During the fall of ’05 I helped to organize the Emerging Church/Theological Education Caucus (yah, I know…quite the name) at Princeton Theological Seminary. We were able to have my friend Jonny Baker come over and hang out with us. During one of his talks, he mentioned the phrase “loyal radical” that his friend Bob Hopkins had begun to use. Hopkins has recently posted an article entitled Loyal Radicals and is worth a quick read.
Hopkins says that loyal radicals are going to be the “key agents for change in traditional historic denominations.” He says that they will be creative, committed to the missional transformation of the church, frustrated by institutions’ built-in resistance to change. When I first heard the term used by Jonny, I resonated with the term and used it in my essay for An Emergent Manifesto of Hope. As one who is involved with both Emergent and a traditional mainline denomination (PCUSA), it seems like a fitting name. It certainly is not an easy calling – to be one who stands on the borders, on the edges. However, there are some people who remain committed to the PCUSA who give me hope, including Nanette Sawyer, who started Wicker Park Grace. Nanette is doing some very alternative ministry in a unique area of Chicago, and I know there are others doing similar things across the country.
I think that the term “loyal radical” could be applied to many within traditional denominations who find themselves beginning to struggle with the institutional nature of their respective denominations. But many people don’t want to just leave their traditions behind; many people that there is much to be grateful for with the history and experience of those who have gone before them. So they will choose to be “loyal” to their churches.
The question remains as to whether institutional churches will respect these loyal radicals’ loyalty and give them them room to grow and think and form a new type of ministry within the structures that exist. If not – we could see loyal radicals frustration get the best of them, and result in eventually not being able to maintain the loyalty forever…
Can Presbyterians (and other mainliners) can be open enough to loyal radicals? Will a senior pastor “fudge” a bit on the Book of Order? Will a Session be willing to try something that everyone “knows” is going to fail, in order to allow for the possibility that there might be a different way of doing church.
Hopkins ends his article with this line:
To be healthy this twin development requires that honouring of one another that is borne out of loyalty.
How will loyal radicals honor their backgrounds, tradition and history that comes with an institutional church? How will Sessions, CPMs and Denominational Executives honor the loyal radicals in their midst? These are important questions. I don’t have answers for them – but I’m hoping that our conversations next week at the Mainline Emergent/s event will help shed some light on them. I’m very excited for this event – apparently it’s the biggest Lifelong Learning Event Columbia Theological Seminary has had in 4 years. Over 310 people have registered for the event, so it should be a pretty good party. I’ll be posting some reflections of the event next week. But until then — what do you think? Those of you who are part of an institutional church? Those of you who would consider yourselves loyal radicals? Will this relationship work? Is it doomed to failure? How can this mutual honoring take place?