‘Emerging Scotland’- what next?

A year or so ago, I put quite a lot of energy into trying to find connections with other individuals and groups that were involved in similar para church activities as we were- other people who might use words like emerging/missional/alternative worship.

To this end, I started a Facebook group, set up a few meetings, and began to make contact with some lovely folk.

Stewart then started a Ning site, which has seen some activity, and has over 100 members. There have been further meetings, and on line discussions. However, Ning are changing the way that they operate, and will be charging people to use their sites soon.

The question then arises- what next?

I thought I would reproduce my recent comment on the Emerging Scotland Ning site here. Any comments/ideas/thoughts welcome…

Hi folks
I have been thinking a bit about the site, and what we might be its future…
I started the facebook site a – which is here.
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Activity on the FB site has kind of dried up- perhaps because we replaced it with the ning site, but also perhaps this is a natural progression of all on-line networking. We tend to start well, and make some connections, but then move on to other stuff. The net tends to pull us constantly towards the next ‘new thing.’
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There is a danger that the site becomes just a place to argue about theology- which quickly becomes boring and pointless for most of us, even if important to others.
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There is also the real question as to whether the ’emerging’ word still has any currency. It still might be something that enables people to gather around a vague set of questions- but increasingly, it is not a term that people are using. I am not sure what might replace it though- Missional? This word always seemed a little contrived to me.
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When I started the ES FB site, my hope was that we might see the development of a supportive ’emerging’ network in Scotland- facilitated by on line stuff, but not exclusively on line. This was partly about our own needs here to find partnerships, mentoring, encouragement, and cross-fertilisation of ideas, but also an idea that developed out of a number of conversations with others. People described isolation, and a lack of freedom and permission to do things differently.
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I hope and believe that this has been happening through some of the connections made through Emerging Scotland, but to be honest, I still wonder whether we could or should do this better.
This rather depends on whether there are enough of us that want to do this- I know that many are busy with churches and organisations, and feel that they have more than enough networking, and perhaps no time/energy for more.
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However, if people are still interested in developing physical connections, then I would propose that we put a little more energy in developing some local meetings- as already began to develop for a while. A few ideas that occur to me ‘off the cuff’-
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1. a meet up at SOLAS for those going there in a couple of weeks (some of us will be there on the Saturday?)
2. specific interest meetings- worship, youth work, community building
3. Developing partnerships around activities- sharing skills and resources
4. Joining other networks- such a Emergent, or CMS.
5. Setting up some kind of loose administration/facilitation process-or asking an established organisation to host this for us
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I think the bottom line for me is that if we move to facebook, and the current low level of activity continues, then it would be no bad thing. I will probably call in from time to time (although I rarely use FB these days.) However it will be a missed opportunity- and I suspect that Emerging Scotland will kind of atrophy.
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Those of you who blog or have access to other information portals, perhaps it is worth broadening the discussion and asking people to consider what they need?
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Cheers
Chris

Meeting and hoping with friends in Largs…

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We just spent a lovely couple of hours meeting with some people in Largs.

This was a networking meeting set up by Dave Wilson, to give  an assorted bunch of people the chance to meet up, share stories, and begin to imagine what being a Christian might mean for those of us who find ourselves longing for a more real and authentic way of expressing our spirituality and mission in the 21st century.

There were a couple of folk there who are members (companions?) of the Northumbria Community– a new monastic group that I knew little about, beyond the name. I hope to get to know more.

Then there were a couple of others who had found life in or around Charismatic Catholic organisations.

And many of our stories included much brokenness and pain- the damage that we can do to one another in the name of doctrine and denomination.

There were 4 of us at the meeting from Dunoon too- we set up a few worship stations, and Nick and I played a little music, but to be honest, the conversations were the important bit.

Dave asked the question ‘What next?’, and there was a reticence about wanting to name this as a ‘new thing’- rather people just wanted to meet again, and see what might happen- see what links begin to be made, and where the Spirit will lead us next.

I love meetings like this- full of hope…

If you are in the area (West Scotland) and want to be part of future meetings, drop me a line…

Emerging church- the debate continues…

There has been some more chat on various sites about EC. The usual questions are being examined again- is the term useful? Did the ’emerging conversation’ promise much and deliver little? Does it still have any use or relevance?

emerging church

Creative (if rather unsympathetic) posters from here!

Followers of this blog will know that this has been a recurrent theme-

Back in September, I posted another review from the blogosphere- here.

Then in January, I spoke about the fact that our group had decided to stick with the word ’emerging’ for now.

Then in February, I asked what is emerging?

