Thursday, October 18, 2007

Emerging Christian Communities

To help myself think through that sticky aspect of the sociology of religion known as typologising the life out of your research subjects, I thought I'd post about the various communities from which participants come.

So far, interview participants have come from a range of communities. Here are the links to the web presences of some of them, along with their own self-descriptions:

fEAST, Hackney
"We seek to be a Christian community that provides the opportunity to learn, be inspired and nourished in an atmosphere of intimacy and vulnerability. We also seek to be a space for creative worship, where everyone can talk freely and a place where people receive support for their daily lives. We want to be encouraged to be active in our community and beyond, being committed to the principles of justice and peace. We don't want to forget the need to be made uncomfortable by the gospel of Jesus."

Vineyard, Sutton
"Our mission is to help people live life to the full. We seek to be a truly welcoming and dynamic Christian community where people can connect with God, with others, and with opportunities to make a difference in our world.You can think of Vineyard Church as a group of people "doing life together"."

The Garden, Brighton
"We think of ourselves as a project, an ermerging community based in Brighton, Sussex, who are seeking to work out how to live passionately in response to 'the other' in a way that embraces the artistic, the intellectual and the practical and which challenges us to take seriously matters of justice, compassion and the planet. At the moment most (not all) of us have some sort of Christian history but we aspire to create space, beyond propositional statements of belief, for those with any faith or none who feel this may work for them."

Industrial Mission Association, UK
"The Industrial Mission Association is an organisation for lay and ordained people who want to be involved in, or to deepen their understanding of, the relationship between the Christian faith and the economic order. Membership is open to all men and women who, on the basis of the Christian faith, are committed to instituting economic change and helping the Church to respond to the needs of urban industrial society."

Visions, York
"It's hard to describe Visions in one sentence! A church for people who don't like church. A place that feels like home where we can talk about and experience the love of Jesus Christ. A place where you can be yourself, with all your doubts, fears and messiness and people will accept you anyway. But we're also a bunch of Christians interested in deepening our faith journey through discovering and using our talents in the visual arts, dance music, and technology."

Dream Network, North West England
"DREAM is a network of groups who are on a spiritual journey towards Jesus. We welcome anyone who wants to travel with us."

Foundation, Bristol
"Foundation is a Bristol emerging church / alternative worship group. We are a registered Anglican “Fresh Expression”. Our goal is to bring the experience of Christian community into a healthy relationship with contemporary culture."

Search, Basinstoke
"Search is a place for those who want to encounter worship in a different way - a way that engages the senses and the mind. It is also a place where we will hopefully encounter God and build a sense of community with other searchers."

MayBe, Oxford
"a community following in the way of Jesus for a better world now. Grace, space, wonder, grit, resistance, laughter, presence. Community, exploration, creativity, simplicity, engagement, play, Christ."

Vaux, Vauxhall
"Vaux was a community of artists and city-lovers who sought to explore the Christian faith through the media that came naturally to their hands. Using collages of film, dance, sound, installation, liturgy and image, Vaux formatted monthly 'services' at 310 Kennington Lane, Vauxhall. After a break of about a year we're meeting again. Just to gather, re-juvinate and re-ignite, with no pressure or pre-conceptions. We'll see what happens..."

Ikon, Belfast
"iconic, apocalyptic, heretical, emerging, failing. Inhabiting a space on the outer edges of religious life, we are a Belfast-based collective who offer anarchic experiments in transformance art. Challenging the distinction between theist and atheist, faith and no faith our main gathering employs a cocktail of live music, visual imagery, soundscapes, theatre, ritual and reflection in an attempt to open up the possibility of a theodramatic event."

BarNone, Cardiff
"For the last few years Bar None has been a safe space for people to explore what they believe and what the bible says, a place for people to test the validity of the Christian faith. Pubs are often the most relaxed environments – literally public space – around that we are starting to build a regular crowd of people interested in discussing faith and life. For us it’s just about doing the important stuff of church but in a pub. Some of us are Christians who struggle with doubts and the diversity of opinion within the church what’s ‘truth’. Some of us aren’t sure what we believe and are trying to work it out as we go along."

