This past weekend, the inaugural Missional Voices Conference gathering took place on the campus of Virginia Theological Seminary. A group of us seminarians spent that past nine months asking the question, “What would it be like if there was a place where the entrepreneurial, innovative, and creative voices in the Episcopal Church could gather together to discuss, incubate, and process the movement of the Spirit in their ministry?”
The question led to a two-day event that offered such a platform. This conference welcomed a wide range of missionally minded voices: the nontraditional ministries that involved laundry mats and coffee shop, and the more established voices of 815 and Trinity Wall Street. By April 15, almost 200 voices from 69 dioceses, 38 states, and 11 seminaries descended on Alexandria to wrestle with hearing God’s call.
We then asked, how are we going to honor all of these voices, facilitate the development of a new community, and invite the Spirit to lead the entire happening? Among many things, we decided on two key concepts: the centrality of worship space and the use of a deconstructed Eucharist.
The traditional model of speakers and breakout sessions that happen in various locations, such as in a hotel or conference centers, did not seem to support our goals this time. Instead, the majority of the conference took place in the chapel at VTS; allowing this sacred space to become the epicenter of all idea sharing, network building, and worship. For 24-hours, the chapel became the center of all social, intellectual, and spiritual activity for the conference. It served as the destination to house the diversity of voices, to break bread, and share stories, ideas, challenges and dreams.
Our guiding question then became, “How do we invite the Spirit into centralized programming and networking?” The concept of a deconstructed Eucharist offered an opportunity for every speaker, presenter, and mini breakout group to grow out of and be surrounded by a 24-hour movement of the worship.
On the first day, the gathering began with the first piece of this pedagogical approach to worship: The Ministry of the Word. Scripture is offered to the community. As it blanketed the walls by projection, it empowered the entire community to deliver their own sermon as they begin the conference. Keynotes, speakers, and breakout sessions also influenced this internal sermon throughout the first day. By evening, the community processed the interpretation of the Word of God through a second piece: The Ministry of the Prayer.
The movement shifted the next morning. The internal sermon then invited the participants to become actionable and practical. The Offertory service is the third piece and asked: “What do I want to offer to God’s Mission and Where is the Spirit moving?” Presenters and mini break out groups facilitated this movement of implementation and praxis. Finally, the 24-hour long meditation on mission was brought to the altar of God. The final keynote focused on sending the community into the world. Then, by way of the offertory sentence, her talk transitioned directly into the Eucharistic rite. The keynoter’s message was clear: all mission begins at the table of our Lord.
The centrality of the church space and the use of a deconstructed Eucharist helped facilitate a sense of community that was constantly inviting the Spirit into thought and action. This direction allowed for us to meditate and wrestle with God’s mission as a community, not alone or in physically detached in a chat room. As many missioners said at the conference, this work can be very lonely. It was our hope that Missional Voices provided the space for voices to not only be heard and shared, but invited into the movement of the Holy Spirit.
Christian Anderson is a senior seminarian at VTS from the Diocese of Los Angeles. He is also the co-founder of Missional Voices.