Then Jonny Baker pointed us to this post a week or so ago, which he responded to in a great post entitled

if you are disillusioned you’d better ask yourself…

Then there is a really good post from the Emergent village website- here, that responds to some of these discussions. As ever, it is useful to remember that Emergent Village (often foreshortened as ‘Emergent’) is one of the conduits for conversation about emerging church- but does not claim to represent, or even lead, the conversation. It is worth re-stating this, as some of the key figures in Emergent- Doug Pagitt, Brian McLaren, for example- have attracted much criticism, and controversy. I have an awful lot of respect for both, but neither would claim to lead anything called ‘the emerging church’.

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I spent some time thinking about where I am up to with the ’emerging church conversation’ (I always feel I have to use parenthesis around the phrase!)

I realised that I feel really quite comfortable with the label now. For me, it has brought me into contact with greatly positive and inspirational people, ideas and resources.  I do not see myself as a member of ‘The emerging church’, because I still think that ’emerging church’ is a verb, not a noun.

Neither does the small church group I am part of call itself an ’emerging church’, although we might continue to hope that we are being drawn forward into new things by the Spirit of God.

Over on the Emerging Scotland ning site, Vicki Allen asked the question- ‘what does emerging mean to you?’ and encouraged people to list three things that were meaningful to them. I thought about it for a while- and then settled on these three-

1. The freedom to re-imagine and re-discover COMMUNITY.

2. The freedom to re-imagine and re-discover THEOLOGY- particular ‘small’ theology (by this I mean theology that is respectful of our inheritance, but interested in it’s application to our own locality and community.)Add New Post ‹ this fragile tent — WordPress

3. The freedom to re-imagine and re-discover the MISSION of the Kingdom of God.

I remain grateful for Emergent, and the emergence of rich ways of understanding the nature of our engagement with Jesus in our post modern context.

The rest, well that is up to Him.

sprtlty

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Emerging Scotland open house meeting…

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A great weekend!

Thanks to all those who came- great to meet new friends, and to hook up again with others. For those of you who had to pull out at the last moment- you were missed and I hope that there will be other chances to get together.

Great too to have a house full of folk- we had around 30 people- adults and children, and there was a mix of quiet times, (when some of us took the kids of to do other things) and noisy times. We set up stations in the garden, and stuck poems to trees and walls… and the rain stayed away!

I have this phrase that came to me-  as we gathered Jesus too was both guest, and host…

We shared meals and life stories, and talked about how life and faith looks from a Dunoon perspective.

What next for networking and meeting?

Over to you my friends- will others set up meets in your areas?

I took very few photos- I was just too busy, but here are a few. Click to enlarge-

Post emerging church…

minefield

I have been part of a discussion on the Emerging Scotland Ning site about the challenges facing those of us who are part of the Emerging Church conversation in Scotland. Check it out- but I thought it worth reproducing some of the points here.

One of the bits of the discussion as been about the new boundaries that what ever forms of church that emerge may well face. This list is far from exhaustive, but here are some of the issues that are developing;

SMUGNESS AND ELITISM
I think most radicalism has to deal with this- we tend to think we have it made. And then we realise that we do not, and indeed, other people have been doing the same as us for years!

LACK OF SUPPORT
I first floated the idea of some kind of Emerging Network in Scotland for this very reason. But many of us have a fear of hierarchy and restrictive structure. The model of facilitated network seems an important one.

STYLE OVER SUBSTANCE
I do not care how you worship, where you meet, whether you swing incense or swing your cat. I believe that the time has come to find old and new ways to worship, and engage with passion and creativity- using all the arts, not just guitar driven soft rock!

THE MISSION OF GOD
I grew up with a view of the gospel that I now see as limited. ‘Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand’ takes me in many new directions, but like you, i am coming to see that the old directions are still valid too- namely saving souls. How we do that is the stuff of much discussion however!

LIMITED PERSPECTIVES
I suppose we need to localise AS WELL as globalise. I need to start with my community, and together we then look outwards first into the locality, and then into the wider world. Limited perspectives, it seems to me, are inevitable. What we need to ask the Spirit of God to show us, is where the bridges are that we can walk on into new places, new ideas. For me, this is exactly what the EC discussion has been so far- but there is so much more!

CONSUMERISM
The spirit of the age? It is certainly an interesting time for capitalist expansionism! A time perhaps for church to raise voices that propose a different way of being. But what this looks like locally is the interesting thing- because it will probably be different for you than for me.

DOUBT
It may not be normal for you- but it is for me. I make this statement not as a theological one, but as an honest starting point. I know people who never appear to doubt. I know others who can not bring themselves to admit this lest the whole edifice of faith comes crashing down. Doubt is not the absence of faith for me, but the place in which it is tested and developed. It is not an either-or, but a both-and. Does this make me a syncretised post-modern? Perhaps, but I have tried the alternative, and it was dishonest. And i suspect that Thomas expressed the opinion of more than just himself when he doubted- and indeed that he continued to vacillate through his life!

