Recently my Conference Minister asked if I would co-chair our Annual Meeting for the next two years. He said my name came up because the topic they hope to explore in 2010 is the Emerging Church.
If you know me at all, if you read my old blog especially, you'll know I cannot get on the page with Emergent very easily. When I read that certain leaders in the movement do not support women in leadership, or that they are still trying to figure out what to do about LGBT people and their inclusion, I think, "This is why I am no longer Southern Baptist."
I skipped over a big, uncomfortable discussion and went straight to the United Church of Christ, where there are local pockets of concern and question but the national church is *proud* of our long history of ordaining people from traditionally unacceptable groups, as well as a history of prophetic, classically liberal pronouncements.
And yet at our General Synod last month, people felt left out of a debate about changing the governance structure, a discussion on which I truly have no informed opinion. I can simply see that we have a money problem and hear that there is no happy way to make changes.
Believe me, I know what that is like. Whether it's a local church or a denomination or a household of four people, making major changes in response to a financial downturn hurts. Someone will always feel discounted; everyone may feel disappointed.
How long is long enough to sit at a discomfortable edge? How long is too long?
I agreed to co-chair the Annual Meeting, in large measure because I suspect that in relatively isolated Maine, my uncomfortable forays into reading about Emergent are about as much experience as anyone has with it. While other mainline churches have their own Emergent branches, we on the oddly nerdy liberal fringe of Trinitarian Christianity haven't related much to the conversation, even though
we're held up as the example of all that is bad about the mainline
church by one of Emergent's leading lights. (I'm not going to say his
name because I don't really want him to find this post. And he knows
how to find posts about himself, as some of my blogging friends have
discovered by mentioning him.)The one church in our Conference that might be labeled Emergent is, as far as I can tell, out of favor for becoming less denominational.
I, on the other hand, seem to be viewed as a Company Gal.
And that takes me to the discomfortable edge. So many things get tangled up together. At Small Church, I believe I ministered in ways that opened up space for the Spirit to move, for the Spirit to emerge, if you will. In that place and among those people the Spirit seemed to call for colored candles and unusual flowers and twigs and drama in worship–lots of drama–and music from a variety of traditions that underscored the message. In that place and among those people the Spirit led to a positive vote to be Open and Affirming. In that place and among those people the Spirit led to hope for the future. And that was all good, but it didn't save Small Church from the inevitable need to hire a part-time pastor or spare me the difficult decision to leave so they could recognize the need.
At the discomfortable edge, the new emergence may not save–really it surely won't save–the old structures.
How, then, do we ask people who liked the old ways to allow something new to emerge when it may hasten the erasure of all they loved? Is it enough to tell them it was going to die, anyway? Are we inviting ourselves to a suicide party?
Believe me, no one wants to attend that.
We'll move more quietly, then, toward extinction. We don't have the kind of theology that urges us to save the souls of
others; our beliefs don't have the ferocity of evangelicalism.
But I admire that ferocity, that sense that the Word received must be transmitted.
Some churches, the ones that have maintained their endowments or that are particularly well-situated, will go on for some time. But the others will drop sooner, unable to defend themselves, like plant-eating dinosaurs finally pushed over a discomfortable edge.