What do Wonder
Woman, Thor, a unicorn, a robot, and a polar bear have in common?
They have
all been mascots for Unco.

We’re preparing for our third year of Unco right now, and I
wanted to extend a formal invitation to all of you, because it would be great to
meet you in a physical space. If you’re interested, let me start by answering
some FAQ’s.

What the heck is it? Unco
is short for Unconference. It’s specifically designed for discussions on the
future of the church. It’s a percolator for new ministries and ideas,
usually within mainline contexts. The people who gather tend to be creative—they
are techies, activists, musicians, artists, writers, liturgists, and academics.
They are seminarians, pastors, and church leaders. Many minister to people on the outskirts of our usual mainline sensibilities—pastoring
the homeless, advocating for sex workers, or starting new churches for a
younger generation. We act as a support system for innovative and social justice
ministries, whether you’re starting them from scratch or bringing new life to a
traditional congregation.

You'll often see it as #Unco12 because adding the # and
the year makes the conference conversation searchable on Twitter. Check this
to see the chatter happening now. We use Twitter to organize travel,
share ideas, get to know each other before the event, and keep in touch after

Unconferences are common in all sorts of fields. They
started because people began to realize that when they went to conferences, the
conversations they had next to the coffee table were more interesting and
productive than the actual speakers. So it’s a format that allows for

So it’s complete
chaos and anarchy?
No. We keep the gathering small—under 100 people. Last
year, we hit our limit on registrations, so we expanded to an East Coast and a
West Coast site. We have a format and schedule that the group sticks to
closely (confession: I am a Type-A emcee). Although people are encouraged to walk, pray,
read, or spend time alone if they need to.

•The format begins with worship and
brainstorming on the first night. We write all sorts of ideas and concerns that
we’ve brought with us down on a giant graffiti sheet.

•The next day, we ask who wants to
lead a discussion on a certain topic. We give them a specific time and space to
lead the conversation. We also have a silent auction to raise money for
creative ministries.

•On the third day, we ask if there
were any ideas that have legs. Is there something that you want to act upon? If
so, we move into planning mode, thinking about what, who, and how to accomplish
the task. We report back to the group. Then, we worship, asking for God’s
guidance and blessing on all of it.

Is #Unco for a
particular denomination?
No. It’s an ecumenical gathering. We’re committed
to learning from one another across our denominational siloes. We are an
inclusive, affirming, welcoming group.

Am I too old for
#Unco? Do I wear the wrong jeans? What if I don’t have hip glasses?
worry. Although we have been identified as a hipster crew of the mainline (ahem), it’ll take you about three and a half
seconds to realize, we’re not that cool. The crowd tends to be younger than
most mainline gatherings, but it’s intergenerational. We cherish that fact and
welcome everyone.

Should I leave my
kids at home?
Absolutely not! As I wrote, this is an intergenerational
gathering. For months, Megan Dosher, the mastermind of KidUnco, has been hard
at work, making sure this is a space for everyone. Kids will worship with us. During
the conversation time, they will be on scavenger hunts, nature walks, and
make stuff.  

What has come out of
Mostly, after two years, we have a strong network of ideas and
amazing people. There’s also Liturgy Link, an on-line liturgical resource;
Mercy Percolator, a fundraising network for new church developments and
creative ministries; Church Unbound, an unconference for church liturgists and musicians; Mercy Junction, a new ministry in Chattanooga. There are
many other things in the works…

So what’s up with the
polar bear?
Nothing. It has absolutely no theological significance. It’s
just for fun.

If you would be interested in registering, please visit the site for dates, location, and other information. If your organization would be interested in sponsoring the event, please let me know at my email: carolhowardmerritt at gmail dot com. If you have any other questions, please ask below!

Carol Howard Merritt

Carol Howard Merritt is a pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Spring City, Tennessee. She is the author of Healing Spiritual Wounds. Her blog is hosted by the Century.

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