The program now known as Happening originated in Dallas, Texas in the mid-1970s when some high school-aged teens saw the change that Cursillo created in their parents' lives and wanted to have the same transformative experience. Because their children were not old enough to attend a Cursillo weekend, the parents decided to create a program for their teens based on the Cursillo model, but in a format relevant to high school students. They assembled a team of clergy, adults, and teens to explore what other denominations were doing with their youth and then put together a weekend in the Episcopal tradition and called it "Happening." One of the spiritual directors of the first Happening weekends was the Rev. Pat Hutton.
The original weekend format was loosely documented by J. Neil Murphy, a Dallas businessman whose secretary typed up the talks and schedule. Throughout the remainder of the 1970s and early 1980s, the program spread informally from diocese to diocese in the Episcopal Church. The Diocese of Fond du Lac in Wisconsin, one of the early dioceses to use the Happening program, planted the seed in the northern states.
In 1983, some of the leaders who were doing the Happening program decided to gather at Camp Allen in Navasota, TX to share ideas. This would become the first Happening Leaders Conference. At that first meeting, it was decided to have a biennial gathering of Happening leaders to share ideas and promote Happening to the wider church. “Share groups” have been an important component of leadership conferences ever since.
By the early 1980s, the Happening program had spread to about 20 dioceses in the US; it is not exactly certain how many, since there was no formal networking at that time. Peter Bird was the treasurer and a driving force in the early development of the Happening National Committee. The HNC was formed to plan another conference and the Happening Information Service (HIS) was established to create a newsletter to keep dioceses informed and promote the next conference. Grant Bourn from the Diocese of Milwaukee was the 1st HIS director. The HNC at that time consisted of 3 clergy, 3 lay adults and 3 youth members.
The second Leaders Conference was held at Concordia College in Milwaukee, WI in 1985. Larry Krauser, who had been the most recent HIS Director at the time, recalls,
"I had worked on many Cursillo teams and on the steering committee that brought Happening to the Diocese of Indianapolis. I had done a Happening weekend and thought I had an idea [of] what Happening was. So I went to this conference in Milwaukee, having just started Happening in the Diocese of Indianapolis.
What I discovered at that conference was that there was no definitive program called "Happening." Each diocese was sort of doing [its] own thing, loosely using a model passed onto [it] from some other diocese. The nomenclature was different from program to program and everyone was talking apples and oranges trying to share their "Happening" experience, each believing that theirs was the right way to do it. Although it was obvious to all present that this was counterproductive in enabling any meaningful discussion, it didn’t seem to matter. Happening was a good program."
Within a month following the second Leaders Conference, a letter was sent to all known programs, inviting their leaders to come to a meeting in Milwaukee to discuss the continuance of "Happening." Once again, continuing in Larry Krauser’s words,
"Needless to say, I went to the meeting out of curiosity, if nothing else. Here were the issues: two of the clergy elected to the HNC were of the opinion that "Happening" was a rogue ministry with no accountability the National Church. Apparently their sole intent for running for the position on HNC was to disband the national committee. There were 2 lay adults on the committee of the same mind. Peter Bird (treasurer, and also a lawyer) thwarted their efforts by stating that there was no dissolution provision in the bylaws and that the member dioceses were the only ones capable of dissolving the HNC. They could resign and disassociate themselves from Happening, but they did not have the power to dissolve the committee. They resigned, leaving four people to constitute a committee – Peter Bird, Secretary/Treasurer, the Rev. Wayne Bullock, Executive Director, a youth, and myself, Lay adult. Grant Bourn continued as HIS director."
The name of the Leaders Conference was then changed to "National Happening Leadership Conference." The third conference (and first NHLC) was held in Kansas City in 1988. The agenda focused on determining what was happening in the world of Happening in the Episcopal Church and changing the bylaws to give all dioceses equal voice and vote. Determining what Happening was proved to be a monumental task, spreading over a two year period. Each Happening program was invited to share a copy of its manual, resulting in a super manual consisting of over 900 pages—the composite of 17 Happening programs with differing nomenclature and varieties of talks and processes for the weekend event.
Following the 1988 Leaders Conference, Grant Bourn resigned as HIS Director and was succeeded by Larry Krauser. In 1989, the Rev. Wayne Bullock resigned as Executive Director, to be succeeded by the Rev. Sonia Sullivan.
The second National Happening Leadership Conference was held in Dallas in 1990. Member dioceses, including the founding diocese, voted to legally protect the Happening experience because there were dioceses making changes detrimental to the integrity of the program. Resolutions were passed to define the core essence of "What exactly is Happening?", copyright the program to protect the integrity of the name "Happening," incorporate "Happening" as a legal entity, and expand the number of committee members.
The third National Happening Leadership Conference expanded membership on the Happening National Committee to 2 clergy, 4 lay adults, and 6 youth, plus an executive committee of 4—Executive Director, Treasurer, Secretary, and HIS Director.
