Brian, after recently speaking at a United Methodist annual conference, encourages an enquirer wanting to know more about Methodism and the emergent movement to look to those within the denomination who are working for connection and creativity. Moreover, he encourages the enquirer to give less energy to traditional structure and politics (my interpretation, sorry for any misinterpretation). In his post, Brian lifts up Jay as one of those creative Methodists. In an online response, Jay outlines his own thoughts, which, in a nutshell, dismiss his identity as an emergent leader, primarily due to the United Methodist appointment process and the difficulties in creating something new and organic within an appointment system that lasts for one year, a system that sends pastors (more often than not) to aging congregations. Please read Jay's post. (I think Jay's incorrect about his role as an emergent leader, by the way).
I also have found it a strain to be emergent and United Methodist at the same time. I have struggled for years now to start a new monastic community along a commercialized street in Seattle - that street all of our cities have - where motels become housing for the homeless and dens for prostitution. It is my dream to take something that has been utilized for exploitation and turn it into a symbol of resurrection. We have no United Methodist presence along Aurora (the street in question), except long after you pass through the area about which I am concerned. I believe that John Wesley would be ashamed of us; I am quite sure that Jesus would be pretty upset as well. At the same time, there is community along Aurora-vibrant and alive. Shops and residents are already there making something new happen. Also, I want to give due recognition to Ben Katt and Awake Church/Aurora Commons for doing what the Methodists haven't been able to do. He has started a community that sees the joy and wonder along Aurora and is partnering with the neighborhood in really imaginative ways. The Aurora Commons is a living room for the neighborhood. What a great idea! When I first met Ben, I couldn't believe that someone else was seeing the same wonder in that overpaved, undervalued, and overexploited street. It was a welcome reminder that God plants the same dream in more than one person. God hedges bets, I think. Thank you, Ben. Thank you, God.
The United Methodist Church is engaged in important dialogue about our future in proclaiming the gospel message. In a recent presentation, Lovett Weems outlined some difficult facts for United Methodists. The average United Methodist is 57 years old. Since the inception of The United Methodist Church in 1968, data concerning property and finance have indicated increases every year until 2009 and yet data concerning people indicate losses every year since our inception. This has forced us all along the way to do more with less, and we have now reached a tipping point. This is important information. Yet, in the end, this conversation shouldn't be the core conversation that we have. I don't know a single United Methodist, especially clergy, who is unaware of the denomination's deep decline. However, decline shouldn't be the main topic of conversation. Faithfulness, joy, excitement about the gospel, clear identity as the Body of Christ - these should be the topics of conversation. I believe the leadership think they are talking about these with their wake up call, but all too often they never make it to the core conversation; we only discuss decline. While there has been a shifting tide, thinking continues to be primarily rooted in the mid-20th century, concerned with the number of annual conferences, legislative decisions, and structuring. Important? yes. Primary to the gospel? No. This is where the denomination loses the emergent conversation. It understands structure. It does not understand "attitude" or "approach."
United Methodists who long for the opportunity to participate in the emergent process will continue to struggle and be thwarted even as some of us find a way to break through the bureaucratic morass and proclaim an ancient gospel in a new and different way. Wait. That's not even accurate. The truth is that the emergent church is not particularly "new" in that one can use hymnals, chant the psalms, live in monastic community, host Easter Egg hunts, and play handbells and be deeply emergent. I think that is part of the problem with the emergent movement and mainline churches - mainline leaders don't know what it is because it isn't a "form" or "structure" or "style." It is an attitude. It is an approach. And that can't be categorized and written down.
The dream I have for Aurora is actually quite traditional. I see a white wood church with a yard and kids hunting Easter Eggs. But, I also see a reclaimed motel - one that was used for violence and oppression - and in it people are living in healthy, holistic, and faithful community rooted in presence and love. It's difficult to tell someone about this. They have to catch the dream. I thank those who "get it" and Lord, give me strength and patience to persevere when so many of your good children don't.