Festival highlights Christianity, anarchism and community spirit

Article by Julia Duin.


The moon is bright orange, hanging in the warm evening sky like an enormous gumdrop. Underneath it is a “village” of Christian festival-goers, housed in 100 colorful tents on a gently sloping Pennsylvania field about an hour north of Baltimore. Some of the villagers are roasting marshmallows. Others are pressed, mosh-pit style, against a makeshift stage, where an indie folk band named Theillalogicalspoon, which bills itself as “theologians and anarchists,” seems to be singing about everything but Jesus. One number ends: “If I had my way, I’d tear the whole thing down.”

So goes the PAPA (People Against Poverty and Apathy) Festival, “a convergence of communities and movements” run by young organizers mostly connected with Circle of Hope, a Brethren church in Philadelphia.

If you’re thinking this doesn’t sound like your typical Christian gathering, you’re right. Here, about 500 attendees, including myself and my 6-year-old daughter, will spend four days living in a communal paradise, listening to music, teaching one another crafts, and caring for the environment. Participants have brought food to share in the community kitchen — essentially a bunch of rigged-up camp stoves, coolers and tables under a tarp — and have built an open-air chapel from branches at the edge of the field, though not much seems to be happening there.

Instead, we have signed up for “skill shares,” where volunteers teach subjects such as basic Italian, how to dye yarn naturally (with fruits, vegetables and plants) and “integrating Christian spirituality and Apache shamanism to create healing and light.”

And we have chosen from 31 “learning workshops,” with topics including “Sabbath economics,” how the church should address domestic violence, and “Solidarity and Syncretism,” which asks: “How can the church in the ‘first world’ shed its fear of indigenous traditions and join in the sounds of liberation the elder cultures are singing without committing cultural theft or reinforcing false stereotypes?”

PAPA is completely outside of what you might see in a typical Sunday morning service; in fact, most of the amiable 20- and 30-something people I encounter are involved in church lightly. But they’re manic about community and connecting; these are folks who could post to Twitter and Facebook in their sleep. Many have driven, hitchhiked or taken the bus for hours to get here. Admission was $20 for each seeker to spend Father’s Day weekend in an Eden that embraces nonviolence, eats organic, focuses on social justice, shares housing, pools resources and trashes the U.S. government as a Darth Vader-like “Empire.”

According to the pre-conference instructions, “musical instruments, [F]risbees, cooking stuff, art and circus stuff, bikes, games, love, joy, hope and beauty” are permitted. Prohibited: “drugs, weapons, fireworks, ATVs, idols, alcohol, meanness.”

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When I first heard of this gathering, I wondered if festival-goers would be interested in someone such as myself, who lived through the evangelical Christian community movement of the 1970s, which at its height included about 1,000 communities across the country. I had joined one of the smaller groups, Bethlehem Community, a charismatic Baptist collection of about 40 people based in several households in Portland, Ore.


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1 reply »

  1. I’m good friends with a Catholic family that fits this demographic exactly. They’re young, have kids, libertarian, just moved way out into the country, and know a lot of young Catholics doing the same. Good people. They’re “tribing up!”

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