Report from 3rd ACI Belfast Meeting: Sat 23rd May 2015

May 26, 2015 | 3 comments


‘What is the Emerging Church?’ (click here to watch video)

We live in a turbulent and difficult time for the church.  Many worry for their families and wonder will faith remain an integral part of their lives in the future.  So has the Holy Spirit gone on holiday or is that Spirit doing, as someone has said, ‘a new thing with the ancient story’?   Franciscan Fr Richard Rohr is in no doubt that we are experiencing ‘An exciting new beginning’.  Some are calling it the ‘The Emerging Church’.  It would seem that whatever name we give it, something very new is happening.  The Holy Spirit is alive and active in our post-modern world.


The Emerging Church – a possible new beginning.

The nature of institutions is to become preoccupied with self-maintenance, self- preservation and self-perpetuation. (as illustrated in the story of the Life Saving Station – see video)


What is emerging?

1. In recent years there is honest, broad, ecumenical Jesus scholarship that is finding a strong consensus about what the Gospel is really about.

2. There is evidence of advancement in human consciousness, an emerging contemplative, non-dualistic mind, that allows the whole field of reality to teach us.

3. The major concerns of Jesus are a lot different than the concerns emphasized by today’s churches. How did we get this far from Jesus? What is emerging is a more humble approach to this question, not in an angry, adversarial way; rather in a hopeful, prayerful way. Not kicking out tradition. This is very different from any previous reformations.

4. A new type of reformation. What seems to be slowly emerging is a new community way of doing reform, through other complimentary structures. However, this does not mean creating new denominations. We don’t need more denominations. This appears to be a new notion on how to reform things.

In the talk Fr. Richard delves into each of these four areas to examine more closely what he has observed happening in many parts of the world.  He definitely sees the fruits of the Holy Spirit at work in the broad field of what is being called “The Emerging Church”. This talk is a clear and very helpful introduction to this dynamic new phenomenon.

1.  Honest, Broad, Ecumenical Jesus Scholarship

Seminary training in the various churches has tended to provide people with denominational propaganda rather than primarily equip them as ‘ministers of the Gospel’ as opposed to ‘ministers of the church’.

More ‘Churchianity’  than ‘Christianity’.  For example arguing the seven sacraments.

In other words, there has been more of a focus on the container rather than the contents.

Being good at languages was considered a prerequisite for being good at scripture scholarship, particularly Hebrew and Greek (and Latin).  Yet Jesus spoke none of these languages (and Latin was the language of his oppressor), so his exact words cannot be known.  What emerged and is emerging is a reading of scripture through the eyes of cultural anthropology. i.e. understanding the culture of Jesus’ time and the context in which he lived, spoke and ministered.

There is now a recognition that almost all scriptural interpretation, scholarship, preaching and teaching has been done by white, over-educated, European or North American, males, and many of them celibate.  What is emerging are new lenses through which the scriptures are being read, e.g. through the lenses of women, the poor and marginalised (Latin America and Africa), Black people, Gay people, the Jewish lens (Jesus was not a Christian.  Did Jesus really intend Christianity or was his intention to reform his Jewish tradition, and through that, reform all religion.  Jesus’ critique of his Jewish religion was/is really quite shocking).  Also more lately there is the lens of ‘Sincere secular seekers’ with no church baggage or agenda (the non-churchy lens).

2. The New Contemplative Mind (a new level of consciousness)

A contemplative mind is the mind that emerges when we pray before thinking.  It moves us beyond fear, judgement, agenda, and analysis.  It takes in the whole field and not just what we can process, understand and agree with.  It is the capacity to live with mystery; with not knowing.  It doesn’t jump to quick, fixed opinions which only serve to close down dialogue and respect.  Hence it values conversation as a route to transformation.

While contemplation was natural to earlier generations that were close to nature and was also taught systematically up until the 14th century, it was eventually overshadowed by the rationality of the enlightenment and the industrial revolution (still important and necessary stages of the human journey).  It is now being rediscovered and is not the reserve of any one group or denomination.  It is finding an acceptance among evangelicals (and even in a sense in the secular scene through ‘mindfulness’).

