What does emergent church mean to me?

I try to remember that my blog is called What Canst THOU Say? So I’ve been thinking, what does emergent church mean to me?

I have only heard and read about the emergent church movement on the Internet. I think there are some folks here in San Francisco, but I haven’t had any luck trying to find or contact them. And if it’s a pub culture, then it’s probably not for me (anymore). I have read a lot of blogs about emergent church, but I don’t believe that can really be an accurate portrayal of the on-the-ground communities.

How does the wider emergent church movement relate to my Meeting’s yearning to be more available/relevant/welcoming to young people? Our meeting for worship is pretty grounded usually and ON FIRE sometimes. Half our Ministry and Oversight Committee is under 45, including the clerk. We’re trying to be more welcoming. How can we, who have our Quaker meetinghouse in this hip, urban, transit-accessible neighborhood, not be attracting young people?

Actually, we have noticed that young people come all the time, but they come once, maybe twice, and not again. Some of this is the transience of young people’s lives today, especially the ones who move to SF right after college. Part of our work may just be to fold new people in and let them go – ready to look for a Quaker meeting wherever they are next. (But we can not help it if the next Meeting they go to is not youth-friendly, not LGBTQ friendly or even centered and spiritually alive.)

Is it true, as I’ve heard, that any project for young people has to involve doing something together to build community before we can sit around and talk about our theology? Is our Quaker unprogrammed worship not enough of a doing something? We can’t ask someone to bring the music and someone else to read the scripture, although they are welcome to do that. But in our tradition, God has to ask them. We can ask them to bring the snack or sit at the letter writing table or edit the newsletter or come to the weekly peace vigil or a study group – do we need some kind of direct earth/poverty related action? Maybe. (Maybe we need the excuse of trying to attract young people to get us off our butts and out doing the work of the Gospel…)

Right now I feel like my calling in my Meeting is and has been to help us be deeper Quakers, in a spiritual sense. I suspect that the next phase will be some service projects.

Here’s my fear: I’m not cool enough. I’m 37 years old. I am the mother of two kids, who frequently interrupt my conversations, and for whom I try to be home most nights at their 7:30 bedtime. I frequently drive a station wagon. I don’t live in the very urban/cool neighborhood where the meetinghouse is anymore. I don’t drink alcohol anymore. I’m a little overweight. I started cutting my hair in a chin length bob as part of my search for balance between my plain clothes, my radical politics and my professional ambitions. I wear plain clothes – not modern fashions and not some cool semi-historical statement either.

I look, to the outside world, really boring.

How can I be an instrument of God’s will to reach out to teens and 20-something people? Why do I feel this nudge to do it? Why don’t I just accept that my job is to reach out to other middle-aged moms? (Which I do, it somehow just isn’t quite enough for me.)

Is this connected to Quakers’ (and Americans’) cult of youthfulness? At PYM this year, I made a reference to a woman 10 years older than me with teenaged children as “middle-aged” and she was offended. She asked, “Who are you calling middle-aged?” I answered, “You and me, baby.” Am I just more acculturated than I thought? Do I just want to be cool?

Or is there something to being a really committed Quaker that is cool? How do we share the amazing, exciting fact that Christ has come to teach His [sic] people Himself? Hey, to quote Caiaphas in Jesus Christ Superstar, “One thing I’ll say for him, Jesus is cool.” How do we reach the young people who will be willing to look past external appearances and see the real me? Who hunger for the chance to be seen for who they are? Who want an authentic and sincere relationship to God and other people?

I hope that any connections to the emergent church movement will connect to my concerns about finding a more authentic way to understand Jesus and to my concerns that my Meeting is not broadly or deeply of service to the Earth or the poor people of the Earth. Actually, I hope that any movement that my Meeting connects with will move us in these directions.

Next up: why I love meeting for worship, and then probably, why I love my Meeting.

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Blogger Aj Schwanz said...

As a youth, the "coolest" people I knew sound just like you - they were cool because a) they treated me as an equal with some valid and meaningful to say and 2) they were transparent, intentional, and real - not giving us the sugar-coated or the "we'll tell you the *real* stuff . . . once you're old enough).

In regards to the emergent church . . . I've been experiencing some difficulties in that realm as of late. Again, it seems to be an activity rather than a lifestyle (even though that's what they're advocating). The classification and clarification of how we do church is more important/being elevated above the importance of the risen Christ - and for me, that's not right.

God wants us to be in community: with Him and with others. If I creating space to listen to God, engaging Him in my day to day life, responding to what He initiates, I will hear His loving whispers - He will direct my path and change me from the inside out --- for the sake of others. If I am attentive, respond, and believe that He's in control, He'll bring those folks (young, poor, orphaned, broken) into my life; but if I try to initiate, even if it's a "good" thing, if it's not blessed by God, it will fall flat.

