In February of 2003 I and a couple of friends jumped on a plane headed west and ended up in San Diego for the first ever Emergent Convention. Back in the day (so to speak) the Emergent Village folks – Brian, Tony, Doug, Chris, Holly, Mark, Rudy, Tim, and others – were in a relationship with Youth Specialties and a decision was made to see if there might be a few hundred folks throughout the U.S. who would like to talk about this new “emergent” thing in conjunction with the YS National Pastor’s Convention (a celebration of all things “mega.”) They were shocked when 1,100 folks registered (with even more on a waiting list) to participate in the first Emergent Convention (EC2003). It was the first sign that this thing we had been talking about might be more than a few guys talking on a web site.
This Thursday I will be heading in the Corolla to participate in what is in some ways an heir of the Emergent Convention: Emergence Christianity—A National Gathering, happening down in Memphis. The occasion of the event is the release of Phyllis Tickle’s overview and review of this whole emerging thing titled: Emergence Christianity. While this event is much smaller in scope, for some of us it will be the first time that many of us have been in the same space at the same time in several years.
Certainly, the events and workshops at EC2003 were great (Anne Lamott’s talk was classic, if for no other reason than to watch the polo wearing wannabe mega-church pastors attending the National Pastor’s Convention freak out at her less than religious way of talking about faith). What was as important (and would be even more important at the two conventions to follow) were the conversations around the pool, in the hallways, and sitting outside the convention center. These conversations would lead to life long relationships, and really served to support Emergent’s notion of this we found ourselves in as a generative conversation. It was at this gathering that I first connected with Tony Jones and we began a season of working to connect the mainline world with this emergent conversation.
Emergence Christianity offers a similar opportunity for connections, but while new friendships will be made what I look to the most is to catch up with folks who have been walking this path for the past 10 years. Many of us were idealistic, with great hope for change 10 years ago. A decade later, we have experienced the resistance of the traditional church structures to thinking in new ways, and have found our dreams tempered by the realities of institutional inertia. Yes, some of us have started new things – some more successful than others – and it will be great to hear about those communities. Others of us have languished in the hope that we could be agents of transformation, and have been adapting what we’ve learned in the emergent conversation to meet the sensibilities of older, established congregations.
Be watching this week for updates from EC2013. I’m really excited about the possibilities of this gathering, and hope you will pray for us as we think about the future of church in the U.S.