Change is inevitable and there is nothing anyone can do to stop it. “It would be like telling the sun not to rise,” says Phyllis Tickle, author of “The Great Emergence.”
Phyllis believes that a change similar to, and as monumental as, the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, has already begun. “I’m Anglican, and six years of labor brought forth “Called to Common Mission,” which allows Lutherans and Anglicans to swap parishes, with credentials being shared.”
“Called to Common Mission” is the name of the agreement adopted by the ELCA 1999 Churchwide Assembly to establish a relationship of full communion between the ELCA and The Episcopal Church (USA). The agreement opened the way for cooperative mission efforts.
“You see,” explains Phyllis, “the great emergence is a construct. It is made up of many things — social, economic, environmental, intellectual, political, religion.” She further believes that this type of change happens every 500 years. No one knows why, but it does. For example, 500 years ago there was the Protestant Reformation. Five hundred years before that was the Great Schism that divided the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Five hundred years prior to that saw the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, and 500 years before that, the birth, death and resurrection of Christ.
There are many new places of worship that identify themselves as emergent. There are home churches much like those begun by the early church. St. Gregory’s Episcopal in San Francisco is alive with singing and dancing. The House for All Sinners and Saints, an ELCA congregation in Denver, describes itself as “the ancient-future church with a progressive but deeply rooted theology.” Congregations with large worship spaces accommodate stages, dramatic lighting and live bands. Those with limited facilities might meet in places reminiscent of cafés rather than cathedrals.
So what will the church look like after the dust settles? Phyllis says that it is too early to tell. The changes we are seeing now may not last into the final form of the emerging church. Emergents borrow from many denominations, while resurrecting ancient traditions and customs. These typically emphasize spirituality and community outreach.
When asked if this means the waning of denominations, Phyllis replies, “Protestantism isn’t going to cease to be. It will give way to something new. Local congregations may go away,” not because of something members did or didn’t do, but because “you didn’t cause emergents,” says Phyllis, “and you’re not going to stop it. Is it perfect? No. Neither was Martin Luther.”
Phyllis Tickle is the founding editor of the religion department at Publisher’s Weekly. She has written more than two dozen books, most recently, “The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why.” She is also the author of the “Divine Hours” series, which collect seasonal daily prayers, psalms, readings and other resources for fixed-hour prayer.