Recently, one of my current coworkers, whom we shall call Will, made a confession to me about his first Mockingbird Conference. A friend of mine, with whom Will worked at the time, had convinced him to come along, and so, after flying into LaGuardia, Will found himself in the backseat of my car on our way into Manhattan. Listening in on the front seat conversation between my friend and I (both Episcopal priests), which was undoubtedly, shall we say, “salty,” the following thoughts ran through Will’s head: “Who are these guys? What are they talking about? Are they even Christians?! Why am I here?!”
Will had the time of his life that weekend and has been back every year since, but his story was a helpful reminder of the disorientation that many people feel at their first Mockingbird Conference. Last year, a couple of my other coworkers (and Mockingbird newbies) were doing just fine until the keynote speaker commented that, given her history and personality, she was more likely to have ended up as a stripper (she used another, more anatomical, term) than a Christian. That raised some eyebrows. Furthermore, some of the ways in which people talked about their faith—the vocabulary they used and ideas they shared—were unfamiliar, so that there was, perhaps, the feeling of visiting a foreign country, one in which the surroundings looked familiar (church, people, Jesus), but a different language was being spoken.
If NYC 2014 will be your first Mockingbird Conference (and I hope that it will!), rest assured that you will not be alone. Consistently half of Conference attendees have been first-timers, but they probably don’t realize that. Thus, for the first time, we are going to offer a primer for newcomers this year, a chance for them to get together, meet some “old-timers,” ask some questions, and hear an introduction to some of the ideas and history that undergirds what Mockingbird is all about. You still may have the same initial reaction that my friend Will did, but hopefully we can set you at ease a little more quickly. See you soon!