by Tim Baker.
Much has been said or written over the years about the emerging church.
Perhaps the Biblical image that most clearly comes to mind when we hear the word ‘emerging’ is that of the flood in Genesis 11. In that flood, Noah, his family and his ark emerge from the floodwaters, floating on an ark. These few people are then tasked with a rebuild, with reimagining a new world, a new-normal.
What is emerging from the floodwaters of coronavirus in 2020? We have seen our way of life, our societies, infrastructure, and our whole world submerged under this pandemic flood. And perhaps it is shocking to us that our church was not granted an ark to float above the waters of the pandemic, but rather we found ourselves submerged with the rest of the world.
Many of us have lost friends, family, or are left grieving. Everything is changed and we have found these new circumstances immensely challenging and difficult. Perhaps too, we have learned that all is not well with our world and our church. In this time of coronavirus, as a virus has swept the globe, we have had brought home to us the injustices that underlay much of our society, and indeed our world. There are many cushions and barriers that I have been able to put up against the virus: a comfortable, safe house with a decent WiFi connection, supermarket deliveries, Amazon Prime (I’d like to say other next-day-delivery superstores were available, but they are not really are they?!) and the reassurance that the amazing NHS will be available if I or my family do fall ill. Many in our society, and all around the globe, do not have the same luxury. The very fact that death rates have been higher amongst black communities – alongside the structural and violent racism that has been revealed by the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement – demonstrates just how far we are from an equal society.
In my lockdown-experience, one of the things that emerged from the waters has been a much more online, digitally savvy church. Yes, there have been mistakes, plenty of cringe-moments and lots of things we’ll chalk up to ‘learning on the job’. But, alongside that has come a whole host of remarkable experiences. The miles have disappeared as I’ve joined prayer meetings in Dubai and shared with a congregations in Exeter, Glasgow and the Isle of Man without leaving my study. The boundaries of self preservation have been submerged by the flood waters (in some places!) and we’ve seen collaboration across circuits, districts, regions and nations. Change begins in a crisis.
What will emerge?
What will be submerged?
What do we need to preserve, protect and promote?
What do we need to grieve well and let go of?
What – like structural racism – do we need to find ways to banish altogether?
These are not questions with easy answers, and the rebuilding will be messy. The chapters of Genesis that follow the Great Flood are not smooth. There is shame, there are family feuds, there are power-struggles. We have to expect all of that too, in the days and weeks to come.
In this new world, may a new church emerge, as its has kept emerging for 2,000 years – a new church for a new normal.