A Second Life for Presbyterians

**This is the first of a planned 4 part series I’ll be doing this summer on Presbyterians, Emergents, and Presbymergents in the popular virtual reality world, Second Life.***

If the birth of a real Presbyterian ministry in a virtual world isn’t evidence of the church emerging, I don’t know what is. And as strange, foreign, (or even silly) as the concept may sound to some, the more I explore the world of Second Life, the more convinced I become that this is a new context in which God is already at work, and God’s people across the world are already engaged in a diversity of ministry.  I think we should join God, and join them.

For those not already familiar with Second Life from various news reports, magazine articles, and other usual sources of hype, to explain would take up more space than would be wise in this blog post.  Instead, I recommend starting here. It’s eye opening reading, I promise.

When I first started exploring Second Life, I found plenty of evidence of minstry — from a United Methodist Chapel, to a Lutheran Pavillion, to a Taize Sanctuary 500 meters in the sky!  I found the Anglican Cathedral of Second Life, started two years ago by Rev. Mark Brown, which now has 800+ members and conducts five virtual services each week.   I also found a community — Koinonia Congregational Church — that can best be described as “emergent” and meets weekly in a beautiful sanctuary without walls or doors.

I searched for Presbyterians.  It was pretty bleak…but I did find one person — in real life she’s an elder at a Presbyterian Church in California — who has been keeping the proverbial light on, and started a group called (no surprise here) 1st Presbyterian Church of Second Life.  She reserved the name with the hope and a prayer that someday more Presbyterians would come along.  And now, that’s started to happen…

After several weeks of talking to people, dreaming and visioning, the number of Presbyterians in Second Life is growing — most of us are new, and probably feeling a culture shock not unlike what immigrants to the US feel (SL has a steeper learning curve than FB or twitter).  But we’re starting to connect, have conversations, explore opportunities for ministry that is uniquely Presbyterian, but also uniquely Second Life.  Just yesterday, our esteemed moderator, Bruce Reyes-Chow, jumped in (his SL name is Esteban Radikal), as did Philip Lotspeich (SL: Philip Lionheart) from the office of Evangelism and Growth.

So, in true Presbyterian fashion (maybe a bad thing, mabye not?) we’ve acquired some land, threw up a building (both were WAY easier and cheaper than in real life) and will be gathering on Saturday nights 9pm CST / 7pm SLT for fellowship, conversation, and perhaps eventually something like worship, too.  Tomorrow night will be our very first gathering of Presbyterians in Second Life, and anyone is welcome to drop in. May God’s Spirit breathe through the bits and the bytes into a new context (for us, at least)!

  • To find our meeting place in Second Life, click here. If you don’t have an account yet, you’ll have to create one.
  • If you’d like to get involved with what we’re doing in Second Life, contact Neal Locke via twitter, facebook, or email neal at mrlocke dot net.
  • If you created an account in Second Life but are utterly confused and lost, use the search engine to find me: I’m Neill Loxingly in Second Life. Add me as a friend, and I’ll come to your rescue, or send another SL Presbyterian to help :-)

Technology and the Next Presbyterian Hymnal

Sing to the Lord a new song!  Technology opens doors in the church and in the world. One tweet on Twitter can connect pastors in ways unimaginable when my Dad was in seminary (sorry, Pops). Blog communities bring new and exciting — though imperfect — ways to discuss Christ and culture. What self-respecting youth group these days doesn’t have a Facebook group? That said, I’m also aware of the growing digital divide in our congregations. Now, when we think of our diversity, we must also remember the diversity of those with email and those without, those with a high-speed internet connection and those without a computer. Ahh, the challenges of ministry in 2009.

The Presbyterian Hymnal Committee, a group formed last year, is in the initial stages of developing the next Presbyterian hymnal. The next hymnal will include songs composed since 1990 (the publication date of the blue hymnal) and will seek to honor our rich heritage. Perhaps it will bring back some from the red book, but it’ll also put into print some of the new places that God is leading us. For all your next hymnal questions check out http://presbyterianhymnal.org , and remember the committee is just beginning its work.

Especially in these early stages, though, I want to take to the committee some ways that new technology might best be used to sing a new song unto the Lord. Copyright law is tricky enough with printed materials, let alone when concerned with electronic formats, but I want to think broadly at this stage.

(On a parenthetical note, let’s not forget the amazing “technology” of the bound paper printed book. What a remarkable, durable, cheap, easy-to-use, technology it is — and will be for years to come. The next hymnal will certainly be in book format, but why stop there?)

