Ministers' School is over for 2009, and the sky did not fall!
I'm really satisfied with how it went overall. I learned a lot. I had fun. It was flippin' scary. And it is over.
I regret that more people were not able to make the connection that I was trying to establish. I wonder if it was too vague and needed to be more explicitly stated.
For many, there seemed to be two topics that did not coincide, new communication technology and the emergent church. What didn't happen for some people was the realization of how each of these two topics are really two facets of the same jewel.
Social networking, community building, fostering relationships - all of this happens in many different ways on the internet now. And the ways it happens on the internet are a perfect microcosm of how it happens in the emergent church. People think differently about relationship than they used to. People consider different realities to be community than they used to. Words like "friend" and "accept" and "group" and "home" and even "talk to" and "go to" mean such different things now.
You can "accept" someone as your "friend" whom you have never even met face to face. You can "talk to" all the members of your "group" at once via one 140 character message. You can "go to" the "home" of a "group" to which you belong without even leaving your house. All of this translates into the ways that the emergent church is challenging the mainline to think about organization, communication, and community.
In just a small piece of the whole, for example, Tony Jones talked about how the emergent church is about relationships built not around common doctrine, but on the relationships themeselves. The point of the relationships is just to be in relationship. There is no heirarchy, but a network of relationships comprised of hubs with relatively more or less importance. That's how people think (some people anyway) and that's how people communicate (again, some people anyway).
I was hoping that people at Ministers' School would understand the whole event as an exploration of new ways to share the Gospel, that is, to be in relationship with one another. I was hoping that it would provide both some technical insight into how to communicate differently, as well as some theological dialogue about how to be church differently. The point is not to start up a facebook group, the point is to think differently about how people are in relationship with one another. Unfortunately, that connection did not happen for many.
It worked for me, though. I thought it was beautiful, the whole thing! Debra Mason gave a lot of technical information, setting up a new blog before our very eyes! Tony Jones sent his dispatches from the emergent frontier, and many in the room were nodding in resonance with them. Billy Reeder bridged the technical and the ecclesial with a glimpse at how communication is changing and what a profound difference it makes in human relationships.
Many people there will talk about the conversation between Tony Jones and Bishop Schnase that ended the event. It was frank and honest, and even tense at times. Two men who have a passion for the Gospel and yet see things very differently from one another engaged in more than an hour of back-and-forth about those differences. Watching it riled some people up, it made some people mad, and definitely sent us all home thinking. I for one am still processing many of the things that came out of the whole week, and that conversation in particular.
One of the most poignant moments for me was when Bishop Schnase talked about the opportunity that being sent to a place of ministry had given him. As opposed to simply choosing where and with whom to serve, being sent via an itinerant system compelled him to places of discomfort and challenge, through which God worked great things. I feel exactly the same way. There is something holy about yielding myself to being sent into ministry in a place I might not necessarily choose for myself. I am an itinerant preacher to the core.
So the week wasn't perfect, but I liked it. If I hadn't been so stressed out about everything, I probably would have enjoyed it more. Some people thought it was a waste of their time, and said so on their evaluation. Some people said it was a great experience, and the best Ministers' School they had experienced. And that's going to happen with any event that happens.
Finally, I want to say that I really value my friends who have sent me words of support, even though (I suspect) they did not particularly enjoy the week. That is pretty cool, and makes me get all emotional when I think about it. Because I worked hard on this, and they let me know they appreciate that. That's a true friend, you know? Facebook or otherwise.