Thursday, July 17, 2008

Going Emergent

A fifty-eight year old UCC pastor in professional and spiritual transition finds himself, and his wife, worshiping in a bar with 20-somethings:

For my spouse, Susan, who was struggling with the loss of our old church, sitting on a barstool between the pool table and the dartboards raised her sense of adventure. For me, the church raised the hope that the vision of a “third way” I had been pursuing for more than a decade—blending mainline inclusiveness and passion for social justice with evangelical emphasis on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ—might be realized by a younger generation that bore fewer scars from the culture wars.

On our second visit, a former student of my spouse greeted her with shock: “Dr. McFadden! What are you doing here?” In a community of students, musicians and baristas, we clearly stood out like sore thumbs. The former student shared a bit of her story, one we have since heard many versions of: she was raised in an extremely conservative church, counts her faith in Christ central in her life, but wearied of having non-Christian friends “assume that because I love Jesus I support George Bush and hate gay people.” Much of my “third-way” vision is present in San Damiano in people like this student.

Music is central to our experience of worship. San Damiano folk are equally disdainful of traditional, organ-accompanied hymnody and evangelical praise music, which they call “Jesus goes to Vegas.” Simplicity and authenticity are hallmarks: Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” filtered through the life of a man who has experienced God’s liberation from narrow judgment, becomes a hymn.

As a mainline institutional guy, I had a lot of adjusting to do. For example, our worship service officially begins at “10:30ish,” which is emergent code for “maybe 10:40, maybe 11:05,” challenging for a former pastor who anguished if the 8:45 service began at 8:46. The sacrament is celebrated every week, but until six months ago it was a “self-serve body-and-blood buffet.” And Greg, my cherished pastor, reads scripture through a literalist hermeneutic: “The beloved disciple was a really old guy when he wrote the Book of Revelation.” San Damiano has mellowed me in many ways. Now if the service begins before 10:45, I am sometimes annoyed because I am not done chatting with my friends. I have learned that the truth of the gospel can be fully expressed within a hermeneutic different from my own. Above all, I am learning new things about Christian community, Christian friendship and Christian hospitality.


progressivechurchlady said...

I believe that "meeting people where they are" is all a part of good inclusive ministry. However I don't think that means that worship has to be so informal that it is merely an afterthought to building personal relationships. Communal worship experience should still have some air of formality and mystery.

Also, what about those in recovery from alcohol addiction? Are we to be inclusive of them in our community of faith? If so, meeting at the local pub is not very inclusive for those struggling with these issues.

"The church" continues to evolve. I personally find it exciting--but also unsettling since I was never horribly wounded in my personal church history.

bk said...

You wrote: "Greg, my cherished pastor, reads scripture through a literalist hermeneutic: “The beloved disciple was a really old guy when he wrote the Book of Revelation.”"

It would probably freak Greg out to know that he does not read scripture literally enough -- or else he would know that the Bible proves that WHOEVER the beloved disciple was he could not have been John. If he cares to be corrected from the scriptures (which we are told are profitable for rebuke and correction) he should take the time to read the presentation of Bible-only evidence that is posted at