The committee can make no promises — we have budget considerations like everybody else — but we will consider, in good faith, how God may be calling the church to use technology in its congregational song and worship planning. That’s where you come in.

Comment away. What tech ideas — hymnal/singing/worship related — would be handy in your congregation? How do you use the hymnal for worship planning and how could that be bettered with new technology? Do you use existing online worship resources? What, technologically speaking, should the hymnal committee consider?

Pop a comment on this post, or email me at adamjcopeland at gmail dot com. Peace.

The Offering: An Emergent Theology Tale

I have had more than my fair share of days when I have questioned my call to be a pastor. I read somewhere how a young man, who was thinking about becoming a pastor, asked his mentor—a pastor of many years—“When did you feel the call to go into ministry?” The older man didn’t bat an eyelash and replied, “This morning.”

I completely get that. There are days when I feel like I need to hear the call every five minutes just to assure me that I am doing what I am supposed to do with my life. Even when people tell me things that should reassure me, I struggle to believe that God would actually want to use someone like me for such an important task. I once heard that the great reformer, Martin Luther, used to feel as though the earth was going to open up and swallow him whole each time he rose to say the Mass. That comforts me a bit, really. If Martin Luther felt himself to be unworthy of his call, then at least I am in good company. Martin Luther also swore like a sailor and loved beer, which is also pretty comforting.

For the past few years I have felt a longing in me that has been difficult to define and impossible to quench. You see, God, in God’s infinite wisdom and mercy, has seen fit for me to serve in the Presbyterian Church (USA)–a Christian denomination that has been (like most mainline Protestant denominations) in decline for decades. My more conservative colleagues from not-mainline denominations gleefully point this out at every available opportunity—God love ’em. Once I had a fellow pastor from a conservative, evangelical church inform me over lunch that in his opinion the real moment when the PC(USA) fell into ruin was when it began ordaining women.

“That’s where it all started,” he told me in sage-like fashion. “And now look what’s happening… you’re ordaining them.” I asked what he meant by “them” and he replied, “You know…homosexuals.”
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Existing/Emerging Leadership: The Saga Continues

A few months ago I wrote short essay that was published on this site entitled “Living In Two Worlds: Existing/Emerging Leadership.” Somehow the essay got into the hands of Eilleen Lindner, an author and Presbyterian minister who offered a presentation at an Ecumenical & Interfaith Network gathering in 2007. She read from my essay (among others) as part of a presentation that she did on “Post Denominational Identities and Emerging Ecclesiologies.” Her title was better, I must admit. I also have to admit that it was kind of nice to be noticed. Mind you, there are no literary agents pounding down my door to offer me a book deal (Seriously…Anyone know a literary agent? Anyone?), but the realization that someone responded to what I wrote and actually discussed it was gratifying.

That little essay was born out of the struggle that I was going through at the time as I began to identify more with Emergent or Missional theology and ecclesiology and sought to lead the church to which I was called accordingly. At the time, the church I was serving could be defined as containing both “emerging” and “existing” traits. On Sunday mornings the existing aspect of my church met for worship, and on Sunday evenings there was an emergent worship gathering/community that regularly met in the same space. These communities could not have been any different, but they both formed and informed one another in interesting and exciting ways. It was good to reflect on my struggle as an emerging leader in an existing church, though. Because of that time of reflection I came to understand that in many ways I was embodying the very struggle in which my church had become engaged. My efforts to put my feelings into words was a part of that struggle—an effort to write a story that was far from complete. But there was something unsatisfying in that effort, to be honest. It felt like I (and to some extent my church as well) had come to the end of a chapter, but didn’t know how to finish the last sentence in a way that felt good and right. We had both come a long way, but not far enough.

In the end, neither one of us could put a period at the end of that sentence. [Read more…]

Presbymergents with children in worship?

What's wrong with this picture? Is there a better way?

First, the background.  My congregation is more “traditional presbyterian”  in appearance, but I think emerging church terms.  Thankfully, a new church is emerging from the existing body.

In the meantime, some of the former habits are still around.  One of them is the “children’s sermon” and children’s worship (separate from the whole community).  More and more I have come to think that these practices are not healthy/effective/faithful (because we divide the community, because we make the kids a “show,” because the practices engage neither the children nor the adults that serve them.)

But I also know that we have to intentionally engage and demonstrate our value for people of all ages, but children especially.  Frankly, sometimes the Bible talks about “adult” things, and at those times, I am glad that the kids are getting a separate program.  I also wonder, because the first question that parents ask when they consider a church is “what is your children’s program?” if answering, “the whole worship celebration is kid-friendly, and we consider them and involve them every time we plan worship,” would be sufficient.  I also wonder if we could really do that and continue to serve/value the the older, “traditional” crowd.

