“Unconference” allows the Spirit to set theme
and invites everyone into the conversation
By Tad Hopp
an Francisco Theological Semi-
nary was blessed to serve as the
host site for the third annual
“Unconference” (UNCO). More than
30 people traveled from near and far to
attend the three-day conference held
July 30-August 1 on the SFTS cam-
pus. Many of the participants were
SFTS alums who were excited to make
their way back to campus to partici-
pate in the conference. Seminary staff
and students also participated.
UNCO is unique because unlike
other conferences, it has no set theme.
The conference participants decide
what they would like to discuss and
then break out into small groups to
delve into topics they feel are most
important to them. Everyone at the
conference assumes a leadership role
either through suggesting a topic or
moderating a discussion. This also in-
sures that everyone is invited into the
“The conversation at UNCO cre-
ated space for the Spirit to nudge us
in the direction of the church that is
yearning to be born,” said Rev. Jim
Kitchens, interim pastor at nearby
Calvary Presbyterian Church in San
Francisco. “As one of the older partici-
pants in the conversation, I was struck
by the deep faithfulness of the Mil-
lennials who were at the heart of the
gathering. If we can create worship-
ing communities and ministries that
embody some of the ideas we talked
about at UNCO, then I'm very hope-
ful about the future of the church in
general, and the PC(USA) in particu-
UNCO started on Monday af-
ternoon with a brainstorming session
where participants were asked to write
down the topics they wanted to elevate
for further discussion. That was fol-
lowed by dinner and an opening wor-
ship service where participants shared
stories of the journey that led them to
the conference and why they were ex-
cited to be here.
Participants spoke about needing a
break from traditional church and that
UNCO represents a different, much-
needed conference model. Some ex-
pressed the feeling that UNCO feeds
something inside them that they aren’t
able to get anywhere else. All the par-
ticipants were thankful that UNCO
exists. At the close of the opening wor-
ship, participants were encouraged to
write down the “yes” and the “no”
that they were struggling with in their
lives. They were then invited to share
their responses with a prayer partner.
The next day, participants were
divided into different breakout groups
for engaging and stimulating conver-
sations about the topics that seemed to
have the most appeal. For this year’s
conference, those topics were:
Bivocational Ministry
How to Do Membership/
Church Differently
Minister and Artist: Outside Walls
Church as Incubator
Cooperation Among Churches
Progressive Theology
and the Church
Alternative Christianity
& Interfaith Dialogue
These topics were discussed at
length in lively sessions all day Tues-
day, and were revisited on Wednesday
to discuss what to do with the ideas
that were developed around these top-
ics. At the closing worship service on
Wednesday, participants were com-
missioned with pieces of rope to be
reminded of the work ahead and how
it will be challenging, but necessary.
Sarah Chancellor, an incoming ju-
nior at Austin Presbyterian Theologi-
cal Seminary, said that she left UNCO
“with a stronger sense of my own call
and a wider view of the church. I know
that the church must change and grow
but I’ve had a hard time visioning that
change. UNCO helped bring some of
that into a little bit more focus for me.”
For more information about
UNCO, including detailed notes from
each of the breakout sessions, visit the
UNCO website at
Tad Hopp is a second-year Master of Divinity student
who participated in UNCO.
SFTS CHIMES | Fall 2012
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