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Worship and the Emergent Church

by Sharon Ely Pearson

What happens when two bishops, one known for his liturgical scholarship and the other for her interest in contemporary culture, go looking for effective ways to share the good news of Jesus Christ in a rapidly changing world?

Bishops Mary Gray-Reeves (Diocese of El Camino Real in California) and Michael Perham (Glouster, England) travelled across the United States and around England to study emerging churches and identify the principles that link these new forms of worship and community. The Hospitality of God: Emerging Worship for a Missional Church is part of their findings.

In describing the churches they visited, the authors not that they have much in common:

  • A disciplined ability to live with diversity – not just tolerated, but understood as normative
  • A recognition (and contentment) that everyone might have differing opinions on a number of issues (including theologically)
  • United in worship
  • Highly collaborative
  • Seek to find common ground
  • A deep desire to be in communion with those seeking God in Christ
  • Receive people as they come, being open to journey with them in the life of faith
  • Allow God’s new creation to emerge
The Hospitality of God reflects what appears to be a major emphasis of emerging churches, stressing the importance of being welcoming, hospitable, inclusive, and inviting. Leadership has a mature faith and spirituality. There was also a sense of pilgrimage, embarking upon a journey of creating a collaborative conversation between faith in Jesus Christ and the secular culture in which we live today.Five characteristics of emergent church worship were identified:

  1. Every liturgical occasion requires careful detailed planning
  2. Welcome precedes any sense of either belonging or believing
  3. The liturgy expresses indigenous authenticity
  4. Liturgy needs to be multi-sensory and have complexity
  5. A primary aim of worship is to feed the soul

You can read more about how these principles are lived out in The Hospitality of God. And you can discover and “visit” some of the churches visited by Bishops Gray-Reeves and Perham:

How might the principles and expressions of these faith communities inform our own churches?

The Hospitality of God: Emerging Worship for a Missional Church by Mary Gray-Reeves and Michael Perham (Seabury Books, 2011). 

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