To Emerge or not to Emerge?

I’m a little sick of being the “emergent guy” on campus.  In fairness, since giving a day long presentation a little over a month ago, a whole group of us have been openly identified as thinking in the “emergence” vein.  I’ve been thinking about these questions for almost a decade now, since attending some church plants in San Diego and Denver experimenting with alternative worship.  It stuns me that some of my fellow students have never experienced post-seeker-sensitive worship, or people playing with what comes next.  I guess the Episcopal Church can be a strong silo in Christianity.

On campus this has meant that, since Phyllis Tickle’s talk this Fall, several students have been playing “Emergence Safari.”  Let me explain.  Every time something new surfaces in a class, or an idea comes up different from their experience of Church, they jump up, pointing a finger into the figurative bushes, and ask “is that emergence?”  It’s like an episode of the Crocodile hunter.  I feel my fellow students want me to say, “Crikey, what a Sheila you’ve spotted, that’s a real emergent liturgy  there.”

Is this emergent?

What they don’t know is that we are far behind the curve.  Emergence is new to many of my fellow students, but it is a dated way of describing the phenomenon occurring.  The language is in heavy debate.  At greenbelt this summer, I participated in a panel discussion asking the question “Is the emergent church dead?”  A number of my friends consider themselves “post-emergent” (which is snarky, but it is what it is).

So, is emergence dead?  Is it silly to use this language anymore?  I’m still attracted to the word emergence.  I like the image the word conjures.  I’d love to see the Church emerge from years of infighting and discrimination.  I’d love to see the Church emerge from behind the carefully constructed walls it has built.  I’d love to see the Church emerge.  I’m just not quite ready to say it has.  Thoughts?

Published by Mike Angell

The Rev. Mike Angell is rector of The Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in St. Louis.

3 thoughts on “To Emerge or not to Emerge?

  1. Mike, as one of the surely guilty “emergence safari” folks, this experience and your thoughts have gotten me thinking about the relative impassability of movements.

    The best analogy I can think of is high school jazz band. I went to a super-white suburban high school with a jazz program of middling-but-improving quality. The directors would bring in guest clinicians, get us “church-stepping” to Duke Ellington at 7 a.m., do pretty much everything they could do within the pedagogical limits the context imposed.

    And it helped. But it didn’t turn us into a jazz band. There were a few of us who put in the work to take some more genuine strides, but it was a lot of work, and the strides were still pretty limited. You’ve gotta go to shows. You’ve gotta listen to records. You’ve gotta transcribe. And you’ve gotta practice, practice practice.

    I think that about all the seminary can do is say, “There’s this movement. It’s out there. We’ll try to nail it down for you enough to give you a sense for the overall sweep. But like any good movement or coherent spirituality, in the end you just have to go and do it with people who are already doing it.”

    Most of us will choose not to. Some of us will give it a go as opportunities present themselves. A couple might actually seek those opportunities out. But I think the phenomenon you’ve identified gets to the heart of something Louis Armstrong (not “Louie,” ugh) tried to identify. I think we might well say with him the same thing of Emergence Christianity* that he said of jazz: “If you have to ask what [it] is, you’ll never know.” That doesn’t mean we can’t know. It just means the only way we can know is to participate enough that we no longer have to ask.

    Thanks for a thoughtful post, dude.

    *I’d hazard a guess that my capitalization here is one of those subtle signals that I don’t get it, the same kind of signals people who call Armstrong “Louie” send, creating the same kind of annoyance you’re expressing in this post.

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