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.
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.