The focus for my sabbatical is the Emerging Church – an incredibly broad and elusive phrase. I am interested in places where there are new forms of worship and church and in exploring whom they are reaching, what is their mission focus and how they relate to the mainstream church. Alongside that I hope to explore women’s leadership within the Emerging Church. My intention is to meet and interview a number of people here and in the US who are involved in this broad based movement and explore the issues that they raise.
In a way I have always been interested in new ways of being Church, but had no language for expressing that. Reading a book on Emerging Church recently it spoke of the sense of disconnection many younger people feel in the Church – the cultural, social gap between their life in the Church and their life in ‘the world’ . This is something I have always felt. I am not ‘the younger generation’ (despite my purple DMs and nose stud I have to remind myself sometimes that I am 46!) but I am part of that post modern generation and grew up with that sense of disconnection.
I grew up in a liberal United Reformed Church. My own family were committed Christians and committed Socialists and the two were bound together (imagine my shock when I discovered in my early teens that it was possible to be a Christianand a Tory!). Our church was an open and welcoming place where my family were key members and a place that has always felt like home, but the worship for me was always intellectual and dry.
I was the artistic, creative one in the family (my siblings were musical). Making string puppets at 8, directing plays from the age of 10, and in my teens painting huge dramatic oil canvases (mostly nude self portraits, much to my older brother’s embarrassment!) I needed worship that was colourful, creative, that touched the heart as much as the mind and I didn’t find it in my church – and this continues to be something I struggle to find within my own tradition. While faith came to play a significant role in my life, leading me to ministry in the URC, that disconnection between what I yearned for in worship and what I experienced remained.
Alongside that I had a social life that was nearly entirely outside of the Christian community. At University, while remaining a committed Christian and active in that world, I found my real peers in Student Community Action, the Women’s movement and the Peace movement . I longed for the heart felt worship of the more evangelical churches, but my liberal theology meant I didn’t feel at home there. I found myself worshipping in quirky high Anglican churches with a few old ladies. My life outside the Church seemed to have little to do with what went on inside the church. There was a huge sense of disconnection.
I wanted worship/church that connected with my life – a place where it would feel possible to bring my non-Christian friends without cringing, a place where my friends would not be judged, a place where there were people like me. It was something I yearned for, but didn’t really believe was possible and so, in a sense, I just lived with these two worlds in tension. I continued to live with that tensions throughout my training for ministry. At my ordination I said I was a square peg in a round hole, because that is what it felt like.
Going to ‘Greenbelt’ (Christian arts festival) was a significant moment for me. There was creative worship, there were passionate speakers, there were people like me. ‘The Post-evangelical’ by Dave Tomlinson, a key book at that time, also strangely resonated with me. Of course I wasn’t post-evangelical, but I was, sort of, post-liberal! While my theology, in many ways, remained broadly liberal I didn’t have the modernist liberal mindset. I wanted a faith that changed lives, that transformed the world. I believed in a personal relationship with the person of Jesus. I wanted worship that was emotional and passionate. I began to not want to live in two worlds but to bridge the cultural gap between my Christian life and the rest of my life.
Which has all led me to an interest in the Emerging Church and over the years to exploring alternative worship (I have run a small group called Sacred Space). Also increasingly in my time as a Chaplain at Keele I have become interested in finding ways of reaching those who are outside of the small Christian bubble – I have become interested in mission.
I have found the process leading up to this sabbatical space a tricky one; at times I have felt quite paralysed by the thought of ‘producing’ something and waves of inadequacy have overwhelmed me. I don’t have a PhD, I borrow books I never read, I haven’t written anything more than a sermon in 15 years! My mother said ‘Just do some art’, and friends said ‘you don’t need to write anything’ but that felt a cop-out.
So often I define myself as a doer, not a reader or reflector – but that’s not wholly true and this times is a space to explore and develop that side of me that rarely gets a look in. To step back from the heat of people and relationships, to make space to think, to listen, to create. And who knows where that space will lead me to!