Monday, March 16, 2009


I spent the last couple of days at a gathering of people who self-identify as “anglimergent” – or at least, spend some of their time networking on a website entitled “anglimergent”. It’s a tricky group to pin down: many of them are uncomfortable with labels, particularly labels that identify them with the rather evangelical world of emerging church. I find the label helpful as a way to shorthandedly say, “people who are interested in seeing the church move forward in whatever way works” or “people who want to help write the next chapter of the Episcopal story (as my husband puts it: not rewrite the former chapters, not write a totally new book, but write a chapter that builds on the chapters that have come before and adds our generation’s input).”

So that is the kind of person we’re talking about – someone who wants to see a new era of ministry going in the Episcopal Church that makes it open and relevant and generally the kind of place that I’ve already been lucky enough to find it to be. Turns out that many people have had horrendous experiences in TEC, and I feel awful about that. I’m super spoiled to have only gone to churches that, for the most part, got it right. At least, they were authentically who they are. And I’m not going to pretend I haven’t been burned – we just have to revisit the sad pathetic story of my ordination process(es) to know that my attempts to serve have not always been well-received (or well-offered, I hasten to add).

All that to say that there actually ARE Episcopal churches that need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the postmodern era, or into the 1979 prayer book (which hasn’t nearly finished being mined, as Louis Weil reminds us), or just into a general sense that the church should be kind of an open and loving place and not so much an exclusive club or a political stance or a family tradition. It is, after all, about God’s kingdom on earth; about spreading God’s love; about Jesus’ way of living into the most abundant life possible. These are the things that the folks I met with are about.

Oddly, I was really only there because Sara Miles asked me to be. I didn’t feel remotely like I belonged. But as I was preparing to attend and was thinking about my experience with emergy type stuff, I realized I had a remarkable amount of background in that world (especially for someone who never officially has been a member of an actual emergent church). I was pretty involved in the planning process for Thad’s in LA (until they decided not to have regular Eucharist, which I couldn’t live with), and I helped write some of the liturgy for Barry Taylor’s services at All Saints’ (including parts of the Eucharistic prayer that they still use). Then there was my independent study on the EC, which led to our (unfinished) documentary on COTA. At seminary, one of my closest friends was a founding member of Three Nails in Pittsburgh, and another had lived and served in an intentional community in East LA long before emerging became a thing (incidentally, both of these people had left that kind of church to join more traditional Episcopal congregations, citing the liturgy as what drew them to the tradition…gee! Ya think?). For heaven’s sake, I never would have gone to seminary if Carol Wade hadn’t told me to, and she’s in this conversation too! I never would have become Episcopalian without being discipled by Christopher Martin, and the whole thing with him was doing spiritual disciplines – the real hard-core monastic stuff that you can’t really do just once a week at church. And now, I go to St. Gregory’s, and I used to go to All Saints’ BH, and even at St. Barnabas – all these churches have one thing in common: they are unapologetically authentic to themselves. They don’t try to be something appealing, they don’t try to find a niche and fill it, they don’t try to be relevant. Hell, St. B’s didn’t even have bulletins and everybody had the liturgy memorized! But all these places we were drawn to, we realized, were places that – though there was NO alt-worship going on – embodied the principles of the anglimergent group (or at least those who had gathered). They are open, nurturing, playful, incarnate, sacramental (!!), collaborative, passionate, and deeply contextual. They are places of freedom and hospitality. Sure, they have their stumbles and drawbacks, and not all these values are lived every moment. But they are held, I believe, by the majority of the membership. And they are what keep the churches living and, in some cases, thriving.

A word on the sacramental bit: Sara pointed out that most of the people in the room were serious about sacraments, particularly about gathering around a Table where everyone is welcome. And I realized, making “sacramental” one of the core values of “anglimergent” would exclude some communities which believe that sacraments are not necessarily…necessary. Or perhaps that they are something quite different from what the church has said they are (e.g., Eucharist isn’t important, but perhaps there is something else which takes its place?). And I suppose that, to be true to our principles, we’d have to say yes, you can still be anglimergent and not give a rat’s ass about sacraments. Because you can’t define anglimergent, or at least, it seems, you can’t make boundaries around what it does and does not define.

