The Divine Offices are an ancient monastic practice of praying specific prayers at specific times throughout the day that I encountered years ago.
Fascinated by this concept, I searched for books of these prayers and found one by Phyllis Tickle. At the time, I had no idea that Tickle was a renowned author and religious scholar or that I would spend so much time learning about her work in school.
Last year, I took a class titled “The History of Christianity in North America.” We discussed the history of colonization, about the Puritans coming to America, the southern church and its stance on slavery around the time of the Civil War, the rise of women in missions, tent revivals, Mormonism, as well as the rise of fundamentalist thought and the Pentecostal movement.
The very last week of class was spent on something called Emergence Christianity, a topic on which 80-year-old Phyllis Tickle was, of course, a leading expert.
Over the past 20 years or so, mainline denominations in the U.S. have seen declining church attendance – one indication that church as we have always known it is changing.
Even before the pandemic, worshippers were turning to virtual churches, with worship services and small groups that enable fellowship between believers living states away from each other.
The emerging church is placing emphasis on inclusivity, social activism and care of the earth while also embracing science as one way in which God reveals God’s self – no longer seeing science and faith at war against each other.
Tickle went so far as to say that, in the near future, it will be difficult to worship and difficult to preach without some background understanding of the physical sciences.
“About every 500 years,” Tickle wrote, “the church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale. … We are living in and through one of those 500-year sales.”
After struggling through the transition from in-person church activities to virtual church during the last year, having the opportunity to learn about Emergence Christianity was medicine for my weary soul. It was the good news I needed to hear.
So, you can imagine my surprise when the classmates with whom I met to discuss this topic were less than enthusiastic about the prospect of these changes. It seemed as if they were a threat – the end of all that they had known and loved was near.
Emergence Christianity, for them, was the end of their leadership positions and the end of doctrine with which they’d grown comfortable. These transitions would require sacrifice; they would need to learn new technology and systems and to deconstruct and reconstruct theologies that were, inadvertently or not, keeping people out rather than welcoming all in.
The conversation was disheartening. I left wondering if we hadn’t made an idol out of what we call church these days.
I know that last year was a difficult one for local churches. I know how heartbreaking it was to not be in a full sanctuary on Easter; I cried those tears, as well.
The new year is beginning just as the last one ended, with congregations still apart and doing the best they can to stay connected while also staying safe. But even if we never ever go back into a church building again, the church is in no danger of dissolving.
The church is changing, yes, and change is scary, but the church has changed countless times over the last 2,000 years. It has faced persecution and threat far beyond those presented by COVID-19 mitigation efforts and still it persists.
The church will adapt, as it always has. God is still in control. There is no power on earth, now or to come, that can separate us from the Divine love that has kept us singing praises for centuries upon centuries.
And that is this week’s very good news on which we can rely.
Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing series focused on engaging the emerging generations of faith leaders. If you know anyone who might be interested, encourage them to submit their article for consideration to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Minister to Youth at Millbrook Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, she is an Ernest C. Hynds Intern at Good Faith Media for the spring 2021 semester.