This time, I asked Meredith about one of her (many) interests: You recommend Catholics become involved with the “Emerging Church” movement. What should we know about it that we don’t yet understand? Pride, (which admittedly comes before a fall), allows me to point out that her reply has references to Richard Rohr [who is soon to publish his first book for Loyola Press] and the wondrous Phyllis Tickle [already one of our authors and a true Wisdom figure.]
Actually, I recommend Roman Catholics start out by simply learning more about this phenomenon, which first began among Protestants and Evangelicals over a decade ago. (FYI, the terms “emerging” and “emergent” are used interchangeably – except when they’re not.)
Probably best known among Catholic participants in this conversation is Fr. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and Founding Director of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I consider Phyllis Tickle’s book, The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why essential reading for newcomers to this conversation.
Tickle provides a rich framework for explaining what seems to be happening right now. She reviews the sweep of Christian history to help readers understand how we’re in the throes of what seems to happen every 500 years — an upheaval in church structure(s) that leads to the emergence of “a new, more vital form of Christianity” and “a brand-new expression of its faith and praxis.” Tickle’s primer is blessedly readable and, for the most part, devoid of esoteric jargon that even I, a former academician, find unnecessarily dense. (This from someone who loves to toss phrases like “the hermeneutic of suspicion” into every day discussions.)
Why am I so keen on what could be dismissed as intellectual gymnastics? First, let me note that I agree with those who point out how the emergent church “movement” could be more accurately described as an ongoing “conversation” about church at this point in history. And this conversation is anchored in questions like: What does it mean to “be” church? What are we called to “do” as followers of Christ Jesus? How can we make the kingdom of God real in our day?
These are radical questions in the true sense of the word radical. They re-focus us on the power and promptings of the Holy Spirit; on our baptismal call to serve and love God as well as one another. These questions invite us to focus on shared beliefs and values that underlie and transcend Christian denominations. They challenge Roman Catholics in particular to consider whether the current culture of clericalism and parochialism is working for any of us – including those whose identities are anchored in positions of church authority and power.
I believe that in exploring the emergent church whatever-it-is, Catholics will discover a grassroots inquiry worth embracing.
You can read my latest post over at Meredith’s blog.