I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago regarding my excellent trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico for a conference on the two halves of life hosted by The Center for Action and Contemplation. The conference was mostly attended by Catholics (“catholic” really means universal and can apply to all of us, but I’m referring to mostly Roman Catholics) with a smattering of Protestants (btw, I’ll be using the term “evangelical” loosely – I’ll be using it almost synonymously with “protestant”) like myself in the crowd, and I thought I’d delve deeper into how this conference was different than many of the evangelical conferences I’ve attended (you can see reflections of some of these evangelical conferences here, here, here, here, and here).
Now, please keep in mind that I have greatly enjoyed many of the evangelical conferences I’ve attended (you can consult my posts for that).
At the same time, I greatly enjoyed this conference, even though there were certain different elements to my time with Father Rohr and company.
So here’s my take on what was different (not better or worse – just different)…
1. I didn’t have a “to-do” list at the end of this conference – Sure, there were books I wanted to read, or prayers I wanted to practice, but there wasn’t an “action plan” to put in place in my life or context (New Life Fellowship). Instead, I’ve spent more extended time reflecting on what I learned since the conference.
2. Somewhat related, the evangelical conferences I’ve attended seem to focus on growth and getting better (hence the need for “to-do” lists), whereas this conference was purely about the soul. There were no “how-to” talks… the talks were more “why” talks. In one of the q & a sessions in the pre-conference, I asked a “how to question”. The response to the how-to was, “first you have to understand why we…” It just goes to show how I’ve been conditioned at this stage in my life.
3. Evangelical Conferences tend to loud and multi-sensory – this conference was quiet and multi-sensory – There was hardly any multimedia or blaring sound systems – just a mic, a couple of dramas with soft background music, and powerpoint slides with classical music. We started every morning with 20 minutes of silent centering prayer.
At every break we were led in times of silence. We had invitations to extended times of silence during some 20 minute breaks. We also were asked to notice our breathing and to sit in postures of attentiveness.
The sessions usually included: a 45 min-1 hour talk, silence, table discussion, silence.
Usually I’m exhausted by the end of evangelical conferences. I actually felt energized at the end of this conference (although it was hard to see the Jets lose that night).
4. I mentioned this in an earlier post, but the average age was around 60 – I asked around if this demographic was an anomaly for this conference (it’s held annually), and one person actually told me, “it seems like the conference is actually getting younger.” Wow.
I can’t think of am evangelical conference that would draw 1700 72 year-olds and other retired folks.
I think this speaks of the depth that was being shared at this conference.
At the same time, I’m wondering why young people didn’t go to this conference… I think it’s because it was in Albuquerque? Or is the music and multi-media?
I actually think young people would be drawn to the content once they really knew what it was about… and if you’re a “young” person, please read Rohr and Rolheiser if you can.
5. There was a cash bar where droves up people were enjoying a glass of wine during one of the breaks – You would NEVER see this at an evangelical conference. I’m not saying one is good or bad – I’m just saying it was different.
6. Aside from the book and resource table, the table displays were ministries that served the marginalized in the area. Each display was rather humble (think foam board with crafts and marker), and they sold products made by different communities to help serve their respective neighborhoods.
There weren’t any tables for “church products that enhance ministry” or “pick up a free pen or t-shirt OR raffle to win a free ipad”.
That was different.
7. In sum, this conference was all substance, very little style – I’ve noticed that evangelical conferences try to incorporate both style and substance at varying degrees.
But this conference was pure content – someone would talk, we’d sit in silence and reflect, we’d share with a neighbor or two, and then we’d be in silence again.
The brochures and handouts were simple Microsoft word handouts with no glossy state-of-the-art graphic designed imprints. Some handouts were printed on blue paper, though.
And during our final worship gathering, we ended with the Bread and the Wine administered to each other, nothing more and nothing less.
And as a fitting close, it was a great reminder that all that’s really necessary in the grand scheme of life is indeed, The Bread and The Wine.