THAT ‘POSTMODERN’ word.
It is just a set of lenses to examine stuff with. Limited and incomplete. I think it is a healthy thing to have an understanding of the thinking behind it, but then let us forget about it, and just get on with living and loving!

TRUTH
‘You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free’. Hmmm. I struggle with this.
Whose truth? What about the Bible and the uses we put the words in it to? Is truth something we take into us a we encounter Jesus through the Spirit?
The nature of truth and the discussion surrounding it could take up this whole site.
Perhaps it should!

POWER/DOCTRINE
I would agree that powerlessness is not necessarily the same thing as having no power- particularly when used as a challenge to the miss-use of power (if you see what i mean!) So the example set by Jesus and followed in Modern times by Ghandi, King etc- was a use of powerlessness, in a powerful way. The problem for me is that the church plays a different kind of power game too often- both politically, and more crucially, in the use of doctrine. All doctrinal statements are incomplete, and may even be wrong. So I am all for doctrines- particularly ones that are anchored to the church fathers- but I still think we should hold them lightly and use them softly. Apart from in application to OURSELVES. Accountable to our community. Accepting that we need to learn, but we also need to start from a firm place. There is that bit in Romans 12 (or is it 13?) about ‘disputable matters’…

INDIVIDUALISTIC FAITH
I think that Christianity without community is not Christlike- but I suppose there have always been others who have followed a different calling- a poles or into caves for example. I also believe strongly in the idea of small theologies, worked out together- that relate to the big theologies, but chew on them within a local expression of faith.
However- the language of church that you use is too much like a triumphalistic version of empire-christianity that i am happy to leave behind! That said, and setting aside my developed prejudices, the very ideas of church as the Bride of Christ also seems to me to be a discussion thread worth starting in it’s very own right…

DISCIPLESHIP

I am sure you are well aware of the mis-use that we have put words like ‘discipleship’ to.
I do not fully agree that the EC is about ‘maturing out’ of Church-  but neither do I accept that the models of church that predominate do not need the challenge of radical outsiders who will plot a different and dangerous path.
This is not necessarily what I feel called to- a have a skew towards the making of safety nets. But I welcome the hope and challenge brought by others.

That familiar question- what is emerging?

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Like many others, I have been participating in the emerging church ‘conversation’ for a few years now.

It has been wonderful.

It has transformed the way I think about and understand faith, and brought me again to a deep love of Jesus and all he calls us to.

It has brought me into contact with wonderful people who are traveling in the same direction.

It has given me a genuine hope that things are changing- that something NEW is happening.

The Lion of Judah is circling again…

But it has also brought me into conflict with others- whose core beliefs lead them to adopting different positions in relation to some of the building blocks of faith. And within me, after these years of discussing and blogging and reading- I also wonder where we are up to with this thing.

I particularly wonder where we are up to in Scotland, 2009.

So- some questions!

Where are new forms of church emerging and in what ways are they different?

Where are the agitators, the innovators, the people who pioneer new (emerging) forms of church?

The term seems to be used too as a way for traditional churches to seek renewal. Is this genuine change, or is it merely an attempt to do the same things, but be a bit more trendy?

Where is leadership coming from? Do we need it, or is there still a reaction against centralisation and control?

How do we find mentoring and companionship? Do we still need sympathetic and skillful people who will hold us accountable? Where are these people?

These seems to me to be a difficult, but very important questions. Our reaction to them will no doubt very much depend on where we start from.

I am part of a small group of people outside established church. We meet in houses and celebrate in non-religious environments. We form partnerships where we can, and have many friends, and some folk who view us with at best considerable suspicion! Groups like ours have many advantages- freedom, mobility, passion and excitement. But they are also fragile and ephemeral. They tend to depend on a small group of innovators, and are held together by friendship. When the storms begin (as the surely will) many things can simply destroy such gatherings.

This may be the natural order of things. Perhaps what survives is what is of worth. But perhaps too, like me, you are hungry for connection and for ways to seek and to provide support. Perhaps you are facing a difficult situation, and just need to speak to someone who has been there before.

Perhaps too you are, or have been, part of church situations where you no longer feel at home, New ideas and ways of doing things are in your mind, but the leadership of the place where you are is not open to such things. Perhaps what you need is to find others who have adventured still within such a situation.

There is a discussion thread that digs into some of these things on the Emerging Scotland site.

Friendship and the internet…

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Friendship- it just might save your life.

