Thursday, March 26, 2009
This last weekend one thousand gathered in Albuquerque for another emerging church conference. But to say this was just another ec conference would be dismissive of a larger movement and initiated beginnings of things to come. I've been to ec gatherings before, but nothing like this, perhaps and primarily because it was an attempt to include EVERYONE at the table, Roman Catholics, Protestants and Evangelicals (even though protestants are evangelical and catholics simultaneously, ah the dreaded language barrier). Under the facilitated leadership of Richard Rohr and Brian McClaren, and in conjunction with Phyllis Tickle, Alexei Torres-Fleming, Shane Claiborne and Karen Sloan, the wisdom of the years was able to make space for a hospitable environment of blessing, sharing, and appreciation for who we are, individually and collectively.
I came with a group of 18 from Lutheran Campus Ministry at Northern Arizona University. Mind you, our own group included yes some Lutherans, but a pentecostal, a menonite, non-denom and baptist students. Our own community of LCM reflects a diverse denominational background that adds to the richness of learning to be church. We had just flown in, leaving VERY | 3:30 a.m. | ungodly early from New Orleans where we spent Spring Break being renewed reconstructing homes and encountering the ambiguous complexities of loss and hope that arise from tragedies such as Katrina. Of the 32 that were with us in New Orleans more than half now joined us for this conference and so for me I was able to experience the event through the fresh eyes of our university students many of whom had never heard of the emerging church.
Katie, a women's studies major, 19, is the most delightful human being you will meet. She is without agenda and embodies pure joy, irrespective and beyond her youth and potential naivete, I have the sense this is her gift. She shared one of her table time conversations with us. McClaren as always initiated the youngest at the table to begin. She was clearly the youngest by at least 30 years. And so reflecting on Alexei's talk she told her group "this is what I feel called to do with my life. I feel called to be with these kind of people." It wasn't as much her inspired sense of call that caught my attention as the response of those gathered around the table. She continued, "they listened to me as though I was the most important one there at the table. Then they began to pour themselves into me and share their wisdom with me in the most honorable way imaginable." Then Katie said that an older, "wiser" I like to say, man in his late 60's grabbed her hand and gave her the sign of the cross on her forehead, blessing her. Tears began to flow as she shared her experience.
Arriving home and on Tuesday attending text study with some colleagues and retired pastors we were asked to recount our time in New Orleans and Albuquerque. One of the retired and somewhat wise clergy asked, "did you come away with something that local congregations can do in their parishes?" It caught me off guard for a moment because directly the answer was no. There was no program we were given, there was no plan of implementation. Sure there were the challenges from Shane and others to be more active in our faith. But the essence of it all grew of the nature of how we were with one another, reflecting the nature of God in our midst, connecting us together as God's people in special and profound ways. It was less about the functional and organizational aspects for church, the nature of the thing itself through our very engagement with one another. You might even say that the conference was less about asserting as it was about attending to the Christianity that's been emerging in each of us and our traditions over time for the sake of discovering, hearing, experiencing something fresh and new. This nature is about listening, blessing, making space in me for you even as you differ from me, and through it all staying at the table because this thing doesn't belong to us but God. The nature of things comes down to the fact that, for me, this weekend embodied the very presence of Christ at work in the church all for the life of the world.
The event was more an experience filled with some of the greatest denominational diversity I'd ever been a part of. Over a decade ago I attended the World Council of Churches in Salvador, Bahia and while there was great diversity there it didn't have the feel of really making space for each other as this event did for me. It was an experience of blessing and integration among generations in these various denominations. And with the "wiser" generation at the table too it added a necessary source of connectedness and life that is frequently missing for me as I attend emergent events. There are so many that dismiss the older folk as irrelevant because of their antiquated theological stances and ways for practicing church. But underneath it all those supposed "old" people share a profound and deep love to passing on, and a sharing in the faith, with young emerging church folks who not only will be the church someday, but are right here and now, even as many of them struggle to figure it all out.
The weekend produced in me hope for what could be as we move forward as a church. I'm one who hold the opinion that first and foremost what that all means is that this is Christ's church and it will never die. The only question is, will we be a part of it as it moves into the future? If it's going to be anything like we experienced in Albuquerque I'm thrilled to be sharing and living into something new and with a greater diversity for what God is up to in us and the world.
Posted by david at 6:22 AM