Summer 2019: Dedicated to Bringing People into Communion through Art, Music, and Open-Hearted Conversations!

Stephen Kinney @Unplugged on The Front Porch with Sam Baker

Dear Front Porch Family,

As many of you know, my dear colleague and friend on The Front Porch, Riley Jackson Webb, died in mid-May. The past two weeks without him have been surreal and grievous, though it has been beautiful to see how Riley touched so many of us during his time with us on The Front Porch from 2014-2018. His Resurrection Party on June 1st was filled with Spirit, Beauty, and Love.

Given the fact that we didn’t know if The Front Porch was going to survive beyond this past December, our rebirth in January has been extraordinary! It has the makings of a great story, a story of grace and adventure. While we’ve had to dial some things back and are currently operating The Front Porch on a part-time basis, we’ve been able to do so much in such a short time! More than that, we’ve been able to go a little deeper and our platform continues to give us access to so many amazing and diverse people in the Austin community. Call it luck, but it’s hard not to feel it as blessing.

Moving back to Scholz Garten on Sunday evenings was energizing and we’ve had robust attendance for each of our Public House Churches, aka, Pub Church! Getting to do a 3-week deep dive with artist/musician/trickster Sam Baker was a huge gift to all. Getting to know Rabbi Neil Blumofe more personally over a couple of weeks was fun and deep. We had an especially rich time with Muna Hussaini—her conversation with John Burnett and the short documentary based on a hate crime she experienced after 9-11 made us more compassionate to the plight of the stereotyped and stigmatized. The past three pub churches have focused on immigration, as we’ve discussed the displacement of millions of people all over the planet for political, religious, economic, and climate related reasons. Thanks to guests and musicians like Glenn Smith, Dave Madden, Gavin Rogers, Bekah McNeel, Tish Hinojosa, and Aimee Bobruk, we’ve been able to face the dilemma between security and humanity and to empathize and ask more questions about how we might respond to all refugees in kindness and love.

Over the past four months, we hosted, sponsored, or participated in so many beautiful community gatherings. We hosted five contemplative communion services during Lent that reenacted the festive meals of the 1st century. We were key partners in the New Story Festival that drew over 1000 people from all over Austin at Huston-Tillotson in March. We supported the Interfaith Action of Central Texas’ HOPE Awards. We hosted an Iftar Dinner with our Muslim friends from The Dialogue Institute near the beginning of Ramadan for over 100 people.  We also lead a weekly men’s group and are in the midst of developing a Front Porch type community with college students. 

Perhaps our proudest and most transcendent happening over this spring was the 4th Annual Easter Vigil.  There were about 400 adventurous souls from all over Austin, who gathered for the Vigil at the legendary Sam’s Town Point under the oak trees on their outdoor stage. Our gathering was a sacrament of creativity and love—we went from a bonfire to a Lakota Sioux prayer, to a New Orleans’ Second-Line dirge, to Biblical stories, to a slam poem on creation, to original songs from the Shinyribs’ savant, Kevin Russell, to a “Down by the Riverside” procession with seven Episcopal priests following and sprinkling the congregation from buckets of water, to a communion for all with 10 loaves of sourdough bread.

As we wrap up yet another season of incredible experiences on the Porch, I remain so grateful to all of you for continuing to support our vision year after year. As we near twenty years of Front Porch conversations over dozens of iterations, it is truly amazing that we continue to endure, to come together, to evolve, to grow, to dream a wider spiritual existence together through open dialogue, music, art, history, philosophy, theology, and so much more. The fact that we continue to adapt and grow shows that our message is resonating: that there are many here in Austin ready to come together to celebrate the gifts that each and every person and perspective brings “to the table.”

Over the summer, I will be participating in Sunday services, planning for a new season of porch programs, collaborating with the new missioner for the Episcopal Students’ Center at All Saints’, Rev. Dr. Travis Helms and his missional community, The Logos Collective. Finally, this September, Gwen and I will be joining one of the Front Porch’s originators, The Rev. Jimmy Bartz and his family, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming for three weeks to serve as the guest chaplain of the Yellowstone Chapel.
As I begin looking forward to yet another season on the Porch–talks about a next edition of Unplugged on the Front Porch with Carrie Newcomer are already in the works for October, as well as the usual pub church planning–I’ve also decided to try and do some written reflections on the Front Porch in order to spread our message further, and I am still working on the editing of a book that Riley and I were working on together over the past two years—a book written by a mentor, Rev. Sherman Beattie, whose ideas have informed the Front Porch since its inception. 

Gratefully yours, Rev. Stephen W. Kinney, PhD

Keep going, Riley!

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