I'm excited about how God is moving, where He's calling his church (his people) in places I never even imagined. Forging bonds with folks online; finding commonalities in the different worship gatherings of a "split denomination"; reaching out to my present community through ways other than the obligatory Sunday morning hand shake. How does God want me and my meeting for worship to respond to what He's already doing? That's what's exciting to me. And being honored to read the words and thoughts and expressions and experiences of new friends like you. :)

11/04/2005 12:28 AM  
Blogger Gregg Koskela said...

Hello from a middle aged, boring, unhip Northwest Quaker! :)

As usual, I love what you've said and how you've articulated it. It makes me curious to know your meeting and its people better.

At Newberg Friends, we often say that there has to be some kind of connection beyond Sunday morning. We don't have "hip" music, so often we don't hold those who are looking for that. But, we have drawn in several younger folks because of life outside of meeting. Sometimes it's ministry (with high schoolers or kids), sometimes it's relational (like our "Theater Theology" where a movie is watched and discussed for God sightings).

There aren't a whole lot of people under 50 who stay simply because of meetings for worship.

11/04/2005 10:57 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Okay, I'm frantically checking my email to see if anybody read my post yet before I rush off to my workday at my co-op nursery school. I don't have time to answer all of this now, but I want to say Theater Theology? How cool is that?!!! It reminds me of the time...

11/04/2005 11:12 AM  
Blogger Chris M. said...

I love what Tony wrote, especially, "Blessed are the not-so-cool"!

At this week's opening of SF Meeting's Tuesday night series on meeting for worship, the topic was, "How do we center down in meeting?" Many Friends spoke about trying to calm themselves, to notice feelings and let them go. But another Friend said, "I come to meeting for the feelings, to connect with the energy and power there!"

My take on this is that we have to calm our own egos, thoughts, and feelings, in order to open up to the nudges, whispers, and electric currents of the Divine Center.

I'm taken by Gregg's comment that not many people under 50 connect just to the meeting for worship. But my experience as an almost-25 year old going to meeting for the first time was an absolutely overwhelming emotional experience, being moved almost to sobs that a whole group of 50 people could sit in silence together. I came to Quakers for their politics and stayed for their spirituality.

(Some day I will have time to write more posts on my own blog about all this, and not just stale posts JC Superstar!)

11/04/2005 1:09 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

Hi Robin,

Thanks for the timely and relevant post! You're on to something. I think young people are pretty open to looking past uncoolness. Looking back on my own youth, I think I was attracted to adults who were bucking the trend in their own way rather than conforming to cultural pressures.

We Quakers can show youth there is a different way; we can show them how to disarm powerful cultural influences in their own lives and find happiness and purpose and protection in/through the Living Christ. This isn't a passive activity, and I agree with one of your earlier posts (or comments) about rediscovering our spiritual foundation and sharing it (dare I say "teaching it") to others.

I don't know where the Emergent Church go-ers are either, but I have a feeling we're about to find them. Perhaps they are us and we just need to look in the mirror? Are we called as a group, and if so, to do what? I feel like there is a powerful message of renewal and commitment that can be brought back to our Meetings.

"For Quakers, it was the universal acknowledgement of the reality of Jesus' return that had been delayed, not Jesus' return itself. For themselves, then, there could be no justification for a less rigorous standard of Quaker behavior as citizens within civil society awaiting the universal obedience of the Light. On the contrary, 'God's people' were immediately responsible for acting according to the standards of the Kingdom of God." - from *Walking in the Way of Peace: Quaker Pacifism in the Seventeenth Century*

11/04/2005 1:20 PM  
Blogger Marta said...

Thanks for this post Robin. I also struggle with how important looking cool is in terms of whether or not it helps me have an in with certain people. Thanks for leaving me the recommended reading of My Monastery is a Minivan. I hope to receive it for Christmas.

11/05/2005 5:11 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

Hello! I'm not a Quaker but I think I feel more of an attraction to Quakers than to others. To be honest, I haven't attended a church in years.

These are my thoughts and are not intended to be authoritative. They are just my thoughts.

Young people don't need 'cool'. They need examples and role models. They need to see something attractive in the life of an 'older' people that causes them to want to emulate what they see. In other words, I think young people do look past external appearances. We simply need to be ourselves.

I think we sometimes focus on the institution rather than the people. I wouldn't try to get young peple to attend. I would try to give them a genuine experience that will affect them and they will want to come. It's easy to increase attendance. It's not easy to give young people a life-altering experience but, this needs to be the goal.

11/06/2005 6:59 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Hey, Robin. Thanks for lifting up yet another important, meaty question.

First, Tony B's words resonate with me: When God is ready, God will move. It may not be as I wish. I am but to be still and wait.

Be alert; pay attention so that when the Door is opened, you can at least stick your toe in it and not let the Door close completely and lose the opportunity!

