Monday, September 17, 2007

Some failures of imagination.

This was the scene as I drove along the A40 at crack of dawn on Saturday, bound (via the Oxford Tube) for a blah learning day "Re-imagining Leadership in the Emerging Church". I liked the thought that I was heading into some sort of new dawn...My own ideas of leadership were ripe for reimagining, as I've always struggled with the the "L" word, and it's high time I began to address how it might actually work out in my future ministry. You may not be surprised to hear that I came back with very few answers - and no real cure for my anxieties, - but there was lots of good material to mull over.
Maggi began with a great analogy: leadership structures as a skeleton, - an essential framework to protect and support our vital organs, and enable life and movement.
She also had lots to say about models of leadership in Acts,- and a necessary reminder that we simply cannot and do not approach the accounts of the Early church as "cultural virgins"...we read from our own context, and with our own baggage.
As discussion was opened up, I was struck(not for the first time) by the absence of challenge to the apostles' statement
"It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait at tables" and indeed this seemed to be at variance with Maggi's splendid story of ++John Sentamu mopping his church hall floor after a service in his Tulse Hill days...and announcing with his habitual forthrightness
"If you're not prepared to mop the floor, you shouldn't be preaching the gospel".
Thus the leader is, in every sense, the care taker...the one who holds the vision, who ensures that the quieter voices are heard, that nobody is excluded. That I could sign up to, as a model at least (even if I fail in the reality). I loved, too, the idea of diaconal ministry as a ministry of hospitality - of welcoming and of holding relationships in community....though it then seems ironic that it is only when diaconal ordination is completed by priesting that the ministry includes presiding at the Eucharist.

Doug Gay came at things from a very different angle, challenging the necessity of ordained ministry at all. I liked his take on emerging church as a "sensibility" rather than a movement, or proto-denomination....and his alternative hermeutical cycle, of auditing the tradition, retrieving those things from the past that are worth recovery, unbundling them from the inessentials, supplementing with the new insights and visions of the present and re-mixing to form a church suited to contemporary mission.

Lots to reflect on, - but my main regret as I travelled home was the painful irony of a situation in which the "emergers" seem as intent on dismissing the needs and values of those who remain at home in traditional church as ever the traditionalists have been of those who no longer feel at home within the walls. When asked to outline my own background and aspirations in a brief "buzz group" after lunch, I was conscious of at least one slightly patronising smile around the table. For someone totally committed to a both/and church, and hoping to serve in a context that enables both strands of expression to flourish, this is rather depressing...If we're intent on looking at what Jesus is doing in our communities, and then joining in - he's likely to be wherever people are reaching out to one another - and sometimes, surely, that might even include the parish church!


barbarah said...

Thanks for this post, I think I might have had the same reaction had I been there. The emerging church scene seems to be the glamour stuff, but I can't let go of the vocation to serve and learn from the flock in the traditional church - although I'd like to sometimes. Thank goodness that God has more imagination about these things than us !

Songbird said...

I guess the trouble is our human drive to codify and align. It's as true for my friend doing contemporary worship as it is where I am serving now.

Danny said...

Great post Kathryn... like you I am all for 'emerging' but the folks in the pews who have been brought up the traditional ways and values, need us too. Different strands of the expression of church are important in their own way and those of us who are called to the ordained ministry have the responsibility of weaving these strands (i.e. Ecclesiastes 4: 10-12) together - our strength is in unity as well as diversity.

Doug Gay (as an aside) was my dissertation supervisor...

Sarah Dylan Breuer said...

Thanks for this. I find that too often self-declared "Emerging Church" folks -- especially in the U.S. -- tend to assume that they generate all good ideas there are, and therefore that if you want a wheel, you should try to invent one yourself, and (somewhat ironically) that what works well in THEIR context should prove as fruitful or more so in ALL contexts.

True humility is a virtue often neglected in our formation.



michael volland said...

thanks Kathryn,
taken me ages to get round to reading this, but, as someone who was there too, I'd have to agree with you.