When Jonathan and I step into the pupit, we see a lot of gray hair. This alone is enough to give us pause when thinking about what role Emergent Christianity might play in our congregation. There's at least three reasons why Emergent "techniques" might find difficulty takng root in congregations where lots of members were born before World War II:
1. Pedagogical. Older adults seem most comfortable in a passive learning environment. They sit and listen to the lecturer. Emergent's participatory worship rubs older adults the wrong way.
2. Theological & spiritual. Older Protestants, who came of age before Vatican II, are generally suspicious of anything ritualistic. It smacks of "Catholic superstition" which is easily equated with "ceremonial, legalistic Old Testament works righteousness." For older Protestants, Christianity is all about "The Big Idea." It may be a "liberal" idea of "The Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man," or a "conservative" idea of "Believe on the Lord Jesus and Thou Shalt Be Saved," but it's still a Big Idea as such. Theirs is a rationalistic religion that has no use for the real Presence, whether it's at the Communion table, or in a labyrinth, or caught up in an experience of smoldering incense and throbbing music. In short, they think "all that stuff is hokey."
3. The Emergent Church has a heart for the unchurched. But among middle to upper class residents of small southern communities, church membership is still seen as something "everybody does," along with joining Rotary. Christendom is alive and well in certain demographic segments of Salisbury, North Carolina. Getting these folks to think of themselves as missionaries in a post-Christian culture is a daunting task.
So what do you do when you've developed an appreciation for Emergent liturgy and mission, yet you minister to congregations whose culture is, at best, only moderately friendly to Emergent Christianity?
Well, you don't break the Church in pieces by stuffing PowerPoint down their throats. That's disrespectful to the Holy Spirit who, presumably, had a hand in molding the congregational life you've inherited. Passive, rationalistic Christianity is still Christianity. It deserves better than the "Chainsaw Al" treatment.
Rather, you find a pace of change that is acceptable to the old guard whose foundation you're building upon, and that will quench the thirst of younger or newer members who may be energized by, and have gifts to lead an Emergent kind of congregational life.
Here's what strange about our congregation. We're by no means an Emergent Chuch. No way. Not nearly that hip. To borrow from the satire I linked to yesterday, our worship services don't look like this:
And our parishioners, by and large, don't look like this:
It's only been in the couple of years that I've become aware of this creature called "Emergent Church." But in the nearly nine years I've been at John Calvin, we've been changing our congregational life in ways that have loose affinities with the Emergent Church.
1. We've brought our worship service more in line with the Book of Common Worship. This means more congregational singing through using Kyries or an Agnus Dei after confession, and singing portions of the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, the Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation and Amen. It also means occasional Services for Wholeness and anointing with oil. We've slightly increased the annual number of observances of the Lord's supper. Some dislike this "crypto-Episcopalianism," but it's a level of ritual that most people can tolerate and others badly need.
2. We won a Worship Renewal Grant from the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship which enabled us to provide a variety of experiences for the congregation of the visual and performing arts, and bring the visual arts more into our Sunday worship life. Our old fellowship hall now an occasional host to art exhibits. Some of these experiences have been more well-received than others. And again, there a segment of the congregation that's less than enthusiastic about "all this hokey art stuff." But they're tolerant. And the people who are more into this are tolerant of the other people. "Love covers a multitude of sins."
If Emergent means "cool," then we aren't an Emergent Church. But I'm sympathetic to folks like this guy in Kansas City who are experimenting with this type of congregational life.
And so that begs the question: Just what is Emergent Church? If it's a congregation without pretense, who worships God with all five senses, with a heart for making disciples, a love for church history and a passion for serving God here and now, then there may be a lot of people who are Emergent, but can't be easily satirized. Maybe we are Emergent here at John Calvin Presbyterian, just not all that cool.
And that's what I really like about the Emergent Church. It's recognized leaders aren't touting their style as the Elixer of Life for congregations like mine. They aren't beating Mainline Churches over the head with a Darwinian message of "Change or Die." There's none of the canned, franchised feeling to it so characteristic of the Church Growth Movement. And that's a good thing.