The New Christians

doug.jpgFriday and Saturday of last week marked the inaugural event of JoPa Productions, a partnership between Doug Pagitt and me.  Doug and I are involved in the publishing industry both as authors and as editors/consultants/gadflies.  And just when it seems that traditional, dead tree publishing is in its denoument, we decided it’d be a good time to start a business in that industry!

While we have great fondness for the many people we know who work the marketing departments of various publishers, there is one aspect of marketing that we think is missing.  Aside from the occasional lottery winner (Blue Like Jazz, 90 Minutes in Heaven, The Purpose-Driven Life, The Shack), a lot of authors struggle to get their books noticed, and most publishers continue to cut their marketing budgets which, in turn, negatively affects book sales which hurts company profits which leads to another cut to the marketing budget, ad infinitum.

But every former youth pastor (e.g., Doug and Tony) knows one thing: Get the teenagers on a get-away (fall retreat, winter ski trip, summer mission trip), and their loyalty to the brand (the youth group) increases exponentially.  Apply that axiom to publishing, and you get this: Get people in front of an author (particularly one who can communicate orally), and those people will develop a fondness and affinity for that author and her work.

For a decade, Doug and I have been speakers at the National Youth Workers Convention and the National Pastors Convention, which primarily serve as platforms for the authors of Youth Speciaties and Zondervan, respectively.  Our initial solo effort was the once-in-a-lifetime book tour, the Church Basement Roadshow.

But our first real event was held last Friday and Saturday at the august St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Memphis, Tennessee.  The book that we gathered to celebrate was The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why, and the author was Phyllis Tickle.

The event began on Thursday with four optional conversations: the hyphen-mergents; the future of theological education; new monasticism; and a writers seminar.  That evening, 110 of us gathered at the famous Rendezvous Charcoal Ribs for a true Memphian feast of dry-rubbed ribs, pork shoulder, and beer.

The next morning, we commenced the event with prayers from The Divine Hours, Phyllis’s best-selling guides to the daily office.  On both Friday and Saturday, we met in the nave of the cathedral for morning, noon, and vespers prayers.  Each office was led by someone different whom I had recruited from among the attendees, and, as a result, each was led in a different fashion with different voices.  The music, however, was provided by the talented Memphian liturgist and cantor, Stefan Waligur, and his assembled musicians.

phyllis.jpgPhyllis addressed the 300 of us in the nave of the cathedral four times over the two days, providing more background on the Great Emergence, elucidating the content of the book, and taking questions from the crowd about the Big Question: What next?  One of the reasons that this event worked so well is that Phyllis is a native Memphian, and St. Mary’s, though not her home parish, is in some ways a spiritual home to her.  For all of the speaking she does around the country, I did feel that there was some special magic conjured up by her connection to that city and that building.

Phyllis’s addresses were bookended in each sessions by the Lutherannadia.jpg cyber-punk-pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, who read from her wickedly funny book, Salvation on the Small Screen?.  If the sales of her book at the Episcopal Bookshop is any guide, then it’s safe to say that Nadia was a huge hit.  The main sessions were also complemented by panel discussions, practitioner interviews, and a live Twitter feed on a video screen.

All of the other presenters, flown in by their publishers, were asked by Doug to prepare a 5:20 presentation — in other words, 15 Keynote/Powerpoint slides, timed out at :20 each.  Known as an Ignite presention, this resulted in rapid-fire presentions from Peter Rollins, Sybil MacBeth, Joe Myers, Sally Morganthaller, Becky and Bob Pierson, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Nanette Sawyer, Karen Ward, Will Samson, Lisa Samson, Sara Miles, Tim Keel, and Brent Bill, followed by an opportunity for a brief interaction with each presenter.

Finally, Doug and I are indebtted to a dozen volunteers from Solomon’s Porch (Naomi, Checka, Tom, Bob, John, David, Dave, Shelley) and elsewhere (Laci, Tyler) who worked so hard to make it all happen.

I’m hardly neutral in saying this, but I think the event was a smashing success.  Thanks to everyone who participated!

Photos courtesy of Jonathan Brink.