Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Book Review Emergence Christianity

One of my favorite liturgical seasons of the year is Pentecost. At Pentecost we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit and recall the first Pentecost in Jerusalem when the Spirit came upon the disciples in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. Something new and life-giving was in the air. The disciples were filled with the Spirit, not with wine, as some onlookers thought.

For me Pentecost marks a time of change, of renewal, of life.

In her new book, Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It is Going, and Why It Matters (Baker Publishing, 2012) basically tells us that the Church is a time of renewal. We are going through a long Pentecost.

Many have written about what has been called Emerging Christianity or Emergence Christianity. A few months ago I reviewed a book here by Diana Butler Bass called Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening. Many other similar type books have been published.

In short, these authors tell us that the Church is going through a massive change. People are very interested in God, holiness, liturgical worship, monastic practices; but the old bricks and mortar congregational life with parish halls, bell towers, large physical plants, not to mention large paid staffs are slowly dwindling. Across the country people are flocking to newer type Christian communities who focus on traditional spiritual practices but leave behind the old "forms" of what we consider Church life. Recently I was reading about St. Lydia's in Brooklyn, NY, a new emergence type Christian community that meets on Sunday morning, is inclusive, and also has no paid pastor. Tickle says that these types of groups are more common than we think.

Her book, Emergence Christianity, takes the reader through some historical background material in order to understand what is going on. Emergence Christianity is more of a survey than an in-depth study. She discusses some of the hallmarks of what we would call emerging or emergence Christianity and then discusses a few of them:

Lively worship
Focus on community
Smaller rather than larger
No paid pastor or maybe a pastor who works full time and pastors on Sundays
Focus on outreach and philanthropy to local community
Inclusive rather than exclusive
Thoughtful and reflective, some communities are neo-Monastic communities

Another really good benefit of Emergence Christianity is that Tickle includes color pictures of these communities, something which I found fascinating. As the old adage goes a picture tells 1,000 words and these pictures do just that! I just wish there were more.

Finally, if after reading Emergence Christianity you want to learn more, Tickle includes an annotated bibliography for further reading, guiding the reader to more resources.

I have been thinking a lot about the emergent Church movement and will most likely read more about it in the coming weeks and months, struggling to hear God speaking in this new Pentecost that we're experiencing. As a pastor of what we call a "traditional Church" (I am a priest in the Eastern Orthodox Church) I am very much aware that most people I know are actually attracted to the hallmarks of "emergent Christianity" but find themselves in a bricks and mortar congregation. I look around my town and see mainline Christian congregations that are forced to share pastors since their income is down or have no more Church school programs because there are few children left. Pastors are being forced to work part time or three quarter time because income is down. Parishioners are no longer interested in keeping up with the physical plant, especially those with larger properties, halls, parsonages or manses.

The emergent Christian movement will certainly force us to seriously take a look at how we all "do Church" in the months and years to come.