Posted in church, grief, Surrender

Emergent Church – The Call for Compassion and Surrender

Today’s blog continues the discussion about Emergent Church – inspired by Phyllis Tickle’s book The Great Emergence. In Tuesday’s blog, I spoke specifically about the role and challenge of the innovators/prophets who have been gifted with the vision and feeling of the new way of being Church that is trying to be born into our world, and who have been commissioned to carry and bring forth this vision.  Today, I want to offer a show of compassion for the traditionalists, or as Phyllis Tickle calls them, the “re-traditioners” who are frightened of and therefore resist to this change.


Greater even than the fear of dying is the fear of change

The re-traditioners, as Phyllis Tickle calls them, are those who are happy, content and comfortable with the model of Church as it currently exists.  The re-traditioners are made up of people in the pew (because they are still going to church) and those in leadership – specifically deacons, brothers, priests, pastors, ministers, bishops, popes, and even some of the women religious. Often, re-traditioners are those who have benefitted from the current model of being Church and who might actually have something to lose should things change.  Some have simply never been called to question the current model of Church and would rather not rock the boat.  “Why fix what isn’t broke?” they might ask.  The problem is that the current model of Church is broke, and many, fearing what a change in the Church might mean for them, choose denial as a way of managing the grief that threatens to overwhelm them over the thought of change.  For you see, even greater than death, human beings fear change.

Holding out for more celibate priests

Here is a case in point.  I remember years ago, when I was asked to be our parish representative in local discussions on how to deal with the Catholic priest vocation crisis.  As a group, we were charged with the task of figuring out how to manage six Catholic parishes with only two priests, and eventually how to manage them with only one priest – as these were the priestly vocation projections for the next ten years.  As an innovator, the solution was obvious to me – close four parishes and eventually all but one and hire lay ministers to staff non-sacramental duties.  While participating in these meetings, I was flabbergasted by the power of denial as I listened to the response to our task by several of the parish representatives present, “We’re sure priestly vocations will turn around, and we won’t need to worry about closure.”  Instead of entering into a discussion about practical solutions based on the cold, hard facts of declining priestly vocations AND declining church attendance, they chose to bury their head in the sand.  My compassion understands that what was really at work here was not ignorance, but grief – these re-traditioners were afraid of the impending change that would dramatically alter the experience of Church through which they had found comfort, predictability and safety.  The world, as they had come to know it, was about to change – dramatically.

Confronting our fear of change

We are facing a similar experience today as we stand in the tension between the Church as it has been known and the new way of being Church that is trying to be born in our world.  The innovators can’t wait for the new Church to be born and the re-traditions are hanging on with all their might to what they have known.  What often happens in the face of this kind of tension is one side projecting their fear onto the other thereby creating enemies where enemies do not really exist. I know this has been done to me, and that I, in turn, have done this toward “the other.”  It doesn’t have to happen this way, however. In the face of this transition, we can turn it into a tug of war – each side battling for power as the Church and its people get torn to shreds (which I’ve seen happen WAY too many times) – or we can:

1) Acknowledge our fears

2) Do something about them

For the re-traditioners, this will be about naming and claiming their fear of change and communicating this fear to those around them, and then allowing themselves space to grieve this loss.  For the innovators, it is about naming our fear of not being heard and of things not changing quickly enough.  For both of us, it is about sitting around the table and being present to each other’s fears and holding each other in compassion and love while the Church changes before us.

We Are Not in Charge

Here then is the trickiest part of emerging Church – WE ARE NOT IN CHARGE!  It is GOD who is calling forth this change – not us.  And this is a difficult pill to swallow for re-traditioners AND innovators alike – because ultimately, as human beings, we all want to be in charge and in control.  Instead, we are ALL invited to get out of the way so that the Church God wants to be born can be brought forth into the world – not according to our personal agenda’s, but according to God’s will.  And in this, our prayer is the very same prayer that Jesus prayed in the face of his own death, “Not my will, but Thy will be done.”


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2 thoughts on “Emergent Church – The Call for Compassion and Surrender

  1. Lauri, something in this post brings up an entirely different thought for me: rather than (or maybe in addition to) extending compassion to the re-traditioners, I want to explore with them what treasures they bring to the table–and what those treasures might look like in the emerging new Church. That, I think, might do a couple of things. First, it would validate their place in and contribution to the Church: it affirms that they have a great cloud of witnesses and companions on this road to change. Second, it would enable all of us to preserve and re-imagine those treasures of the Church that still have much to contribute. As an example (and since I’m not Catholic, forgive me if I mess up the theology): maybe, even as we accept the inability to require priestly celibacy, we explore what there is in the idea of celibacy that we should bring forward. Maybe it’s the sense of wholehearted commitment to God and others that, if I recall correctly, I’ve heard celibate people cherish. Or the freedom that a vow can give to enter more fully into a situation. Does any of this make sense?

    1. John, I could not agree more! As it is impossible to say everything I want to say (or feel) in 1000 words or less, I am grateful to readers who help fill in the blanks! There is SOOO MUCH worth keeping in the Church as it currently exists and I would never suggest throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It is important to hear with an open mind and heart all that feeds people and keeps them involved in Church along with what is not feeding people and causing them to leave. And I completely agree that celibacy has its merits and that some called to ordained ministry will be authentically called to celibacy. As a traditionalist as it pertains to liturgy – there are all kinds of things I would want to keep in the New Church – a sense of transcendence, magnificent art and architecture, stained glass windows, the sacraments (albeit perhaps a little reworked), stations of the cross, a tabernacle, devotional practices, the rosary, etc. I even see a place for maintaining a traditional worship service while also making room for something less traditional. If we are really catholic (small c – meaning universal), then the question might be how to make room for all of it… that all may be fed. 🙂 just a crazy thought!

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