Saturday, August 15, 2015

How to Renew the Church -- My takeaway from NCLI15

Just back from the National Church Leadership Institute, a conference put on by the Center for Progressive Renewal. What you need to know about the CPR is that their tagline is "We believe that your church's best days are ahead." They are working for the revival of the progressive mainline Protestant church.

The tagline for NCLI15 was "The Headlines tell a story of decline and despair, but cultural trendlines paint a picture of possibility." The trendlines of which they speak are summed up as Local, Do-It-Yourself, the Cloud, the Shared Economy and Crowdsourcing. Read down the linked call to the NCLI15 conference for their summary of these trendlines.

Conference participants were challenged to think about how these new/old ways of working and being could invigorate the church's work of building community and embodying the gospel in the world.

Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder,
City of Refuge Church, UCC

Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis,
Middle Collegiate Church, NYC
But the most excitement was generated by two presentations by black female church leaders: Rev. Jacqui Lewis and Bishop Yvette Flunder. They didn't talk about "cultural trendlines" but spoke prophetically about a church at the forefront of the struggle against white supremacy, sexism, heteronormativity, and the gender binary.



Are the most important cultural trendlines, instead:

The Black Lives Matter Movement
The Reproductive Justice Movement
The Immigrant Rights Movement
The LGBTQ movement, especially lifting up the "T"
The low-wage worker Movement
The Climate Justice Movement

To me, the contrast could not be clearer. Does the church renew itself by adapting itself to the new/old ways of working and organizing that have been made possible by new technology, or does the church renew itself by allowing itself to be re-shaped by the emerging social movements?

(I know, I am posing this issue as a "either/or" and many of you will remind me that it is really "both/and". I get it, but bear with me.)

Are the social movements the workings of the Holy Spirit in this day and age?
Can the church be renewed by any process other than by following the promptings of the Holy Spirit?

I am not a particularly critical person. I generally appreciate the experiences that I am having. I don't criticize movies while I am watching them. I don't argue with preachers and speakers in my head, until I am on the way home. So, there was much about NCLI15 that I appreciated, enjoyed and was informed by.

But now that I am home, I find myself thinking that maybe we should just stop trying to fix the church from within, by reforming our processes. I mean this especially for Unitarian Universalists, for those who don't think of UUism as part of what I am calling "the church." Maybe we should take a couple years off from our endless self-improvement projects and just go "all in for the social movements." Lead our congregations into finding their voice with which to proclaim the gospel of good news for the poor, freedom for the captive, bread for the hungry, water for the thirsty, and safety for the endangered. Throw ourselves into the struggle, by every means possible, for a few years, and then see where we are.

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