How do you all do kids in worship?  How should we?

More on Worship

I’ve been preaching recently in a number of congregations encouraging them to consider starting new congregations of various kinds.  The text I’ve used is Exodus 3, Moses at the burning bush.  One of the noteworthy aspects of this verse is the “sign” given to Moses that it is God who has called him and sent him (the missional identity of the text).  That sign is that Moses and the children of Israel will worship God on the mountain where the bush is not consumed.  The sign of Moses sending is worship.  I know this isn’t prescriptive or “the” sign of every endeavor, but it is a curious sign.  No lightening bolts, no miraculous moments….unless you consider a worshiping community a miracle.  In this day and age I think it is.

In the conversation about contemporary or emergent worship etc, we need to move far beyond techniques as has been noted.  Worship is shaped not by what we can buy (people and equipment) but by the gifts God has bestowed on us (people and ?).  The word I choose to use when talking about worship is “AFFECTIVE”.  Often the conversation about worship is “effective”.  “What works?” is our major concern.  “How do we get the most bang for our buck?” is a constant measurement.  This efficiency conversation is completely a modern construct.  It is far from what is emerging in the communities where God is at work.

AFFECTIVE worship seeks to move people without manipulating them.  In this sense it can be three traditional hymns, jazz, gospel, liturgy of the highest order, a combination of anything, or silence with the Word read.  What moves people in our communities to honor God with their lips and hearts and hands?  Worship is AFFECTIVE not effective in my way of thinking.  What will produce worshipers?

I could go on, but then I’d have my first chapter written for my book.  Any takers?

Troy weighs in on Worship 2.0 discussion

This last post has started a great discussion! Thanks for “outing me”, Clay. I think that worship styles and ecclessiology ebb and flow from one another. And so it is interesting to see the conversations in worship look to define the church’s mission or seek to be defined by that mission. I wanted to keep the pot stirring and so here are a few of my thoughts on Clay’s post and the comments that have posted so far.

1.@ clay: what is church for? I think a clearer way of shaping this is to consider church as a verb- those Spirit filled moments (synchronicities, to borrow Jung) when Word and Sacrament are ordered to join and anticipate God’s purposes in creation. This is more incarnational and avoids the platonic urge to pre-design an air-tight formula.

2.@ clay: can deep shifts happen in a 1/3 of the congregation? I can;t think of a time when transformation does not originate in “practices” or “postures” that catch on. In other words, a few folks begin to “do” and “act” differently and their minds are then transformed. Until a few more join them. And then a few more. So why not start with this third and invite them to include those from the other 2/3rds to reflect with them on what is happening. The “traditional” services do not need to change their style to join this more participatory way. An imaginative Traditional Worship Leader like Tony describes is a great way for this to start.

3.@ david: what is contemporary? David, most american church goers who consume pre-fabricated worship formats see contemporary as a closed genre. It is the byproduct of CCM’s successful branding in the 80s and 90s. Try introducing the word “contemporaneous” (remember this from Greek tenses- I believe it was Aorist) and asking how does the worship style or material we use in worship come from the actual everyday world around us (you can grab You-Tube videos, newspaper clippings, popular music, folks music, movie quotes, and styles/chord progressions). We can learn from the Word of God whom/which we follow into the world (C-67) as much as from a Word of God remembered.

4.@ steve: Interesting to pair up “force feeding” and “calling.” CCM and denominational(or ecumenical) top down curriculum has created a consumptive Christian way. How do we reverse this tendency and equip worshipppers to produce, to make their own testimony? Borrowing some of Tom Wright’s pneumatology, the community is sent gifts from the Spirit almost like the Israelite sampled fruit from the promised land brought by the spies. As such, the fruits of enthronement, adoration, and lamentation are gifts from the promised eschaton for worshipers to taste and enjoy. So worship is born out of calling and not out of a top down “force feeding.”

5.@ tony: You wrote, “gatherings exist for the sake of the world.” I love it! Spot on. Somehow blending our “target audience” to include God with us, the body of Christ in which we are united, and the Christ of the Emmaus way- these are how worship looks beyond our congregations. A friend of mine says it this way: the church is not the end user of the gospel. I agree, and neither are we the end users of worship.