Intellectual property rights legal counsel was sought, and the current process and requirements were created to implement the legal protection of the name "Happening" in the Episcopal Church. Boyd Tracy, head intellectual property rights attorney for Kimberly-Clark, whose 2 children were Happeners, assisted in creating the process now in place to define and protect the program known as Happening- A Christian Experience.
This was ratified at the fourth National Happening Leadership Conference in 1994 by the member dioceses present, in accordance with the bylaws. Happening is incorporated under the state laws of South Carolina. Happening National Inc., the constituency of which is composed of the active member dioceses of the Anglican Communion, owns the property rights of Happening - A Christian Experience. This includes the name, logo, and specific process as outlined in the Quality Control Manual (now known as Standards and Guidelines for Happening Weekends).
A presence on the internet was established with the web page www.happening.org in 1998. This site, now www.happeningnational.org, has evolved to an interactive site which currently includes a way for dioceses to post information regarding their weekends, including addresses for sending caritas notes and prayers; a listing of active member dioceses; online submission of reports of weekends conducted; online pre-registration for National Happening Leadership Conferences; photo galleries of past weekends and the activities of the HNC; and a guestbook for all Happeners to post messages. An interactive online group has also been created for local Happening Coordinators, allowing greater networking between the now over 50 Happening programs.
The Rev. Charlie Deaton was elected as the third Executive Director at the seventh National Happening Leadership Conference in 2000, and the Rev. Harry Grace was elected as the fourth Executive Director at the ninth National Happening Leadership Conference in 2004. Randy Winton was elected as the fifth Executive Director at the eleventh conference at Kanuga in 2008. The NHLC remains the official governing body of Happening National, Inc., and each NHLC selects members for the Happening National Committee, the principal responsibility of which is to plan the next leadership conference. Share groups remain a very important component of the conference, allowing participants to share and learn from ideas and expressions of the various local programs. Recent conferences have been designed to provide greater emphasis on training of youth leaders, not only for the participating Happening programs, but for the Church at large.
In 1981, the Diocese of Pittsburgh expanded the reach of Happening to the Diocese of Johannesburg, South Africa. According to Gill Rookyard, a former lay director, on his retirement from the position,
"According to our records, Happening was brought to South Africa in 1981 by the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. A team, led by the Rev. Scott Wilson, came to St. Luke's, Orchards at the invitation of the Rev. Richard Girdwood, then the Johannesburg Diocesan Youth Advisor. Sixteen years ago, the Diocese of Johannesburg split as the area it covered was incredibly large. As a result, the folk who were involved in Happening in Johannesburg, who now fell into the Highveld Diocese, ran Happening #1 in the 'new ' diocese. The original chairpersons were Basil and Nelly Hoddinot. In 1996, they handed over their role to Allen and Cathy Mee (Allen and Cathy met on a Happening weekend in Johannesburg, fell in love, and were married - the first of many Happening couples!). The first weekend they served as chairpersons was the weekend that I experienced Happening. They did exceptional work in expanding the ministry of Happening in our diocese. After I had rectored (March 2000), I shadowed Al and Cathy for a year before being officially elected by our Bishop to fulfill the role of what we now term 'lay director'. Matthew Lewis was a Happener on the weekend that I rectored, so it is so special to be handing over this awesome privilege to him."
The Highveld story continues as told by The Rev. Geoff Chadwick, of the Diocese of Bunbury (Australia):
Bishop David McCall [Bunbury] met Bishop David Beetge [Highveld] at the Lambeth Conference in 1998. They struck up a friendship and wondered how they could make some connections across the Indian Ocean. Highveld offered us Happening. So in July 2004, a group of 12 ranging in age from 15 to crinkly (including myself) went to Johannesburg to attend a Happening. The older members of our group had [experienced Cursillo] and had been wondering if there was a form of Cursillo suitable for youth. We were not disappointed!
On our return we resolved to begin Happening in the Bunbury Diocese and invited the South Africans to visit us and be a part of the initial staff. They agreed and after a flurry of emails and cross continental communications, in July 2005 their dozen joined our staff to host Bunbury Happening #1! It was very helpful having the experienced South Africans to assist us. Their staff members "shadowed" our staff members and only stepped in when we needed some experience to guide us.
The Diocese of Pittsburgh has recently “exported” Happening to Peru and the Diocese of Florida to the Bahamas. There are also known Happening programs in the Diocese of Bunbury (Australia), Victoria (British Columbia), Wales, and the Provinces of Canterbury and York (England). In the Ninth Province of the Episcopal Church, Happening is being taken to Honduras, and a sister program, Vivencia, exists in Puerto Rico, which has taken it to the Diocese of the Dominican Republic. Two Happening programs are believed to still be operating in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, one in Texas and the other conducting weekends in several locations in the Southeast United States.
The Ministry Agreement and Quality Control Manual (now Standards and Guidelines for Happening Weekends) have been translated into Spanish and will soon be translated into Portuguese in anticipation of establishing Happening in the Diocese of Brasilia.
Clearly, what began in Dallas thirty years ago has, by God’s grace and the working of the Holy Spirit, found its way into the church’s ministry for youth and has blessed many, many thousands of people.