The Association of Catholics in Ireland (ACI) is hosting an event, ‘What is the Emerging Church?’ on Saturday 23 May, 10.30 am-2.00 pm, at Shalom House, 12 Cliftonville Road, Belfast (BT14 6JX).
As many readers of this blog know, I’ve co-authored (with American sociologist Gerardo Marti) an academic book on the Emerging Church Movement (ECM), The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity. Given that internationally the ECM has developed primarily out of evangelical Protestantism, it’s interesting to me that ACI is exploring the topic.
On the island of Ireland, Peter Rollins and the Ikon collective (with its roots in evangelical Protestantism) has been associated with the ECM. Although several prominent Ikon participants were Catholic, there’s not much evidence that Irish Catholics have engaged with the ECM. Judging from my own research in the Republic and Northern Ireland for my next book, Transforming Post-Catholic Ireland, I would wager that most Catholics, especially in the Republic, are not aware of the ECM. An exception is theologian Cathy Higgins, who writes about Emerging Christianity in her book, Churches in Exile.
In The Deconstructed Church, Gerardo and I argue that the ECM will persist, even thrive, because it fosters a type of Christianity that is well-suited to our late modern period, a period which prioritises individual experience. Better than traditional denominations, congregations, or religious institutions, Emerging Christianity gives people the space to pursue individual spiritual quests, while at the same time being embedded in supportive but non-judgmental communities.
The organisers have described the event this way:
“What is the Emerging Church?”
We live in a turbulent and difficult time for the church. Many worry for their families and wonder will faith remain an integral part of their lives in the future. So has the Holy Spirit gone on holiday or is that Spirit doing, as someone has said, ‘a new thing with the ancient story’? Franciscan Fr Richard Rohr is in no doubt that we are experiencing ‘An exciting new beginning’. Some are calling it the ‘The Emerging Church’. It would seem that whatever name we give it, something very new is happening. The Holy Spirit is alive and active in our post-modern world.
ACI Belfast has had two meetings to date; one last December and one in February at which invited speakers envisioned those attending with their perspective on Catholic Church reform and renewal issues.
This time around the meeting will use video (by Fr Richard Rohr) and conversation to ask and explore the question, “What is the Emerging Church?”. It is hoped this will be the first of many occasional ‘catholic conversations’ on topics that are fresh, adventurous, contemporary and relevant to life, faith and church in the 21st century.
ACI Belfast wish to stress that these are ‘catholic conversations’ spelt with a small ‘c’, to illustrate an emphasis on inclusivity. That means everyone is welcome; those who go to church (any church) and those who don’t; and those who call themselves ‘believers’ and those who don’t. Every person’s insight and life experience will be valued. That’s what being ‘catholic’ should mean.
Time will also be given to discussing the way forward for ACI Belfast.
The day will begin with coffee/tea and (hopefully) scones from 10.30-11.00 am. Organisers request a voluntary donation on the day and for you to register your intention to attend by emailing ACI Belfast coordinator Martin Murray on firstname.lastname@example.org. (Registration will still be available on the day.) Participants may bring a packed lunch or purchase lunch in the shops nearby.