UNCO is the “Unconference” for pastors that has been happening since 2010, bicoastal since 2012. My family and I had the joy of attending last month at San Francisco Theological Seminary along with about 40 others.
Imagine gathering with other clergy and leaders to share ideas, brainstorming together, using each other’s gifts and talents to create and inspire. There is no keynote speaker; you are a speaker along with everyone else. You are invited to bring your concerns, your ideas, what you value to the table and share with others.
Over three days ideas were cultivated on one large sheet of paper, then we used those ideas and created conversation spaces using the campus we were at to work on those ideas. On the final day we looked at the ideas that had “legs”—where was our energy going? What could we do with what we were learning together? and used those ideas to launch us back home.
UNCO doesn’t use much paper: we tweet a lot. We share ideas on Facebook. We create online groups and invite others to attend via Livestream and Twitter and other social media and carry on what we have learned beyond our walls and back across time zones with us.
UNCO is affordable. The East gathering stays at a retreat center; the West gathering at a seminary (and there may be a third gathering in Texas next year). There are scholarships available as well.
UNCO is kid friendly. As a clergy couple, one of the downsides for us is that most of the time, one of us has to be with our son during part of the retreat or gathering that we are attending. Even when there is childcare provided, it is often not provided for all events, especially evening events. One of us ends up staying back at the hotel or retreat center room. At UNCO West, the evening activities were in the lounge of the dorms we stayed in, so we were right there with our kids. And AJ was welcome everywhere.
Worship was creative, inviting and inspiring. I was able to tweet about AJ in the beginning so people knew right away why our child was not sitting still and was moving about, and I was able to share how to engage with him. While I have felt welcome at other events, at UNCO I felt that we were embraced as the community during worship and throughout the duration.
I encourage pastors to consider attending UNCO or other similar events where the creative energy is pooled from among us. We have a lot to offer. Sometimes we are drained offering it to ourselves and our own congregations, but I found renewed energy in being among colleagues. From the first breakout session alone, “Show Me The Money,” I gained new insights on how to talk about stewardship and fundraising in life-giving and encouraging ways, rather than focusing on budgets and making ends meet (this was so timely as so many of us, including myself, were going right back to churches beginning the Stewardship season).
Do this. Do this on a small scale—gather your clergy colleagues together for an afternoon and talk about what concerns you have as a church and as a pastor or leader. Brainstorm together and use each other for ideas and inspiration. Share. Take with you new knowledge and insights. That is what UNCO is all about. And share it again via social media. That’s what it is all about.
*And I would have never learned about UNCO if it hadn't been for Dmergent. I learned about Dmergent and UNCO at the same time at the CCDOC General Assembly in 2011 when I sat down at the table with Ryan Kemp-Pappan, who helped found this blog way back when.
For more information, visit http://unco.us
*updated: UNCO began in 2010, not 2011