age Diversity: I was really pleased with the diverse ages present at the festival. I love PAPA Fest when it happens, but it appeals mostly to people ages 30 and below, partly because it’s a bit rougher going in terms of facilities (camping on a farm instead of the woods), and amenities (have to cook all your food, can’t buy “comfort” food). I’m really glad that not just the presenters, but many of the participants were much older, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, and beyond. It helped me to enjoy the dialogue and gain some wisdom.

*The location was great: convenient from D.C., but also had plenty of trees for camping in the shade. It was possible to stay out of direct sunlight for almost every stage. That’s a big plus for drawing in more reluctant campers.

*John Dear: Wow. Far and away the most compelling and enjoyable presentation of the weekend for me. I’m familiar with his work and have met him once in New Mexico but had never heard him give a talk. It was like being with Jean Vanier; clearly John Dear was not just talking about non-violence but has done a lot of the personal inner work of nonviolence. He simply communicated both the difficulty and the necessity of workers for true peace. I may write a further post simply about this talk from the notes I took.

*Reconnecting: Wild Goose was a great chance to re-connect and catch up with friends like Richard Rohr, Brian McLaren, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Shane Claiborne, Dee Dee Risher, some of whom, especially Richard and Jonathan, have been wonderful mentors of mine. There were many more friends who it was so nice to just sit with.

*Music: Most of the music was fantastic, with the Psalters leading the way and David Bazan and Denison Witmer close behind. The final night I spent listening to dear friends singing their own songs at our campsite.

Other highs include Soong Chan Rah’s talk on racial dynamics in the church, morning prayer each day with new friends using Common Prayer, and tons of time outdoors in conversation.


*Attendee Participation Opportunities: I’m not sure exactly if I misunderstood a blog post somewhere, but I was under the impression that there would be some sort of open-mic style session for attendees to perform or share in some way.  I was surprised and disappointed to find that with all the different stages and time slots, not a single hour was dedicated to that. I would have loved both to perform and to meet and hear other performers, to collaborate. I’m sure there were tons of us there, and a venue for the not-so-famous should have happened. That would have helped the festival feel more grass roots and given some of us a way to share.

*Hidden Costs, Logistics: I met a lot of people who didn’t come to Wild Goose because of the cost. There were certainly ways to lower the cost, like volunteering, but after attending, I discovered that there were quite a few hidden costs that the organizers should have communicated better. For one, while the ticket price was around $120 (if you bought if a month or so early), there was also a “tent camping” fee, not built in to the cost of the ticket. The tent fee was also not originally listed on the EventBrite page, and there were no instructions given about it. It turned out only each tent needed to purchase the camping permit, but I’m sure there were people who thought they each had to have one (if they bought online). Also, parking was $10 for the weekend, another cost not mentioned until you arrived. The cost of the programs was on the website, but it bothered me that wasn’t included in the price of the ticket. All in all, if you were coming alone or didn’t know if you’d have others to share a tent/car with, instead of paying $120 for a ticket, the true cost was about $145, which is a significant difference. Those costs should be explicit in the future or built in to the ticket price.

*Scheduling issues: Three schedule issues I noticed: 1) Some of the (few) people of color who spoke were at odd time slots, like 10 pm, and in bad locations (the Geodesic dome was the worst) and not featured on the main stage. The main stage, ironically, was the most uncomfortable for watching because it was in direct sunlight, but it was also the most accessible and the most visible. Important conversations about race should have been on this stage, led by people of color. 2) Some gaps in the schedule would have been nice, around lunch and dinner time, to allow people to relax, nap, find friends without feeling like they’re missing something. 3) All amplified music/noise should have been turned off by midnight. On Saturday night, there was loud music playing until 1:30 in the morning, making it difficult for people with children to sleep, as well as the sorts of more subdued conversations that happen at that hour. It was really frustrating to have to compete with a loud band after midnight every single night.


Michelle Shocked: Some people raved about her, but I thought she was just so weird and mean. She came on stage with a prima donna attitude about not having a back up band, yelled at the sound guys while in song, and then took up this “You should know who I am” attitude. My friends and I left after not even 2 songs.

Sound issues: I know doing sound can be a tough job, but it was really strange each night how much difficulty the sound guys had getting things to work out. I felt bad for them–I wonder if there’s anything that could have been done to make that easier on them and the musicians.


In another post, I may make some comments in regards to some of the critiques that some folks have made about the festival, but these were my more “surface” level reactions to the festival. I think WGF’s strength lies in its potential to have people from a wide spectrum of beliefs and races. But if the organizers are not careful, the festival will become a “liberal” Christian gathering, by which I mean a gathering where there is no attempt at bridging the great divides in our church, a self-congratulatory gathering that is satisfied with polarization and rejection of more “conservative” believers. There is clearly a long way to go for WGF to meet its potential, but this year was a good start on that road, I believe.

Here are the others blogging about this currently:


  1. Ethan Bodnaruk · July 22, 2011

    Hi Brian! Sounds interesting! A couple of questions: Did you see, notice, or hear anything about the interfaith component at Wild Goose? See for example:


    That’s really cool you got to catch up with Richard Rohr. How much time did you get to spend with him, out of curiosity? 🙂

  2. brianjgorman · July 22, 2011

    One (maybe the only?) Rabbi led a prayer of blessing during the opening ceremony, which I was there for. I don’t know how well attended the interfaith discussions were, but I’d say it wasn’t exactly the most prominent theme discussed overall. I didn’t hear much, negative or positive, about that particular dimension.

    I had a little bit of time to just sit and chat with him and Steven, the head of the men’s work. I’m actually going to do the Men’s Rite of Passage this October with Richard leading, so that should be great.

    Hope you’re well, Ethan! What are you up to these days?

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