I can also offer a few other thoughts.

1. Contact FGC's Traveling Ministries Program and ask if there are any young Friends who are traveling in the ministry, who could come to your monthly or yearly meeting--either to speak about young Friends/intergenerational faith communities, or simply to be ministered to by a young Friend.

2. It's hard for me to believe that you have absolutely NO relationship with any young person in your meeting. For me, as I've started paying attention to young people--just noticing them and saying hi, not intruding on their tables at potluck--I've also started noticing who among young Friends is noticing me. There might be a seed of a relationship there that can be nurtured...

3. At the monthly meeting here, one of the most fun ways I've experienced intergenerational community-building has been through a variety show, often pulled together by high school Friends. OAFs get to step out of their Quaker box and do a silly skit or song; and young Friends get to step out of their FDS box and show a talent or tell a story that allows them to connect with OAFs in a new way.

I've written elsewhere about other experiences I've had with young Friends, especially at FGC's 2005 Gathering, so I'll stop here. After all, I'm not really sure you were asking for suggestions, as much as you are airing your own thoughts and musings.

And you are asking important questions. I hope you'll continue to "live the questions," for that's where God speaks to us, I believe, and you will find yourself already on the path.

Liz, The Good Raised Up

11/06/2005 9:50 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Monster comment responding to everyone:

tony: nice to meet you and thanks for the kind words. "God created the garden, has a plan for the garden, and if God needs a tool, God will use me as is best for the garden." I'm with you on the first and last part of this. Where I get stuck is the idea that God has a plan. I just don't get that. Can't God just watch it all unfold as we go along, wanting the best for us and from us, but not knowing the outcome? Do we not have free will? Is this too much anthropomorphizing God?

Do I really want to get into this discussion here??? yes and no. I'm happy to hold it lightly and let it go. One of the best things a friend said lately about why she likes Quakers is that we can say "this is what God is saying to me but I won't kill you if you don't hear it too." I am happy to host that kind of discussion here. Disrepectful or personal attacks will be deleted promptly.

aj: "How does God want me and my meeting for worship to respond to what He's already doing?" This is the real question, isn't it.

gregg: nobody stays just for meeting for worship. everybody needs to connect to our human community in some way.

Some time ago, we had an couple of events where folks just agreed to go together to see Fahrenheit 911. One day the group went to a restaurant/pub near the theater and the other day a different group came back to the meetinghouse (where a Friend from the first group was watching our kids) for pizza. In large part because we knew we'd want to have people to discuss it with afterwards, and our Quaker friends were a good group. We should do more of that kind of thing.

chris: well, you inspire me everyday. but look for a post very soon about my love for meeting for worship - you're in it!

rob: DARE to say teaching! It's a good word.

marta: it was great to read your blog and then see you here

i_wonder, thanks for visiting and commenting - these are all just our thoughts.

Reminder: The contents of this blog are my own and of the various individual commenters. I (and they) do not speak for any Friends organization.

Liz: re: traveling youth ministers. This is something I am thinking more and more about. Another post to come...

11/07/2005 3:46 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Perhaps its because I'm 44 and so drifting rather swiftly down the river of time past the arbitrary barrier between middle aged and age impaired but seriously -- this is the one aspect of emergent church that irks me most:

Half our Ministry and Oversight Committee is under 45, including the clerk.

Seriously since when did writing people off who are older than 45 ever become the foundation for the Christian gospel?

While we're at it -- have you noticed that if you probe emergent churcher's about just what they mean by "contemporary music" you find out they mean the 1970s?

Jesus Christ Superstar. Saint Andrew Lloyd of Webber. Give me Godspell anyday.

11/07/2005 8:30 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Pre-e-e-pare ye the way of the Lord...

Just for the record, Chris M. has both albums, and shares them both with me, perhaps more regularly than I might have chosen on my own.

At my house these days, contemporary music would include Rhonda Vincent and the Rage, Moby, Tom Chapin, Natasha Atlas, and Tinariwen. This weekend, we're all four of us going to a singing workshop at Quaker Center in Ben Lomond, CA, led by Peter Blood and Annie Patterson.
My Meeting's music is pretty much limited to singing from the Friends Hymnal and Songs of the Spirit twice a month before meeting for worship and lots of group singing at our annual retreat, mostly songs older than me.

Re: folks over/under 45, I don't know enough about real emergent churches to know how they deal with this. For myself, I'd point out that half our M&O is over 45. My attitude isn't "Never trust anyone over 30" but rather, how do we include the people under 30 in our serious work.

