Carol Howard Merritt: Reflections on the UnConference

Cathartic.  If I had one word to describe the Unconference (#unco11) experience for me, personally, it would be cathartic. I was traveling to Stony Point, right on the edge of my father's death. In fact, I wondered several times if I should not go... my emotions were raw and I was exhausted. But I needed to be surrounded by friends, and I knew that I wouldn't have to keep it together with the people who were there. I could cry, or laugh, or lose my temper, or do all three at the same time, and it would be okay.

The Tribe.  This is the sort of gathering where the quality of the experience completely depends on who shows up (well... that and the mad logistic skills of Christopher Harris). Thanks to Ryan Kemp-Pappan and Brian Merritt's interactive promotional genius and design as well as Michael Gyura's ability to take our ideas and put them in a website, some amazing people were there. There were many people who could not be there, and I found myself aching for their presence. Even so, those who showed were unbelievable: scholars, techies, activists, pastors, writers, artists, students, entrepreneurs and musicians. We gathered from all different geographical regions, and most of us had a terrible time getting there... and getting home (there were murmurings of an Unco Travel Curse). But it was worth it to be around such incredible energy.

Clearly, it's going to be a special person who decides to go to an open-space gathering, hosted by unicorns and robots. We were all creative scrappers. We didn't talk much about the hot topics of the church, no one took a litmus test, but I imagine that most of us were progressive or liberal. We were people who may not have the cushiest positions, but we oozed with imagination. We understood that it won't necessarily be our calling to serve the most prestigious church or to climb the ladder of tall-steeple leadership, but to create new ministries. It was fascinating and beautiful to watch the friendships bloom in all of it. We knew that we had this small amount of time together, and we needed to make the most of it.

The Worship.  Worship was intense. (Lara Blackwood Pickrel described the communionhere.) Meredith Kemp-Pappan led the worship team. The liturgy was not just spoken, it was yelled. We didn't sing hymns, but belted them out. There was dancing. Even among the Presbyterians. The litanies brought me to tears on several occasions. The silence was deep, even when it was sprinkled with the laughter of rowdy children. Though the preachers in the room could rival those at the Festival, we didn't have any sermons. Somehow, it just didn't seem to fit. Instead, the leaders did beautiful things with the Scriptures-hand motions (the genius of MB) or reading them in different languages.

Kid Unco.  I think that it's safe to say that for all the participants, what was happening with the Kids was as important as what was going on with the adults. Megan Dosher did an amazing job, along with Bette Lynn Ramsey, and Becky Durham.

The Garage.  Above all, the Unconference is a percolator and sustainer of ideas and mission. As Aric Clark tweeted:

What they dont tell u about #unco11 - it will be the most intensly productive time of ur existence.

If I had a metaphor for Unco, it would be a giant garage that's dedicated to the work of the church. Imagine this space where the band is writing music, next to the computer geeks who are soldering wires, next to the graffiti artist who is carefully cutting out stencils, next to the people who are crafting their own role-playing games, next to poets who are struggling with meter and rhyme to create beautiful liturgy. Many people in the garage have spent their life, working with the poor and have a burning concern for injustice. We don't really know all of what's being produced, but we just know that this is the place where you can create. And, in all of it, kids are running around and playing as well.

What will become of it? Well... we'll have to see. We have Liturgy Link and#mercypercolator from #unco10. I do know that the back-end of Unco has definitely been as much work as the front end. And for that, I am very pleased...

Still confused about what Unco is? Here are some posts that do a better job of describing it (pre- and during and post- Unco)

Derrick Weston

Josh Hale

Mick Bradley

Derek Wadlington

Scott Thompson

Crystal Lewis: Pre and during.

Becky Durham: BeforeChurchThe ProcessKid Unco

Abbie Watters: On My WayArriving and ArrivalAt, and Leaving.

MB McCandless has an Unco tab on her site. Here are her pre-unco words. Please watch what comes from this incredibly thoughtful and gifted person.

Eric Ledermann

Jason Cashing writes our official press release.

Chris Johnson

Daniel Hayward

Joe Smith

Beth Scibienski

Who/what am I missing? Please let me know, and I'll add it to the list!

[Taken with permission from, Carol's blog. Originally posted 5/21/11]