Earlier I posted on ways to worship, which was supposed to lead up to this post, my thoughts on the emerging church movement, but then I got lazy while reading A Generous Orthodoxy, then switched books to finish The Irresistible Revolution before the March 10th justice seminar... so here I am, painfully late in posting thoughts, and I don't have all my thoughts together yet. Perhaps this will be an ongoing series, as I get around to finishing my books, we discuss here, and I read more conversations elsewhere (More on conversations later).
A leader of the movement, Scot McKnight, said "Emerging Christians are as diverse as the universal Church. Some are simply evangelicals with a missional slant, while others are postmodernists with a Christian hangover." I don't speak for everyone in the emerging church movement, I don't endorse or agree with everything said in relation to it, and I'm sure everyone doesn't agree with me. These are just my thoughts, as they are now. If you want a better explanation of the movement as a whole, see McKnight's article in Christianity Today
In this series-to-be, let me start with where I'm coming from. I had never heard the term 'emerging' (which, apparently, is different than 'Emergent'.) when I visited my first 'emerging' service, at the church I and my family have been going to since I was in junior high. At Grace, I taught 5-year-old Sunday School all four years of high school, I led a high school small group, my first summer job during college was working for the church's IT department... you get the idea; I have roots there, and I believe in the church's mission wholeheartedly. Anyway, they began a new service which was meeting in the sr. high room, and while Josh and I were coming back from college every weekend for a pre-marriage class, we started to visit it.
The service is called Sojourn. The room is immediately striking and unusual for the typical churchgoer. The stage is low, just a hexagonal riser, and surrounded on all sides by small round tables with 2 or 4 chairs at each, with a bible and candles on each one. There are rows of chairs, but most people sit at tables. In the back of the room, there's a row of rocking chairs, for parents with babies. The corners of the room have "worship stations", where worshipers can go at any point during the service, when they feel led. There's a prayer station behind a screen in one corner, with a journal to read or add to, and a kneeling bench. There's an art station, for those who are artists to worship in that way, making beautiful designs with paint or pastels, inspired by the message or a song, or just where they are in life. There's a communion station. Our church doesn't take communion every week together, but if this is a way you're led to worship or respond to God, the opportunity is there. The newest station is a "social justice station" - a table and display full of articles and books dealing with social justice issues like Darfur and poverty and war and AIDS, as well as a journal to read or add to. Eat of these places give participants in the service ways to express worship and respond to God as their led, rather than the typical sit-stand-sing worship service.
The service will start promptly, and between 75 and 150 people will be in attendance. This is a huge change from the church's main service: not only does Sojourn feel smaller because it's set up in the round, it's only 10% the size of the other service, and this is on purpose. Anyway, one service in never the same as the next. An MC - someone who works for the church, sometimes a pastor - will get up and welcome everyone & explain the room. There will be announcements. There may be a video. There may be singing-worship. There may be poetry shared. There may be a responsive reading. There may be personal reflective time on a specific verses, with paper available to respond with poetry, journaling, or art. There maybe a special song. A discussion question may be posed to discuss at your table. Discussion questions may be posed to everyone, with the MC moderating. Sometimes we'll watch the message from the main service and discuss it; sometimes there will be a speaker in Sojourn who stops his or her sermon periodically to get the listeners' thoughts or experiences. Any time during the service, you may see people quietly get up to go pray or take communion or respond to what they're hearing with art.
Specific memorable examples of creative worship at Sojourn: When the sermon topic was Communion, larger tables were set up in the room that each accommodated 8 people, with a basket of bread and pitcher of grapejuice and glasses. At the end of the sermon, we discussed the community aspect of Communion and broke bread & prayed around the table, as if we were at a meal. During Advent last Christmas, larger worship stations and an Advent-candle station was set up, and an extended time was given to reflect, pray, journal, light Advent candles with your family, and worship through art. The goal was to give a sacred and holy time during the hustle of the holidays, and I for one was very appreciative. I also, for the first time, found the tradition of lighting Advent candles to be very holy and meaningful. I never understood it before, at all.
The most distinctive part of the service is, from what I understand, common to most emerging church services: the conversation. When the word 'conversation' comes up, it has a deeper meaning than the "Hi, how are you?" conversations I'll have in passing with friends. From my understanding, the 'emerging conversation' is the acknowledgment that Christians have different experiences, gifts, passions, and personalities, and can bring something to our understanding of who God is and what He's done and is doing in the world. I love the discussions we have in Sojourn. Posing questions, responding, and hearing others' responses makes me wrestle with the topic or passage more thoroughly than if I was just a spectator. The conversation challenges me to think and participate rather than just be served. It also encourages community and openness. Christianity is not a spectator sport, nor is it a go-it-alone enterprise. No one has it all together and no one has all the right answers for everyone. We need others, we need to participate, we need to work to understand each other, we need community, and we need conversation.
To be continued....