Part of the trouble with Emerging Spirit was not in its mandate or vision but in failing to appreciate just how difficult it is for local leadership to make significant shifts in a congregational culture. We probably should have known better – and maybe even did – but the timeframe was compact and necessitated certain choices.
By and large leaders were sympathetic to the project’s analysis, message and call to radical hospitality. The challenge, in reality, lay in trying to balance the cost in time and energy it would take to engage that question with all the other voices demanding attention. No one says that improving a ministry of hospitality is a bad thing but where does it fit in the lineup of things we should do, like looking at the governance system, renovating the worship service, training leaders, meeting the budget, visiting the sick and doing all the things necessary to keep an old way of being church on its feet while being open to something new. For many there just wasn’t time or energy even though we heard ‘Amens’ from their lips and spirits. (Part of me is still not convinced that making hospitality a priority really takes as much time as it does a commitment but more of that in another blog. For now, I concede the point that it takes time which leaders feel they do not have.)
So, in the end, here’s the rub. New life usually demands some kind of space and nurturing to take root. Congregations did not oppose Emerging Spirit but often assumed their leadership, paid or enthusiastic lay people, would add whatever insights or programs that arose to the existing load, “off the side of my desk” as one clergy noted. And that can’t be done because, even more than we realized, the call of Emerging Spirit to engage in radical hospitality was actually a call that a significant strand of the culture of many congregations be changed from a focus on “us” to an orientation to “them” and to the Spirit who might move in surprising and disguising ways.
Often the most enthusiastic reports of “success” came from congregations who either did not have a large programmatic load to support or governance structure to maintain and so they could “go for it” since, as many said, “what did we really have to lose!”
The challenge of creating room for new life will not cease with the retirement of Emerging Spirit. In the end, I suppose the decision of whether to allocate the time and will to create that space remains with the congregation.