I went to the Inhabit Conference in Seattle this past weekend. My family and I made the trek down to Seattle and crammed ourselves into a cheap motel. Sarah and the kids visited with friends and took in the sights. They dropped me off at the front door of Seattle School and were off to the zoo.
I like conferences. I like the chance to process ideas and dream about how they work out in context. Adrianna Wright of IVP (who supplies me with some of the fine books I reviewed here) suggested this conference to me. I’m really glad that she did! The theme of ‘Inhabit’ is dear to my heart. This is a conference which focuses on ministry in place–committing to neighborhoods and communities for the long haul and missionally engaging those on the margins. There were talks, symposiums, conversations and workshops themed around the area of justice, economics, church planting, asset mapping neighborhoods, use of the arts, etc. All very good stuff! Every single presentation I saw, spoke to me in some way and I left challenged, inspired and excited to see what God will do through me in community.
As much as conferences excite and interest me. I also feel a certain amount of anxiety about them. This is a meeting place of various ministry practioners–pastors, and outreach leaders who are doing some fantastic stuff. Thus far I have failed to get a ‘ministry job’ and I wondered if I would feel out of place at a ‘professional conference.’ I also felt anxious when I walked through the doors of Seattle school. There were a lot of big beards and skinny jeans. I silently wondered if I was cool enough to hang out with a bunch of hipsters for a whole weekend. On both fronts I was pleasantly surprised. No one made me feel like I didn’t belong. In fact working at my local hardware store gave me a certain amount of street cred for this conference. And in the midst of hipsters there was a multi-generational gathering of people who care about their neighbors! I saw a few Regent folks and several Mission Year alum. This was my tribe!
I won’t attempt to rehash the entire conference. I brought an old notebook and took copious notes on almost everything I heard. The theme of the conference was rooting and linking (rooting into neighborhoods) and linking with other like-minded people who will support you in your vocation. For me, other than conversations and friendships formed, my big take away from the conference is a new way of seeing. Here are a few issues I see a little clearer now:
- Race– Christena Cleveland (author of Disunity in Christ) began her keynote address by saying, “y’all are white.” She then went on to describe the dynamics of race and the way to promote diversity by apprenticing our (white) selves to people of color.
- Neighborhood Assets– I have a mostly random way of choosing workshops. I went to a room and sat down. Then I figured out what discussion was happening there. On Friday, this meant that every single workshop or symposium I chose had to do with economics, assets and entrepreneurship. Alright, I purposefully chose to go to a workshop by my friend Leroy Barber but everything else was fairly random. One of the ‘big ides’ I came away with was ‘asset mapping’ and ‘appreciative inquiry’ of neighborhoods. Rebecca Lujan Loveless took me from the idea of needs based outreach (where ministries and non-profits attempt to minister to real or felt needs of a community) to an asset based approach which values the contributions of neighborhoods and communities. Later Leroy, discussed how to create jobs and generate money through neighborhood entrepreneurship.
- Injustice– Through various presenters and conversation, I gained a better understanding of injustice. Two issues that struck me as particularly poignant were immigration and capital punishment. At times, I was in tears as presenters shared some of the ugly miscarriages of justice they have seen in their ministries.
Two things that really impressed me about the conference were, the intentional diversity of presenters (a good mix of women and men, and people of color) and a prevailing sense of camaraderie among attendees. I absolutely loved the ‘stories from the parish’ which profiled what many churches are doing. There was no sense of competition between different church groups. Just mutual excitement about what God is doing in various contexts. I’m glad I was there and I got some ideas for ministry which I will carry into the pastorate (when I get the chance!).