Well, the first Emerging Church Conference sponsored by the Center for Action and Contemplation is over. And if you weren’t there (or logged in to the webcast), there will probably be another one next April. And in the meantime, DVDs and CDs of this year’s event will be made available soon.
I know I whined about how big an event it was — and part of me still wishes it were a lot smaller. But by the end of the weekend I was convinced that this was mostly a very good thing indeed. And that’s because there was tremendous diversity in generational terms (folks from their 20s through to their 80s all were well represented), denominational terms (a good mix of Catholics and all sorts of Protestants, plus a few Jewish and Eastern Orthodox attendees) and geography. The audience was very white, which I’m sure is due to a number of factors, from the fact that the presenters were with one exception all caucasian, to the reality that this event costs plenty of money, to the kind of socioeconomic and educational demographics that seem to go in to a group of people who are willing to gather to ponder the role of post-modernity and the church (hey, most people don’t even know what post-modernity is — so that right there suggests that this conference was weighted toward those with educational privilege). Thankfully, the presenters really were wrestling with the question of what I would call passive racism (nobody set out to make this event mostly white, but the constellation of social, cultural, educational and economic factors all colluded to make this event of interest almost exclusively to educated whites with access to a certain measure of financial or social privilege). I believe the best way to make an event like this truly multi-cultural would be to get someone like Myles Munro or T.D. Jakes involved… but that’s assuming they would buy in to the Emerging Church premise. Obviously, there’s a lot of work to be done on that front.The important thing for now is to recognize that it’s work that needs to be done, and work that’s worth doing.
Anyway, to recap today: because Fran and I had an early flight, we could only make the first session this morning, which was a Town Hall style meeting. The organizers had been gathering questions for event participants all weekend long, and those questions were boiled down to two or three key themes to which the presenters responded. Not surprisingly, the most asked question involved trying to understand just what “the Emerging Church” or “Emergence Christianity” is, anyways. McLaren fielded that question with a very succinct overview of what kind of social changes are affecting the Christian community today, and why it matters; Phyllis Tickle followed up by sharing her own experience juggling membership in a traditional Episcopal Church with parallel involvement in several organizations that embody different dimensions of the “Emergent” world. The other big question involved wondering how each of us can discern our call, particularly given the enormity of need in terms of social justice concerns. Both Alexie and Shane responded to this question, by sharing their own discernment processes and then acknowledging the importance of community in that process.
After Richard spoke briefly — comparing the Emergence movement with the cultural changes that occurred in Catholicism with Vatican II — the floor was opened up to members of the audience, asking us to share our own experiences with the Emergence “movement” (not a very good word, but I can’t think of a better one). A number of folks spoke, and gave a wonderful assortment of inspiring anecdotes about how their local communities are grappling with the kinds of questions that are pushing Christians into the post-modern experience. But as folks spoke, I noticed that several Catholics expressed varying degrees of discomfort with questions of intercommunion (or even of just being Catholic and yet participating in Communion ceremonies at non-Catholic Churches). Man, it’s a toughie (and I understand that the closing ceremony included a beautiful communion ceremony that celebrated the unity in the conference even while acknowledging our differences, but I wasn’t there, so I can’t speak about it — but I think Mike Morell is going to blog about it, so I’ll post up a link to his blog once he does). Closed communion and theological bickering about the Eucharistic meal are certainly points of real pain in the Body of Christ, and I’m glad that people are recognizing this pain and giving it a voice, even as I just don’t see how anything other than moving into that pain and suffering within it (hopefully redemptively) is going to happen in the near future and for a good long while to come. Whew. Our work not only is not done, in a realy way it has barely begun.
So there you have it. An amazing conference, with amazing attendees, dynamite speakers, and hopefully with the potential to bring together even more Christians of all denominational stripes, next year and in the future beyond.
Now I’m tired and I’m going to go to bed!