Hyphenated Emergents

I am going to preach this morning. Actually, in all probability I will be preaching by the time you read this. I will not be away from home in some alien pulpit, though, but at home in my own parish and among those whom I love. I won’t preach, of course, because I can’t. What I will do is just talk. And what I will talk about is where I was last week.

Last week, I was in Seattle at Fremont Abbey, which is the home structure or base for The Church of the Apostles, where an African-American female friend and colleague of mine, Karen Ward, is abbess and where a significant portion of the Fremont area of Seattle seems to gather to do its worship or to do its socializing or maybe just to lick its wounds, re-group, and go forth into the world renewed. None of those exercises is a bad thing for a church or parish to be engaged in, and most assuredly none is a bad thing for the folk who are the beating heart of Fremont Abbey.

Fremont Abbey is an Anglimergent church. That is to say that what you and I and all our kind are living through right now is referred to as The Great Emergence. Like The Great Reformation of the 16th century, The Great Schism of the 11th century, the time of Gregory the Great in the sixth century, or The Great Transformation that happened at the change of the eras, this one of ours also marks a seismic shift in human affairs, both religious and secular. When scholars call this one The Great Emergence, they do not exaggerate; for as was true with all its predecessors, out of it is coming a whole new definition of what it means to be human, of how society should be structured, of what constitutes the good life — even of what human life itself is and how it may be defined.

In this “Great Emergence” there are churches, movements, and congregations that are frankly “emergent.” That is, they are completely new conceptualizations of what “church” is to be. There are, in other words, many congregations and gatherings that frankly are emergent away from, or emerging up out of, the traditional flow of “church’ as we normally think of it, and they are a legitimate new form of Christianity as surely as, 500 years ago, bodies protesting the dominance of Latin Catholicism were emerging and protesting and forming new bodies of the faithful and were legitimately Christian.

In all of this reshuffling and reconstituting, there are also other parishes, however, other churches and congregations that are moving to embrace emergent Christian thought while melding it with extant and/or historic expressions of the faith. They are known as the hyphenateds. They are the presbymergents and methomergents, the luthermergents, and the baptimergents, the submergents and the anglimergents, etc. They fascinate me more even than do completely emergent congregations, because they seem to me to be engaged in the more difficult task of bringing to the party the best of two worlds, the ancient and the future. They are hyphenated, in other words, because they seek to meld the DNA and passion and post-modern theology of a new form of Christianity with the extant body and operative history of an established tradition. Among them all, none is so absorbing or compelling to me as are the anglimergents, of whom there is no better example than the Church of the Apostles in Seattle.

Part of my joy in this and my sensitivity to it, undoubtedly, is that I am, for lo these many decades now, an Anglican through and through. Standing in the nave of the Church of the Apostles last Saturday night, I was reminded again of the richness and the glory of that singular and never-quite-domesticated or tamed position, especially as it is being translated into postmodern Christianity. I watched people of all classes and strata, abilities and dress styles, and all kinds of sexual or gender persuasions come together in a worship that used much of the order of service laid out in the Book of Common Prayer, but somehow remained innocent of preconceptions while revealing itself as long on mercy, compassion, and adamant belief. The worship at COTA was blatantly dedicated to the premise that the Bible is one narrative, not two narratives in one set of covers, and to the even more radical premise that Jesus, the Nazarene, actually meant what he said in everything that he said, including the fact that the promises of Holy Writ are fulfilled in him and had better be acted upon by us.

What will I preach this morning? I won’t. I’ll simply say to those of us gathered in our Tennessee nave that the time has come to take heart. Now, in this time of re-formation culturally and sociologically as well as religiously, our brothers and sisters in Christ all over this country and the globe are finding generous and merciful and grace-filled ways to exercise their faith and to include all peoples, and we can do no less. That is what I shall say, and I will begin the saying of it this morning by reading aloud a collection of words that I have heard many times before but never received until last week when I heard them proclaimed in the mixed beauty and aberrant, warm, but not quite familiar hospitality of anglimergence at its most powerful. The words are those of Isaiah, the prophet, who foretold Messiah’s coming. They go like this:

Thus says the Lord, Keep right judgment and do justice; for my salvation is near and soon to come, and my righteousness to be revealed.

Blessed is the one who does this, and blessed is the one who lays hold of it, who observes the Sabbath and does not pollute it, and who keeps his or her hand from doing evil.

Neither let the son or daughter of a stranger who has joined himself to the Lord, speak, saying, “The Lord has utterly separated me from His people.” Neither let the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”

For thus says the Lord unto the eunuchs that keep My Sabbath and choose the things that please Me and take hold of My covenant;

Even unto them will I give in My house and within My walls a place and a name better than that of sons and daughters. I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.

Also the sons and daughters of the strangers that join themselves to the Lord, to serve Him and to love the name of the Lord and to be His servants, and everyone that keeps My Sabbath from polluting it, and takes hold of My covenant,

Even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer; their offerings and sacrifices shall be accepted on My altar, for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.

Isaiah 56:1-7

May it soon be so everywhere and in all places. Amen.

Phyllis Tickle is a writer, speaker and a lay eucharistic minister in the Episcopal Church. Her latest book, The Great Emergence, is due to be published in October 2008.

The Great Emergence at Amazon

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