this is the second of a series of short reflections celebrating twenty years at cms
see 1. gold
my very first day in 2002 at cms i was picked up by my new boss paul thaxter and taken to a meeting in nottingham to discuss the creation of a web site to try and get a sense of the new things emerging in and around the edges of the church. this subsequently became emergingchurch.info designed by adrian riley who did a great job. it launched a year later in september 2003. it was a great space to collect and collate stories of what was happening at the edges and engage in thinking and reflections around it. we released a monhtly update which sounds kind of strange now. we still have the archive of the site and i hope to come back here to link to it. there was a lot of energy around the idea of emerging church. i liked it as a term because it conveyed the idea of a relationship to the emerging culture but also that it was about a process of emergence. it was also bold at the time in that previously it had been a conversation about worship but the realisation was that much more needed to change and emerge. a scroll back through the category emerging church on my current blog has a lot of entries. it was an exciting time - genuine newness, experimentation, and connections across the world for those in western contexts at least - canada, new zealand, australia, usa, denmark and a few others joined in. the friendships across the world were so enjoyable and they were enabled really because it co-incided with so much opportunity to connect through digital technologies, blogging and the like. it is interesting reading back through as the usa took a much more branded route with Emergent (capital E) which was surprising to those of us across the pond and i wrote several bogs about it such as this one. i won't rehearse the story of emergent here but the early years were great - see for example hopeful news from emergent when brian maclaren was involved but it kind of blew up eventually.
cms brought a bit of a global flavour i remember with stories of a bus stop church in kenya and jacob isaacs cafe in bangalore. the risk of it was always it wasn't missional enough - it could easily be an internal conversation but i think my boss at the time kept challenging and pushing outwards which was healthy. we did a couple of tours - the first with alan hirsch and michael frost following their book shaping of things to come. that was such a helpful book as it pushed the practice away from worship and more into being present in third spaces to see what emerged. that tour was a lot of fun! two years later we followed up with a tour with karen ward and ryan bolger sharing stories of emergence from the usa - that tour was labelled as emerging church.
fast forward to this year 2022 and the church of england has self described as emerging church in terms of where it is headed. it's a free country and they can use the language of course. it often happens that language gets co-opted and the meaning shifts in the process. on the one hand it shows that a process of diffusion can take a while. but on the other, the idea that the church of england is emerging as we understood it is pretty hard to see - it sounds like a spoof. at the last general synod martin poole stood up and made this point about language but i am sure he will be duly ignored!
the early years of my role at cms were very involved in that whole conversation and space. in fact my initial role in youth ministry only lasted two years because there was so much interest in the emerging stuff. so after a while i focused on that and we appointed others to lead on the youth. i really think we are still exploring and building on the adventures and discussions that were taking place back then. in 2004 mission shaped church was published. this was a church of england and methodist report which was very influential. it was the church playing catch up with what was already happening at the edges. the report wanted to use a term for what was going on that did not draw on any one term that already existed such as emerging church or church planting. drawing on the declaration of assent (the gospel being proclaimed afresh in every generation) it came up with the term fresh expressions of church. that movement was so widespread that i think the language of emerging church eventually faded as so many of us were pulled into the diffusion of innovation into the next phase, the early majority if you like.