24/7 Prayer Movement, UK
"24-7 Prayer exists to transform the world through movements and communities of Christ-centred, Mission-minded Prayer."

Spirited Exchanges, UK
"Is your spiritual or faith journey leading you into uncharted territory? Spirited Exchanges is a network offering support and encouragement to people who are experiencing faith and its struggles at the edges of or beyond Church."

Sanctuary, Birmingham
"Sanctuary a safe place for British Asians or anyone interested in exploring eastern and western spiritualities in Christ. It is a place of space, peace, meditation, food, and friendship. Everyone is accepted as they are, just as God loves and accepts them, and Sanctuary is a place where they can experience that love and grace in community."

Journey MCC, Birmingham
"spirituality without religion. Journey is made up of many different people; our only common goal is to create a space where we are able to explore, discuss, experience, worship and listen. We recognise that we are all pilgrims on a search for meaning and need to find ways to share our thoughts and our experiences-if not always our agreement. We’re not interested in orthodoxy….. we’re interested in authenticity."

I originally contacted communities which I had identified as "emerging churches" through internet searches and empirical research by other researchers, but a call for participants was (very kindly) placed on Jason Clark's blog (along with a sexy picture!) and this generated a more diverse response from those involved in engaging with contemporary culture. The rich group of people who are now involved in this project is wonderful, but it's tough to start thinking about typologies for the communities from which they come. You can see, for example from Foundation's description of themselves as an 'emerging church / altnerative worship group' and 'Anglican fresh expression', that I've got some work to do - and that these distinctions don't seem to be problematic in practice! I've got several types to choose from / several boxes to force things into, including:

emerging church
fresh expression of church
alternative worship
inherited/traditional church

I need to work on how I'm defining these labels, in order to work out which communities to put where, and whether I can create a spectrum which reflects the diversity going on rather than reinforcing any existing binaries. Helen Cameron, for example, differentiates between emerging church and fresh expressions by classifying the former as mission to the de-churched and the later as mission to the un-churched. But Ian Mobsby classifies emerging church as a sub-group of fresh expressions, alongside inherited church fresh expressions. So, I'm working on my own thoughts about these different types of Christian community.

In the meantime... some thoughts on the recent direction that self-definition among the emerging church took. While definition and classification remain dirty words among emerging Christian communities, there have always been attempts to do just that. There was a flurry of definitions around 2005, produced by both those involved and those not - and I need only to point you to a few posts by TSK for you to find some others. However, over the summer this year a method of definition emerged through the textual and visual definition of buzz words in response to criticism from the Pyromaniacs team - see here, here, here, here, and here! The more I think about it, this deserves it's own post. I'll be back.


paul said...

I guess i find it a bit of a play on words - emerging/alt/etc church is a form of church which will probably have some sort of focus defined by its people, community, context etc.

Katharine Moody said...

Yeah, self-definition is hugely important in this context, and will be a major factor in how I present communities to the readers of my thesis. On one of TSK's posts, Brad commented asking if description was a better option than definition. But as my starting point is the voices of evangelical detractors criticising emerging churches for undermining biblical truth, my work needs to situate itself within emerging churches. In reality, however, those involved come from a more diverse spectrum than this. I'll need to work out whether this means that definitions/descriptions of emerging churches need to be broadened, or whether evangelicals need to be told that what they dread about the emerging church is taking hold elsewhere!

I think Scot McKnight's 2006 remarks at Westminster Theological Seminary are useful: that if you define emerging church in epistemological terms, you can dismiss the emerging church as a 'small fissure in the evangelical movement.' But, if you define the emerging church in missional and ecclesiological terms, then emerging church becomes much much broader.