By Fred Koenig
Used to be that a sermon would be developed and dreamt in the solitary book-filled office of the pastor, only to be revealed on Sunday morning. Used to be that a church program would be planned in the church basement around a long rectangle table with metal chairs, a program created by the people of the church for the people of the church.
A much more emergent picture of planning and developing everything from a sermon to an outreach ministry is a picture of collaboration and conversation, an experience of listening and learning, a gathering of connected hearts and minds living into a collective vision.
Pastors of downtown mainline churches, University of Missouri faculty and administrators, laity from many denominations and media talents of Columbia, MO have collaborated on a vision for engaging congregations and the entire community on the topic of “What is the Future of Faith?” For over a year, they have met and planned for a March 14-15, 2014 Event in Columbia that will host Dr. Phyllis Tickle, author of The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why.
Dr. Tickle, now in her 80’s, has researched, toured, and written on the issues of the changes in the mainline, or “inherited” church, and the new emerging future of religious traditions and practices in the United States. She has concluded her official tour schedule and this event will be one of her last in her final year of lecturing.
The event will include a diversity of learning and worship experiences, intended to reach student communities, congregations, clergy and the general public. On Friday, March 14, there will be a registration-only learning time for clergy from 10-12, followed by a MU religion faculty panel discussion from 2-5 p.m. Both events will feature Dr. Tickle. At 7:00 p.m., there will be a community-wide worship experience at Missouri UMC with the Rev. Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II preaching. On Saturday, March 15, a regional learning event will be open to the public, called “What is the Future of Faith? A Conversation with Phyllis Tickle,” including lectures and Q and A with Dr. Tickle. This event will be from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at no cost, and will be held at the University of Missouri Tate Hall.
With over 14 church, adjudicatory (conference), and university sponsors, this event will model the emerging need for collaboration and conversation. Five of the host congregations, including Missouri UMC, will have concurrent sermon series leading up to the event, with a Feb. 23 “Pastor Swap,” placing clergy in different Sunday morning pulpits.
Clergy and laity from around the conference are invited to gather, learn, worship and imagine at this event. Through learning the history, ecclesiology, culture and context of the Great Emergence, we will discover, in Tickle’s words, “The Great Emergence, whatever else it is or may become, is first and foremost the product of a recurrent pattern in Christian affairs...discovering and exposing pattern can greatly diminish our sense, either corporately or individually, that somehow, ‘This mess must be our/my fault. It must be because of something we/I did somewhere back along the way.’ That simply is not true in the grand details, though it may be in some of the more minor, enabling ones….there is no better way to shed the weight than by looking at it with clear eyes and informed minds at what has got us to this place” 42.