6. @ tony: to paraphrase you said, “our worship and everything else would be better if it were subservient to the Word.”
I have found folks use this to marginalize order/art/testimony to only “illustration of the preacher’s sermon or the platonic idea presented by the Bible.” I would suggest that the Word is hidden and being revealed, and that the risk of missing is unavoidable… The Word is hidden in our past (such as Jesus’ exposition of the collective memory of the Emmaus road disciples) AND the word is also being revealed ahead of us (such as the angel instructing shepherds to go and see these things, and the voice telling peter to get up and go meet…). As such worship is discovery and not “explanation” or “illustration.” We meet God as we sing and pray. Our bodies are put into play as we kneel and raise hands and kiss one another and wash feet and ‘pray double’ through song. And as such, worship that serves the Word is less of a coersive predetermined posture and more of an open receptive posture. I might be splitting hairs here, but my purpose is to suggest that we cannot avoid the risks of stylizing or crafting or “ordering” our acts of worship by being more “Word” centered. Instead worship is to enter into that risk. Perhaps we can, however, make space for the hidden Word to be revealed in our sacramental habits. And, then, to make space for faithful-yet-risky responses of conversion.

“Emergent: not contemporary 2.0” so says Troy B.

Have been conversing with Troy Bronsink about emergent church. He has convinced me not to look at emergent as contemporarier.  I continue to be intrigued, however, by the relevance of emergent questions to contemporary services.  So here goes it.

I am a associate pastor at a Presbyterian church that has a “contemporary” service.  It was created using a Willow Creek recipe: 1 part praise band, 1 part drama, 2 parts charismatic leadership (song leader and preacher), mix with video clips = manage the crowds with pepper spray.

The service is four years young, and the novelty has waned, the dramas have grown tired, the attendance has dwindled.  We worship in a fellowship hall with forward facing seats (we have worshiped at tables and in the round).  Worship attendance ranges from 80 to 120.

Have created an ad hoc task force to do some communal introspection regarding the contemporary worship service.  Rather than a conversion about rearranging the chairs, I hope we will delve into some deep ecclesial questions.  “What is church for?” (a la W.Berry) “Why do we gather?”

Certainly, our hope is to become more incarnational, non-hierarchical, and missional.  So wanted to do a little corporate musing about contemporary services entering the emergent conversation.

Why it may work? This service formed because their was a deep need for something more than what was being offered. Sound familiar?

Why it may be a ridiculous idea? The contemporary service represents a third of the congregation.  Can deep shifts and radical commitments be made by a segment of the congregation?



New Ways of Being Church – March 2009 @ LPTS

Diana Butler Bass – Marcus Borg – Brian McLaren

New Ways of Being Church

Conversations on renewal and transformation in mainline congregations

March 15-18, 2009

Yes, there are signs of hope for the Church in the post-modern and post-Christian era! In 2009, Louisville Seminary welcomes a celebrated trio of church leaders/scholars who are spreading the news that the Church of the 21st Century can and does re-think, re-tradition, and re-invent itself.

  • Diana Butler Bass, historian and author of the popular book Christianity for the Rest of Us, brings with her inspirational presentation solid research showing that mainline congregations are thriving as communities that practice ancient Christian traditions.
  • Marcus Borg, a prominent New Testament scholar, speaks for many who seek a fresh, credible, and progressive understanding of Jesus Christ for this age. His forthcoming book is simply titled Jesus.
  • Brian McLaren is a pastor and author who best represents the “Emerging Church” from an evangelical perspective, but his presentations and books, including A Generous Orthodoxy and Everything Must Change, elude simple labels.
  • With closing worship led by LPTS Alum Preacher Mike Pentecost (MDiv ’98), pastor of Brentwood Presbyterian Church in Brentwood, Tenn.

For more information about this event, contact David Sawyer, Director of Lifelong Learning and Advanced Degrees, dsawyer@lpts.edu, or Leah Bradley, Director of Alum & Church Relations, lbradley@lpts.edu, 1-800/264-1839.

Review of CPWI Emergent Worship at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, Washington, DC

The Christian Peace Witness for Iraq events of 2008 were centered around diverse worship experiences in over 12 houses of worship in Washington, DC at noon on Friday, March 8. The intent of the day was to bring people from different faith traditions together to bear a worshipful witness for peace in the conflict in Iraq.

The worship I attended was at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC, and it had been billed as an emergent worship. It opened with music from Ryan and Holly Sharp, and Jared Milos of The Cobalt Season. They did a masterful job of setting up a time of contemplation of scripture. It was one of the highlights of the service. For fifteen to twenty minutes Jared played a slow, sliding line on the bass guitar, drawing on the root chords of a sung chorus. Four liturgists, each reading from a different passage, alternated reading portions of the texts aloud. When they finished reading the passage through the first time, we repeated the chorus before they began to repeat selected verses of the text, alternating all the while with one another.

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