As I’ve read through the EC reports I’ve seen a mix between critique and praise. Since I offered criticism in the midst of the event, I need to follow up with a positive report.
As I’ve said before, I am a repeat offender to the Emergent Convention, having attended the first one last year in San Diego (great meeting, lousy weather!). My wife Kay, who is one of the Associate Pastors at a large, traditional United Methodist congregation here in Nashville has heard me talking about this whole emerging thing for the past couple of years and as her congregation is in the middle of determining their future goals and mission, she decided to not only attend the EC with me this year, but to also invite all her staff and some key lay leaders to think about the future of the church.
“You did what?” I asked.
“I’ve got thirteen church leaders coming to the convention,” she told me.
Now before I go on I have to set the able a bit more. Her church is the very definition of “traditional” here in Nashville. I jokingly call it the “high cathedral of Methodism” for their formal worship sensibilities, stained glass and gothic architecture, and a reputation (not always deserved) of being insular. Most importantly, this is a church with a high average educational level (the most Post Grad degrees of any church in town) which often defines itself by doing “good theology.” They have been hesitant to embrace contemporary worship out of the concern that contemporary worship was shallow theologically. It’s a good church, a growing church, but they aren’t usually on the forefront of Christian praxis.
I confess that when Kay told me her folks were coming, I questioned the decision.
“Look,” I said, “the “worship” will most certainly feature a rock band. Understand that most of the folks at the conference will be evangelicals, and I’m not sure if this will connect with your folks. I think it’s great that they are coming, but you may want to brief them before they come.”
O ye of little faith.
So, they came — all thirteen at one time or another. They came to the General Sessions. They attended workshops. They sat in the hall and talked. They weren’t goateed, nor had shaved heads. The average age was probably 45. They represented folks who by all indications should have been entrenched in modernism.
Except they weren’t. After each session they would gather together to report what they had heard and talk about the implications for their congregation. They purchased CD’s of most of the workshops to share with the folks at home. They hung in through long days to hear Doug and Tony and Brian and Alan and Holly talk about their vision for the church.
And since they have returned, the buzz is moving through the congregation. Kay provided a synopsis of her thoughts about what is happening in the emerging world, and the group that she is working with to determine the core values of the congregation became excited about the implications. They may not be full converts to the emerging thing, but they saw themselves in the painting and are thinking in new ways.
This is the value of large events like the Emergent Convention. They may not be everything that I would hope them to be, but they offer an invitation to invite new folks to the table. It was true for me at an event several years ago. It continues to be true today.