Hacking General Convention

"Hacking": tinkering with existing tools to innovate and provide solutions that suggest positive changes by introducing new methods.

No one set out to make a big change. We just individually committed to doing things differently. The Massachusetts based Mission Institute team drew a line when it found out that the $1500 rental fee for an exhibition space at General Convention did not include any furniture, and that renting even a few pieces from the proposed conference supplier would cost close to $500. It paired with the local nonprofit People With AIDS Coalition of Utah (PWACU) which loaned a folding table and chairs—and volunteered to come along with a van and cart to transport them. The Florida organization Mishkhah also chose to forego high rental fees, and after arriving in Salt Lake City bought whimsical furnishings from the local Goodwill to create an inviting prayer and meditation space. More than a dozen other exhibitors made similar choices, borrowing furnishings from local friends or buying them at Target, IKEA, or Amazon where new chairs, tables, carpets, display racks, and televisions were cheaper than the rentals on offer.

What does “being church” look like when we are at a national convention? How might we take intentional actions that positively impact the communities that host us? And where might the Spirit surprise us into unexpected new relationships?

When a local security guard helped Chris Yaw assemble the IKEA furniture he bought for his booth, he learned that the man’s wife had cancer. The security guard was working two jobs and his wife would have surgery in a week. Chris expressed his appreciation by inviting him to come back at the end of the convention to take the table, chairs, and lights he had helped to assemble. When we took Toni Johnson of the PWACU out to dinner to say thank you for their generosity in lending furniture to the Mission Institute, she spoke about the place the thrift shop occupies for people living with HIV and AIDS. Sales from the store cover the administrative costs of educational and support services. Clients and their friends and allies volunteer at the shop, receiving five dollars an hour in store credit. Toni was delighted when we suggested that exhibitors at the convention might be interested in donating their furniture to help the HIV and AIDS community in Salt Lake.

Most exhibitors who purchased new furnishings for their display booths didn’t want to bring them back home; they simply wanted to be good stewards with their resources. They hoped their purchases might reach local people or organizations in need but no one had concrete plans. The Mission Institute collaborated with Mishkhah and Diocese of Utah volunteers to inventory the furniture, coordinate exhibitors, and organize local transportation and a group of volunteers to help move the furniture from the convention center to the thrift shop.

Hacking at General Convention might be a little like a pop-up mission project. And a lot like just being church.

co-authored by Diane D'Souza and Kate Eaton​