From an interview with Phyllis Tickle by Karen Hilfmann Millson (United Church of Canada)
Q In your book The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why, you talk about how every 500 years we go through a time of great upheaval when everything changes — intellectually, politically, culturally, sociologically, economically — and that we are in one of those times right now.
A Yes. Five hundred years ago we called it the Great Reformation, a thousand years ago it was the Great Schism, 1,500 years ago it was the Great Decline and Fall, and 2,000 years ago it was the Great Transition.
Today, what we are experiencing has been called the Great Emergence. As in every transition before it, there has been such an abrupt interruption in the way things are that there’s no going back.
Q In times like these, the church has been compelled to have what Bishop Mark Dyer has described as a huge “rummage sale,” when we let go of a lot of stuff and claim new treasures. What are some of the things that are on the rummage table today?
A Clergy as a privileged group is a no-no in emergence Christianity. Emergence citizens want community, to prayerfully discern together, to move by committee, because in this world of vast information, there’s no way anyone can be an expert on everything. All any of us can do is prayerfully bring our little bit of expertise to the table to arrive at some sort of common understanding.
So emergence citizens are deeply, deeply communal. This makes traditionalists or “inherited church” people nervous, simply because it can seem such a hodgepodge way of doing things.
Q What other characteristics of the emerging church might make some people uncomfortable?
A The emergence citizen is deeply allergic to real estate. You are no longer nimble once you own something, and emergence citizens believe in transience. Their thinking is, “Just because we are all together in this community right now doesn’t mean we will not be led by the Spirit to scatter like a milk pod bursting and going and planting others, and if we own real estate, we can’t do that” (although they are not averse to asking to borrow a church basement if they need a place to meet).
Q What about doctrine — will it have a place in emergence Christianity?
A Emergence Christians say, “I don’t want to hear that, though I won’t throw it away. It’s the story we are interested in, the narrative — tell us the story.” So they are deeply liturgical, because liturgy doesn’t involve intellectualization. It involves the body; it’s incarnational. They want their body to be part of the faith experience.
Q You and others talk about a key aspect of this time being the awakening and reclaiming of the power of the Holy Spirit.
A Yes, we are definitely coming into the age of the Holy Spirit. . . . From 2,000 to 4,000, the focus will be on God the Holy Spirit. This will be a time of deep engagement with the Holy Spirit in community.
Q What should we keep in mind in this era of change?
A As the Archbishop in England said, as we move into this new age, we need to remember that we are not here to save the church as we have known it; we are called to our purpose of serving the Kingdom of God on Earth.