Why the Emerging Church Matters…

I’m writing this while on a Delta jet, flying from Atlanta to Albuquerque. Fran and I are enjoying a rare weekend away from Rhiannon in order to attend the Emerging Church Conference sponsored by the Center for Action and Contemplation. This conference features some of the most dynamics speakers within the Christian community today, including Richard Rohr, Brian McLaren, Shane Claiborne, Phyllis Tickle, and Alexie Torres-Fleming. Organizations like Spiritual Directors’ International and TheOoze.com will have a presence, and I am certainly not the only author who will be in the audience. In fact, Mike Morrell joked to me that he thinks a good 10% of the conference attendees with be publishing professionals – whether bloggers, authors, editors, or marketing folks.

Based on Mike’s guess, that means there will be about 90 of us writerly types there – because the event is sold out, with some 900 persons registered for the conference! How is it that in the middle of a full-blown economic meltdown, almost a thousand folks want to gather in as unlikely a place as New Mexico to worship together and engage in discourse about the future of the Christian faith?

Well, certainly, the dynamite line-up of speakers is a piece of why this event is so huge. I’m not familiar with Torres-Fleming, but each of the other presenters is a significant voice in the ongoing conversation about where the Holy Spirit is collectively leading us. McLaren is known for his visionary exploration of what it means to be a Christian in the postmodern world – with a strong sense of how this impacts questions of social and environmental justice. The homespun Claiborne isn’t quite as heavy on theory as McLaren, but he simply walks the walk, as a community organizer and “good citizen” in a troubled neighborhood in inner-city Philadelphia; his advocacy of being an “ordinary radical” in terms of our walk with Christ has struck a chord among Christians both young and old. It’s my understanding that Torres-Fleming is engaged in similar hands-on ministry in New York. Richard Rohr’s keen understanding of mystical Christianity, grounded both in his life as a Franciscan priest but also in the work he had done in a variety of settings, from male spirituality to the Enneagram, leads to a recognition that Christianity in the future will not be primarily about moral rectitude but rather be an initiation into higher and transformed consciousness – which will in turn empower Christians to engage in the kinds of ministry that Torres-Fleming and Claiborne embody. Finally, Phyllis Tickle is the great storyteller of the bunch, a keen observer of Christian mega-trends who sees the emergence of postmodern Christianity as the most momentous event in church history since the Protestant Reformation.

So what are we all traveling to Albuquerque for? Speaking for myself, I’m thrilled and excited to be part of a conversation that I believe can be transformational for all of us – embracing the deep wisdom of the Christian path, the unique challenges of the post-modern present, and recognizing that our call will come from a place that is neither exclusively Catholic nor exclusively Protestant, neither purely contemplative or purely activist, neither east-coast nor west-coast, neither elitist nor populist, neither rich nor poor. I find it much easier to discern the Holy Spirit’s presence when people who are quite diverse and different come together and engage in meaningful and respectful dialogue. I’m hoping that this is what we’re going to find in Albuquerque. And while I don’t expect the kind of epiphany that made Paul go temporarily blind or caused Constantine to convert, I suspect we’ll all come away from this weekend with a new or renewed sense of our calling. Multiply that by 900, and I think we can count on miracles happening.

I’ll write more later…

Shine On You Immortal Diamond
Two More Wonderful Videos: Tilden Edwards and Richard Rohr
In Memoriam: Kenneth Leech
Five Things I learned from Phyllis Tickle
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • http://discombobula.blogspot.com Sue

    “I find it much easier to discern the Holy Spirit’s presence when people who are quite diverse and different come together and engage in meaningful and respectful dialogue.”


    Hmmm, yes, funny that, isn’t it? Wonder if that will be a feature of the Body in the future too – less dreary homogenisation, more flash and colour and difference :)

    I am jealous and coveting your experience of listening to my beloved Mr Rohr :) Hope you have a wonderful time.

  • Liz

    Can’t wait to hear about it!