Defining the indefinable

So this dude facebooked me today with the following message:

Hi Sarah, 
I was hoping to find out more about what the term Emergent Church means. I’ve done some Internet research, but have, so far, been unable to clearly grasp this concept. I checked out the blogger and facebook emergent church cohort, and I thought I’d message you to ask if you could provide any clearer idea as to what it is.

You can see how I was led down this path in my blog (and the comments from that post):

Any info you might have would be helpful.


Of course, this is a daunting task, but I decided to at least try my hand at it.  I was, of course, flattered that a stranger found me and asked me…. so here is my response.  Let me know what you think:

thanks for the message- i read your blog and suggested a couple churches. 

In terms of defining emergent, that is a good question. There are a lot of different definitions out there I think, mostly because the movement has resisted being defined so strongly (I will say that the individual you commented on your seeming to be interested in an emergent church was pushing it a bit… everything you stated you wanted in a church could be found in a traditional church.) 

Generally speaking, however, emergent is organized around the idea that theology and worship are a conversation–between us and God, and within a community. It recognizes that philosophically we live in a postmodern world, meaning that absolute truth claims are viewed with suspicion, the general outlook is in the direction of a global worldview, etc. HOwever, emergent resists postmodern in so far as it upholds the absolute claim that is the Christian story. 

Emergent churches tend to be oriented towards pushing the edges of worship, incorporating experiential elements such as prayer stations, lectio divina, and the recovery of ancient church traditions such as labyrinth walking. This is not true of every emergent chruch, however. Emergent churches tend to be, but are not always, intentional not denominational, more interested in connecting people despite backgrounds, open to incorporating elements of other traditions, etc. There is an emergent service at the Cathedral, for example, called the CRossing which uses Jazz music in its worship and incorporates reflection space into the sermon, where the worshipping body responds to the message.

I hope that some of this helps. You are certainly welcome to visit the emergent cohort (we meet once a month in Cambridge) if you would like to learn more. Good luck in your search for a church home and congratulations on your engagement.




UPDATE:  If you would like to see how the person I wrote this to responded, check out his blog and what he had to say.  I must say, it is really neat to see conversation develop, and this sort of thing is what makes blogging exciting for me.

Church snooping

Ah, beautiful Sunday.  I am home two Sundays this time around, a true rarity, and I decided to visit a church that I have heard about in the blogo-emergo-sphere rather than my home church.  Problem is, there are so many awesome churches out here!  There’s Vintage Faith, Dan Kimball’s church which is not only emergent but is recently merged with a Presbyterian Church out in Santa Cruz, and there’s BRC’s Mission Bay Community Church in San Francisco.  Then there is a host of presby churches I would love to see…. my CPM liason’s church in Santa Cruz, Stone Church in San Jose, First Pres. Palo Alto.  The list goes on.  There are just so many interesting churches, and never enough time.  But I guess it is a good sign that there ARE so many awesome churches out here in the first place.  

In the end I decided to go to Mission Bay CC, mostly because BRC is unavoidable (also awesomely fun) on the internets and because he’s running for moderator, so I wanna check it out.  So we shall see how the man does worship…. *grin*


Mod blogs

Over on his mod blog, BRC has responded to the fourth in a series of questions from the 2008 Commissioner’s Booklet. The question, “How will we lead?“, is an interesting question that gives a bit of insight into what is motivating BRC to run in the first place, what his vision for the church is, and how he hopes to get there. He writes:

There also seems to be a shadow side to the young clergy experience, aspects of their preparation for ministry that seem somewhat out of alignment with the greater culture from which they have come. There is a disconnect between who young clergy are culturally and the institution to which they are being called to serve. In the face of this situation, young clergy are left with few options: change, deal or leave.

Something must give.

Something must change.

I suspect it is the institution.

I read his comments and couldn’t help but recognize myself, and many of my friends, in them. Because the world we live in IS changing, and the church, at is best, is an institution that should be able to respond to and in culture, not against it. The early church molded itself after the culture it was a part of, so that it could work within culture and so that its members could be better witnesses and missionaries to the people amongst whom they lived and worked. Paul writes in Corinthians:

To the Jews I have made myself as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those who live under the law I have come as one under the law, in order to win those who are under the law — not that I myself am under the law. To those who live without the law I have come as one without the law, in order to win those who are without the law — not that I am really under no law in relation to God, for I am bound by the law of Christ. To those who are weak I have made myself weak, so as to win the weak; in fact, I have become all things to all people, in order that, one way or another, I may rescue some of them. But I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share its blessings with others. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

my point, I suppose, is that the “change” that BRC proposes is the sort of active responsiveness to our world which we are called to live out in our lives and in our churches. I read BRC’s answers and I see a biblical and a timely call to the church to take a look at itself and ask some hard questions–are we offering something people need? Are we being faithful witnesses? What are we afraid of? What sorts of changes might this culture require of us? Do we have it in us?
Kudos to BRC for acknowledging and putting that right out there. It’s what I needed to hear, as a seminarian who struggles daily with my call in this institution.

a bit of air to breathe in, and a song to sing

A toast to Fridays!  Today I slogged (successfully, I might add) through my final paper for my class on Emergent Insights for Youth Ministry at Andover Newton.  The paper wasn’t as tight as I might have liked, but given the reality that it was the first paper due in a string of three in a week, it was good enough.  This finals period truly has been stressful for me, and I have watched as my workout schedule and my music have fallen by the wayside as I struggle to motivate myself to get my finals done.  So even though I loved that class, the paper was difficult to get excited about.  The cost of a busy life, I guess.

One thing that has not been stressful, however, has been the newly improved and awesomely fabulous paper topic that Dan F. and I proposed to our Reformed Thought professor last week.  Both of us had cool paper topics but weren’t particularly impassioned by them… and then we started joking about revising the psalter at the HDS Charity Ball on May 4th.  The rest is history.  Both of us are big fans of writing and messing around with music.  He plays a lot of percussion and blues, and I am a huge fan of reforming worship music.  Anyways, we started talking and brainstorming, and suddenly we had an amazing project in front of us:  What would it look like to experiment with a reformed psalter?  We both recognized that the psalter defined early reformed churches but has basically fallen completely out of use today.  Many pastors and lay people even think we should get rid of it.  But the idea is too awesome to just throw away.  So we starting playing around and came up with reformed liturgical music with psalms 51, 69, 117, and 134.  The best part is, we used contemporary music idioms to do it.  Psalm 51 is an awesome bluesy number (think “O Death” from the soundtrack for “O Brother Where Art Thou”) that Dan and I have fallen in love with and basically allowed us to sing the psalm without any alterations…. plus it is sort of a modern day version of psalm chanting in this format, only in a music style that speaks to people more directly…. plus it is a great confessional psalm.  Psalm 69 came out as a fairly revised version, in which we developed the psalm into lyrical stanzas.  Since it is a psalm of lament, we chose to set it to a sort of high sound driven, dark emo rock piano ballad style (think a mixture of Ben Folds on his own and Evanescence).  It also sounds really awesome, plus the lyrical structure is not all that different from hymn structures, which I think says alot for the potential of old hymns to be re-envisioned.  117 and 134 we both envisioned as sort of call to worship type deals.  One of them is quite folksy sounding, and the other is more bluesy… both could function either as a call and response or as sung by all or a worship leader.

Anyways my point is that this has been super awesome and fun to do.  We are gonna practice some more and then record on Sunday, so hopefully I will have some tracks up soon for you to hear.  Until then, rock on!