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The People Against Poverty and Apathy Festival attended by about 500 free spirits in a field north of Baltimore “is completely outside of what you might see in a typical Sunday morning service,” writes blogger Julia Duin.

“In fact, most of the amiable 20- and 30-something people I encounter are involved in church lightly,” she writes. “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 a weekend in an Eden that embraced nonviolence, ate organic, focused on social justice, shared housing, pooled resources and trashed the U.S. government as a Darth Vader-like “Empire.”

Billing itself as “a convergence of communities and movements,” the event is run by young organizers mostly connected with Circle of Hope, a Brethren church in Philadelphia. According to Duin:

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?”

According to the pre-conference instructions, “musical instruments, frisbees, 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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