11/08/2005 11:00 AM  
Blogger anj said...

interesting post. I am a 44 year old Quaker attender who came to meeting out of an Australian emergent church. I love meeting for worship, and I love the small Quaker community we have found. In my own journey, I went from being entertained at church, to participating in church, to falling into the hands of a living God during meeting for worship. The last few weeks I have been wondering what would Friends culture look like if as much emphasis was placed on truth, integrity, simplicity, and equality as is placed on peace? Just a thought. I want to share the treasure I have found with everyone - but find that most cannot understand a reality that they have never experienced. And that, to me, is the revelant question. How do share the ethos of Friends culture in a way that speaks?

11/21/2005 11:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello there, Robin!

I found your site on Google by typing in the phrase "what does thou"...very strange, I know. I saw the title of your site with the phrase Emergent church in it, and couldn't help but click on it. It was probably fate from God! For, you see, I am one of those young adults who attends an church that is part of the emergent church movement. It is located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There are 3 located there; Three Nails, Open Door, and Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community.

I am probably in the same boat as you are with the church I attend. I am familiar with the Quaker sect, yet have never attended a Quaker Church, nor have I ever met a Quaker.

Although I've only been attending this church for about 3 months now, and I am certain that the Emergent Church is not all about being "cool." For one, I am a dork. A full fledged dork. I own two pairs of jeans that are worn continuously, a red sweater that is worn often to church and 3 college sweatshirts. My hair is often in braids. I can tell you right now that yes, half the people in the church are punk rockers who have tatoos and nose rings, and listen to punk music. Even though this might give off an impression "that is not a church..." I believe it very much so is, because we as a group of people still focus on Jesus, despite how the outside world views us.

From my own observation of the Emergent Church, it seems more about reaching out to a society who has grown to be fast paced and post-modern--that is, those who think in relative terms, who often think any God as long as it's some God will do. People who are against any absolutes. So then, how do we reach out to these types of thinkers? I say, what better people to reach out that people our own age? It is true that we do relate best with people who are going through the same pains and struggles. The church is not so much about changing people on the outside to fit in with the church people on the inside, it is about accepting people who, if we look through God's eyes, are beautiful people that He created and died for.

I am definently not as knowledgable on this sect as I should be. I know this goes against what many people believe, but after attending churches of many denominations, there is one thing I know and you probably know this already as well... but I can say that denominations don't change God's love for us. There is no perfect church, and I'm sure the philosophers and people who our churches doctrines are based off of are imperfect as well. The point is, even if our doctrines are wrong, God knows we are humans. We've always screwed up, and ALL OF US still do. And if tomorrow happens to be judgement day, I'm sure God will look past our silly analytical thinking for creating denominations and instead ask "Do you believe in me as God, who loves you, who died for you?" Because no matter how self-righteous many churches tend to be on their beliefs, the fact is the one thing we can be certain of is Jesus died for our sins. And we are all sinners.

If we really want to figure out something, instead of relying on our own understanding, we should ask God, and have faith that He will answer whatever you are seeking.

Is there any advice I can give to you to reach out to young adults? I was not a Christian two years ago, so I know it can be hard for an older generation to reach out to a younger generation. The best advice I can give you is simply talk to them, as if they were no different from you. Not just talking to them about God. I mean talking to them as people, and loving them for who God created them to be. Sin is not who they are. They are people looking for love, first and foremost, and God provides that love. Too many times I've felt like coming to church was about selling us to church. Look at all the pretty things inside, look at all the happy people! It's not about playing hip-hop or punk music, but it's about relating to one another, being interested in one another, recognizing each others weakness and strengths and helping us out instead of condemning the weaknesses. I can not doubt that there are some things to be criticized about the Emergent Chruch. There are things about every church that can be criticized. The people at the Emergent Churches can relate to each other because they believe that Christ became their ugly sins and died.

If you want to talk to some people with a deeper, more knowledgable view of the Emergent church rather than my own subjective analysis, there is another good blog site that has a group of people, many are like me, just young adults searching for fellowship, but others are theology students, who are also involved with the Emergent church. I suggest leaving a note on one of their sites. Perhaps despite our imperfect differences, we can all work as a body of Chirst to reach out to even more people to come to know Him! Here it is...


God bless you, your family, and your church, Robin.

12/14/2005 4:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Emergent Church is apostate. 'talk about God this and God that all they want. Want to know what matters? JESUS, say it again--> Jesus! It neglects the fact that we are sinners and only saved through Jesus who shed HIs blood on the cross for all of our sins so that we might have eternal life! Contemplative prayer etc.. all comes out of "eastern Mysticism".. we go BOLDLY to the throne of grace. Salvation is for everyone but there is ONLY ONE Savior, One Redeemer and that is Jesus Christ the Son of God. Looping everyone into a wonderful, feel-good ecumenical "come to God" experience is leaving out OUR One and only Savior- Jesus.. say it again folks, Jesus! Test what you read in this "movement" against what the Bible has to say! There you have THE inerrant Word of God!

6/27/2006 9:14 PM  

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