The contemplative mind can use the Scriptures not in an adversarial way to prove ourselves right and others wrong, or to convert the Nations, which makes the sometimes wrongful assumption that I, myself am converted.

With this new mind religion becomes an open quest rather than a fixed conclusion. (Less dogmatic).

3. The primary concerns of the contemporary Church at odds with the primary concerns of Jesus

There is a recognition that the ‘non-negotiables’ of the contemporary Church are at major variance with what Jesus clearly emphasised.

Non-violence.Peace-making.Forgiveness.Love of enemies (could have changed history).
Justice, generosity and a bias for poor and marginalised.
A consistent message of ‘inclusivity’. (could be said, Jesus was crucified because of who he ate with – challenging church and state systems).
Removing shame and guilt.
Pro-life (as recently defined).Stem-cell research (as recently defined).
Personal salvation.
Prioritising exclusionary belief and belonging systems over inclusion e.g. using Eucharist as a test of orthodoxy.
Catholic guilt.  

4. New Complementary Structures

Any new complementary structures to support this Emerging Church expression of faith can’t be in opposition to existing church structures. (otherwise its just another ‘Life Saving Station’ as in story).  They need to be in parallel, symbiotic relationship with existing church structures.   Don’t sit on tradition- Build on it!  Transcend and include!

The ego forms itself by being against things.  Don’t feed the ego with oppositional energy.

We need a new kind of reformation that doesn’t react, rebel, or hate anything.  A spiritual reformation cannot be achieved by hating).  Know what you are for; what you believe in; and what you have fallen in love with.

Rather, the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.  Just do it better.

Adopt the strategy of double belonging if necessary for survival of faith and practice.  A grateful foot in two camps, without necessarily, or permanently leaving the historical tradition.

New structures can take many forms and can be seen as ‘critical communities’ or ‘transformational systems’ rather than the ‘belonging and believing systems’ of the past where people idealised the top, and just believed things that they were given by external authority (usually highly academic, dogmatic, moralistic, but not transformative).

Ministry and leadership in the emerging church should be measured not by solely by office, but by effectiveness and competence.  Does it work?  Is it transforming anything.

What is the Emerging Church?
(the above as pdf handout)


Critical Communities, Movements and Institutions

The emerging church is not (yet) a movement.
Glady Ganiel (QUB) calls it an ‘orientation’.
Brian McLaren calls it a ‘conversation’.
Mclaren would also call it a ‘critical community’.

What do we mean by these terms?

Critical Communities

  • A critical community is a gathering of people who create space to think about reality in different ways.
  • They notice things that other people don’t see.
  • They find new ways of describing reality.
  • No movement is ever born without a critical community that creates some new thinking.
  • But a lot of critical communities never become movements.


  • Movements are organisations that propose gains to current institutions.
  • Movement leaders are rarely institutional leaders. This is because institutional leaders find out it is extremely hard to maintain the gains of the pass. Just keeping the status quo at its present level and not letting it disintegrate, is for them, job enough.  Movement leaders tend to come from the fringes without credentials, although they may have expertise in other fields.


  • Institutions are organisations that preserve the gains achieved by past movements.
  • Unfortunately too often we have religious institutions without movements challenging them to move forward and make new gains.



How would you describe the Association of Catholics (ACI)?

Critical Communities_Movements and Institutions (the above as pdf handout)


Conserving the Core (by Richard Rohr)

Both Jesus and Francis did not let the old get in the way of the new, but like all religious geniuses, revealed what the old was saying all along. I find much wisdom in what the contemporary faith seeker Christian Wiman writes: “Faith itself sometimes needs to be stripped of its social and historical encrustations and returned to its first, churchless incarnation in the human heart.”

Francis both named and exemplified that first churchless incarnation of faith in the human heart, but then he somehow also knew that it was the half-knowing organized Church that passed this shared mystery on to him and preserved it for future generations. He had the humility and patience to know that whatever is true is always a shared truth, and only institutions, for all their weaknesses, make this widely shareable, historical, and communal. Francis understood the humility and the patience of incarnation.