Which actually is really confusing. Like, they kept saying there’s “no such thing” as anglimergent and there’s no “there there” – but obviously something brought all us people together, and isn’t it helpful to have (as my friend Andy put it) a “handle” to call it (since apparently “label” is too loaded of a word to just throw around)? I don’t know, maybe it’s the meds or something, but my brain starts to hurt when I try to figure out how something could be nonexistent but yet we’re talking about it and identifying with it (but it also can’t be defined or have boundaries...ouch, headache).

One really interesting moment was when someone suggested that if a group formed that wanted to drop bombs on muslims and call themselves anglimergent, that obviously they wouldn’t be. And Sara, God bless her, actually had the cajones to say no, you can’t say that – you either have to let everybody in or make really strict boundaries. So far, the group is resisting boundaries, is resisting placing authority in any person or group or even set of rules, so that kind of leaves the field open for nutjobs. But I guess that’s better than getting stuck obeying one small vision of what anglimergent could mean.

It’s so easy – especially in a room of people who are almost all the same generation or two, and probably all hold the same views politically and mostly the same theologically – it’s really easy and really tempting in that scenario to start thinking we know what everybody thinks, to start believing that we’re all the same. But we’re not. And more importantly, we have to be OPEN to other expressions of what church can be, because without diversity the kingdom just isn’t Godly.

So that means, as hard as it is, we have to drop our own agendas and reach across the aisle. We have to do like Fuller’s Episcopal/Anglican group did – people from churches that had left and churches still aligned with the diocese would meet weekly and pray together and pray FOR each other. And there wasn’t any way to reconcile our churches on a large scale, but one-on-one, we could at least talk, at least agree that we all loved Jesus, and we actually did help bust a lot of myths about each other.

But all that is simply to say that if a group wanted to form and call itself part of the anglimergent community that was not like us, not like our vision of what emergent or Anglican or even “cool kids” are…I guess we’d have to be stuck with it. I personally feel like there should be some kind of boundaries – I mean, to call something Anglican there should at least be a modicum of Anglicanism involved (I could care less about the emergent label) – but perhaps that’s why the name isn’t helpful and should be rejected….perhaps we need to just be who we are. And for me, that would involve something interfaith and certainly interdenominational, so right there you have to lose the Anglican handle (or DO you – I love the tension-holding value of TEC – is it really anything goes??)

Anyway this is all getting a bit rambly and confusing and of course it’s just my own thoughts and in no way reflects anybody else’s impressions, I’m sure. Plus please recall that I’m chronically sleep deprived, and had a margarita this evening. So if I’m totally misremembering things, I apologize to my colleagues who were there, and I look forward to your musings on the meeting. These were just some of the thoughts that came up in my head as I pondered our discussions. And as you can see, I’m really quite a confused little girl. Oh well.

Somehow in a fit of excitement I wound up volunteering to go to General Convention and do…well we don’t know what yet, but do something. This was possibly a very naïve and ridiculous move. God knows I am not at all qualified to talk about the emergent church, having always been on the fringes of it. Then again, if it’s just about being a kingdom gal, that I can do.

Ay. I’m tired of writing now. Hope there was something worth reading there.

1 comment:

MetaSim said...

I'm a cradle Episcopalian (son of a priest) and just heard about this "anglimergent thing"... up to now I'd just about given up on the Church and committed my spiritual explorations to studying Vedanta or Mahayana Buddhism or some other system with a better focus on the Transcendent. This "anglimergent thing" has given me hope, and your blog entry has really helped me put what's going on into context; that it is "big tent" to the extreme. While you can't pin it down, you can know that there are other seekers out there who are drawn recognize the essential roles of community and liturgy in discovering God, yet are not satisfied with a static faith. Thank you!