Not just in the obvious roped-together-climbing-up-the-Matterhorn kind of way, but in a thousand more subtle ways.

I have benefited enormously from all this on-line networking and blogging. But have long been concerned that online friendships lacked something vital to human experience. For us, they were expedient- given our somewhat isolated geographical location, but in my mind can never fully replace flesh on flesh contact.

I would go a little further (although I am hesitant to be categorical) and wonder if the real community that Jesus called us to (and modeled for us with his traveling companions) can only be experienced in close contact. I say this with some trepidation, as this kind of community is rarely comfortable, tidy or easy. I liked what Mark Berry had to say here about this.

On-line communication seems to have something of the autistic spectrum about it. It allows for the sharing of lots of informational data, but for the most part lacks the nuanced, multi-layered complexity that characterises human face to face exchanges. to extend the analogy, people who have autistic spectrum difficulties can find techniques that might help manage some of the contradictions and complications life brings to them. They might also have real strengths that are revealed in a capacity to perform some non-social tasks extremely well.

In the same way, on-line networking (such a recent phenomenon) does some things very well, and might yet develop techniques that make the interface more human. Before we rush to condemn, we should bear in mind that each step-change in communication technology has been greeted with much suspicion- the printing press, the railroads, television. These things result in change and adaption as they penetrate deeper into the human experience.

But I remain convinced that communication at a distance will never be enough. At present, I think the autistic analogy remains a good one.

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I came across an article from the journal ‘Biologist’ the other day, which was quoted by the Dranes on their 2churchmice’s blog. It makes some startling statements.

Britons now spend approximately 50
minutes a day interacting socially with
other people (ONS, 2003). Couples now
spend less time in one another’s company
and more time at work, commuting, or in
the same house but in separate rooms using
different electronic media devices. Parents
spend less time with their children
than they did only a decade ago. Britain
has the lowest proportion of children in
all of Europe who eat with their parents
at the table. The proportion of people who
work on their own at home continues to
rise.

Britain’s disinclination for togetherness
is only equalled by her veneration of communicating
through new technologies. The
rapid proliferation of electronic media is
now making private space available in
almost every sphere of the individual’s
life. Yet this is now the most significant
contributing factor to society’s growing
physical estrangement
. Whether in or out
of the home, more people of all ages in the
UK are physically and socially disengaged
from the people around them because they
are wearing earphones, talking or texting
on a mobile telephone, or using a laptop
or Blackberry.

Does this matter?

Well the study goes on to list the benefits of close human contact and friendship. Here are some highlights;

  • Measurable genetic and immunological benefits.
  • Biological changes as a result of physical contact- hugs for example.
  • Increased incidence of cardiovascular problems in people with lower amounts of social connections.
  • Lower general morbidity associated with higher amounts of social contact.
  • A study finding lower incidences of strokes on women
  • Lower blood pressure in men, and a faster return to normal blood pressure after stress.
  • Measured differences in the narrowing of arteries.
  • The unexpected fact that if you have contact with more people, you are LESS likely to have colds.
  • Memory loss in old age declines at twice the rate in those poorly integrated.
  • General links between enhanced cognitive performance and social interaction.
  • A reduction in mortality for those who attend regular religious services! (But not just to ‘warm the pew’.)

The review ends with a description of an old study (10 years ago) which may or may not have been prescient.

While the precise mechanisms underlying
the association between social connection,
morbidity and mortality continue to be investigated,
it is clear that this is a growing
public health issue for all industrialised
countries. A decade ago, a detailed classic
study of 73 families who used the internet
for communication, The Internet Paradox,
concluded that greater use of the internet
was associated with declines in communication
between family members in the
house, declines in the size of their social
circle, and increases in their levels of depression
and loneliness. They went on to
report “both social disengagement and
worsening of mood…and limited face-toface
social interaction … poor quality of life
and diminished physical and psychological
health” (Kraut et al, 1998).

So, what can we make of all of this? The study clearly takes the view that on-line contact is not enough, and indeed may be problematic.

I still hope however, that when used well and purposefully, on-line connections might facilitate community building. This is where I still place my energy, and why I started out trying to establish this ‘Emerging Scotland’ thing…

It is almost as if we humans were made to find our highest expression in community. As if we were wired and plumbed for this.

So for now, my own conclusion is like this;

The internet is great. It gives me access to loads of great stuff (and lots of rubbish too I suppose!) It also allows me to connect with others. But it does not allow me to commune with others in the way that I think Jesus intended. In order for this to happen, the whole of me has to be engaged in this process, in all of my contorted brokenness, aware that in the joys of serving and loving will also be pain and suffering.

There is no other way.

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