Precisely because both Jesus and Francis were “conservatives” in the true sense of the term, they conserved what was worth conserving–the core, the transformative life of the Gospel–and did not let accidentals get in the way, (which are the very things false conservatives usually idolize). Jesus and Francis then ended up looking quite “progressive,” radical, and even dangerous to the status quo.
Faith does not need to push the river. The river is already flowing and we are already in it.
(Richard Rohr)
Usually we prefer to stay with the familiar by treading water. Sometimes we want to swim against the flow, back up river from where we came; back to old securities.  Maybe in this Pentecost season we can trust the flow of the Holy Spirit to take us to new unexplored, unfamiliar places down-stream – if we have the courage to go there.

Most Holy Spirit come, O come in fullness,
And repossess today each waiting heart.
Refresh, restore, give life and beauty,
And all we need these days, to us impart.

catholic conversations_poster_for web 600a


  1. Aidan

    A great synopsis Martin of what was shared by Fr. Richard Rohr on the videos. You have hit on all the main points and put them succinctly into writing. Well done and many thanks for all your hard work in organising and hosting such a successful meeting. I look forward to the next one after the summer recess.

  2. Lloyd Allan MacPherson

    Contemporary Church concerns have been updated since 2008 and include the following : 1. “Bioethical’ violations such as birth control 2. “Morally dubious” experiments such as stem cell research 3. Drug abuse 4. Polluting the environment
    5. Contributing to widening divide between rich and poor 6. Excessive wealth 7. Creating poverty
    This list was mandated by Benedict and signified not only an attack on the 1% (7% actually) but also a signal that fertility numbers among Catholics had been at an all time low (so low that our culture may not be able to recuperate at all – funny?). In 50 years when the population bursts again (Muslim that is) and the ice shelves melt, the only tide we are going to be swimming against is that which is steeped in nuclear waste. How do I describe the Association of Catholics (ACI) – baby steps when we need marathon runners. For the love of God, don’t react, rebel or hate anything. This life we live is not about picking sides; it’s about quiet contemplation in the corner while the wolves devour the sheep in our midst. I’ve understood for some time why worldwide organizations have done so little in advancing their position on things like human rights, demilitarization and the environment. As people form around a “mission”, their individual duties begin to comprise a bureaucratic system whereby individual duties then become the main directive and the “mission” is suddenly lost in the shuffle. It’s a shame – if anything needs to be reformed, it’s this.

    • MartinM

      “it’s about quiet contemplation in the corner while the wolves devour the sheep in our midst” doesn’t reflect the views of the speaker we were listening to at this event who is a founder member of the ‘Centre for ACTION and Contemplation’

      The Center for Action and Contemplation supports a new reformation – from the inside

      ∙ In the spirit of a Cosmic Christ
      ∙ Confirming people’s deeper spiritual intuitions
      ∙ Encouraging actions of justice rooted in prayer
      ∙ With a new appreciation for, and cooperation with,other denominations, religions, and cultures

      It’s mission statement says it is:-
      “a center for experiential education, rooted in the Gospels, encouraging the transformation of human consciousness through contemplation, and equipping people to be instruments of peaceful change in the world.”

      The Eight Core Principles of the Center for Action and Contemplation are:-

      1. The teaching of Jesus is our central reference point. (criterion)
      2. We need a contemplative mind in order to do compassionate action. (process)
      3. The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. Oppositional energy only creates more of the same. (emphasis)
      4. Practical truth is more likely found at the bottom and the edges than at the top or the center of most groups, institutions, and cultures. (perspective)
      5. We will support true authority, the ability to “author” life in others, regardless of the group. (non-tribal)
      6. Life is about discovering the right questions more than having the right answers. (primacy of discernment)
      7. True religion leads us to an experience of our True Self and undermines my false self. (ultimate direction)
      8. We do not think ourselves into a new way of living, but we live ourselves into a new way of thinking. (praxis over theory)

      This certainly does not represent a flight from reality or from engagement with the world as it is, but rather a Gospel inspired base from which to work for transformation of self and society.


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