Emergence Christianity: Does Presbymergent still have a voice?

The Front door to St. Mary’s Cathedral, our space for the 2013 Emergence Christianity Event

Back in 2007, many of us Presbyterians were starting to get more and more involved in the Emergent conversation. The question of how to incorporate the Emergent conversation into our Presbyterian ministry contexts became extremely relevant to many of us; thus, the formation of Presbymergent.

We worked with some folks and hosted a conference at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, participated in the Mainline Emergent/s conversation at Columbia Theological Seminary, started hosting Presbymergent gatherings at PC(USA) events and formed a Coordinating Group of Presbyterian pastors and lay people interested in the conversation.

In February of 2009, 30+ Presbyterians gathered in Louisville for a conversation about Presbymergent. I was just looking through a few videos I had taken at the event, and saw how many cool people were in the room together for those couple days, some of which were: Troy Bronsink, John Vest, Landon Whitsitt, Chad Herring, Ryan Kemp-Pappan, Neal Locke, Nanette Sawyer, Carol Howard Merritt, Jud Hendrix, Jan Edmiston, Erik Ledermann, Seth Thomas, Karen Sloan, Jenny Warner and many others.

Unfortunately, shortly after that gathering, it seemed like everyone involved in Presbymergent found their energies going elsewhere.

We’ve kept the website up, and maintained our Facebook & Twitter presence (though, not actively). But I’ve often wondered if Presbymergent still has a voice in this conversation about the future of the church. I think there are other groups now, most notably the NEXTChurch folks, who have been active in conversations about the future of the church. I think part of that comes with the financial support the folks involved have been able to get, which is helpful for bringing people together for the national conversations.

And yet…I’ve continued to hear about Presbyterians who, when they hear about or first get exposed to the Emergent conversation, often ask, “Where are the Presbyterians who are engaging with these ideas?” For those of you who have gone through this process, you know it only takes one Brian McLaren book to screw you up.

So, here’s my question. What role does Presbymergent have in the larger Emergent conversation? What about in the larger PC(USA) conversation about the future of the church? What do you think?


  1. says

    I think the problem is that the two worlds (Presbyterian and Emerging) share little of the same values. I still consider myself both, but am interested in the church that is emerging from–as opposed to in–the Presbyterian Church. Even at Next, the primary concern seems to be saving an institution. This is the primary driver of the Presbyterian Church, and though I am still a part of that family, I do not share the interest at all, and I don’t think many in the emerging church do either.

    • says

      Drew, I am very much on the same page as you. While I appreciate the NEXT conversation might be what some want/need, I am not interested in preserving institutional history at the risk of losing creative possibilities for new ministries. Adam, to your question… Can Presbymergent somehow keep pushing the conversation toward what lies outside our denomination? That would be my hope. I want to be part of something like that.

  2. says

    I was just thinking about this yesterday, and although we Presbybymergents don’t formally meet, I find that my new call (working for what many consider the local Death Star) is an excellent opportunity to teach COMs and CPMs and people under care of the Presbytery of Chicago to share what a 21st Century Church is all about. Your name regularly comes up. I point people to Carol’s books. I tell my Ryan story (i.e. why is this excellent pastor not serving one of our churches?) It’s not like I use my opportunities to talk about The Old (e.g. ’97) Days. It’s about pointing to what is Emerging – in reality and in my dreams. Love my work. But’s it’s a long slog.
    So – yes, we continue to have impact. But can we schedule another gathering so I can figure out more ways to engage you all to help the church make these shifts that help us make disciples? NEXT Church is trying to do some of the same things, but it feels too slow.

  3. TWH says

    I generally do not get interested in this conversation – however, I am very intrigued by several of the comments above. I do remember the days (and Adam does as well) when I thought that everyone should just find the nearest Presbyterian Church (USA) and start going to it: loyalty to the denomination was very important to me. More than that, however, some appreciation for and loyalty to the Reformed Tradition was important to me. In fact, I would say I am still loyal to this tradition in many respects – especially its auto-immune tendencies, expressed in the Book of Order even: sometimes the institution must die in order to be loyal to the Gospel. In order to preserve the institution the institution must die…However, I have reservations about those who want the Presbyterian Church to, in some sense, die or about those who want to think about something other than the PC(USA)…Why? Is the impulse here to be done with one institution so another, cooler one (ok, some may say ‘more faithful one’) may begin? The Emergent movement, in my view, is simply not radical enough, and its supporters often come across as trivial, theologically and otherwise, and whiney. What if what is emerging is the death of the institutional Church as such…a day when there will not be a single church or other religious institution on any street corner? This is more interesting to me than the movement toward a cool Christianity – or an attempt similar to Starbucks: change the facade and name of the coffee shop so its looks more local – but it’s really a Starbucks in the end…

  4. says

    I am only a Christian (and a Presbyterian) b/c of the Emergent conversation. My Presby pastors (I’m in a collaborative youth ministry for two churches) both read Emergent material which they say feeds their work. Old timers in Presbymergent would do us a great favor by stewarding it, so those who need it, can find it. I would love to see the conversation continue. Always reforming sounds pretty emergent to me.

  5. says

    I’ll say this: I’ve never felt the kind of hope, energy, creativity, and excitement at a NEXT conference that I experienced at our Presbymergent gathering in Louisville.

    • says

      I can see that, but what does it say that Presbymergent started to become less and less active AFTER that Louisville gathering? I loved our time together, but seems like that the beginning of the end of Presbymergent…

  6. says

    I agree with TMH, often times the ’emerging’ movement seemed whiney to me. To be frank I believe I have always had the values that the emerging conversation holds, openness, creativity, permission giving. Maybe because I am and always have been liberal/progressive. I don’t have a post-evangelical story.

    I also found the emerging convo to be a little too “Baby out with the bathwater for me.”

    I am all about the institution of the PCUSA staying alive, and I believe our theology of connectedness and constant reform are invaluable as we move forward.

    I’m all about the convos, I’m even about a structure (Lord knows I need structure or I’ll fly off the handle) but what I’m not about is uniformity.

    I said this on John’s blog and I’ll say it here, we should talk.

Leave a Reply