Catholics and the Emerging Church

The Catholic website New Advent sent me a tidal wave of traffic this week with a link to my post “How to estimate church attendance”. THANKS! And thats not all. The Catholics are making themselves felt all over the emerging church blogosphere right now:

– Patrick Keenan is running a series called In Search of the Emerging Church on the National Catholic Reporter.

Cathlimergent introduces itself all over twitter [@Cathlimergent] as a new social network for Catholics exploring emerging church.

– This Fragile Tent generates response with this morning’s post “Where are all the Emerging Catholics?” Where are they? Well, you will no doubt point to Emergent Catholics, Alan Creech, and a mountain of other Catholic bloggers and emerging church people.

Some of this interest was generated earlier this year in USA by an event with Father Richard Rohr and Brian McLaren, billed as the “first ever Catholic-Emergent conference“. Which is partly true because it was the first time Emergent Village [the group] partnered with Catholics for such an event. But it is not true that this was the first such event for the emerging church [global movement] because events with both Catholics and Protestants leading are relatively common, but not publicized on the same level of intensity and jubilation.

Richard Rohr is a delightful and godly Franciscan believer. I met him once. Brian McLaren is a delightful and godly Protestant believer. We have met many times and I consider him a dear friend. The event sounded great and I would have liked to have been there. But the stories generated from the event have not been all that accurate and in some ways, they have been insulting to Catholics who have, actually, a rich history of involvement with the emerging church movement that predates the year 2009.

I cringed when I read “Catholics Join Emerging Church Conversation”, an article that started off with . . .

“A group of Roman Catholics are dipping their feet in the Emerging Church pool, joining a conversation that has long drawn the interest of Protestants and Evangelicals.”

The truth is, the emerging church pool is deeper and the movement is older than suggested by the article, AND, Catholics have been more involved than they know. And so, I feel a short blog series coming on that I hope will add a little historical accuracy and justice to the involvement of Catholics in the emerging church. Or at least tip the scales. I will try to blog over the next week about some things that the emerging church learned from the Catholics, and you can decide for yourself. Emerging church discernment critics, [hi Ken, greetings Ingrid, whassup Roger] take out your pen and paper.

In the meantime, check out when I preached in Italy at a charismatic Catholic church


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • It is interesting to me the story that many of us in the Emerging church tell ourselves. Phyllis Tickle advocates for the position that Christianity in the West undergoes a 500 year rummage sale. You see, we had the Reformation about 500 years ago…and now we’re getting ’round to another major shift in the Western church. So far so good.
    Quickly, white Protestant Americans (who are used to domination) quickly surmise that this 500 year shift will center around them and the issues they feel like they’re facing. Sure, they know that we shouldn’t be ethno-centric. We must be post-colonial and all that, but the BIG thing that is happening is framed in ways that center on White Protestant (mostly evangelical) Christianity.
    Or we could tell the story another way. A story of post-war Europeans beginning to question their certainty. In the wake of that, the Vatican decided to rethink some things. Using newly liberated thought-space, some priests met in Latin America to consider the implications of Vatican II and Latin American liberation theology was born. However, at the same time, colonized nations around the world were begining to live into the same spirit of liberation.
    Meanwhile, in the United States, the social shock waves caused people to question authority BIG TIME. There were post-war prophets (like Dorothy Day, who was already a prophet before WWII) and experiments in communal living and explorations of post-racial harmony. All of this, it seems to me is part of a larger story of liberation that was part of this “500 year rummage sale.”
    Liberationist theologies growing out of liberated spaces nurtured by communities of praxis–that is where things should be centered. And, as far as I can tell, the Catholics have been a part of that story for a while.

  • Matybigfro says:

    Mark it still seems your spin is somewhat euro centreded (even the inclusion of north and south america leaves you with a western dominance)
    What about the africans and asians and the contribution in passion, enthusiam and the supernatural that they have made to global Christianity and particularly Global mission. Again something that has been very much part of the catholic story.

  • I was being intentionally Western-centric, since I was referencing Phyllis Tickle’s book which is specifically about the Western Church.
    I gladly acknowledge that people from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, India, etc. have contributed dynamically to global Christianity. In fact, I believe they hold a glimmer of hope for a new direction for Christianity in the USA.

  • Mike Morrell says:

    In any conversation about Catholic Emergence, don’t forget my friend Carl”>>Carl McColman – a Catholic, emerger, and Technorati Top 100 Religion Blogger. Carl is an insightful teacher and synthesizer, an expert on contemplative spirituality in everyday life. His Big Book of Christian Mysticism, out next year, is destined to set the standard for an ecumenical understanding of living life ‘hidden with Christ in God’ for years to come!

  • Mike Morrell says:

    Eek! Crazy formatting. Carl’s award-winning blog is at

  • Andrew, I agree that neither the emergence nor the convergence dynamics are novel. The emergence re: ongoing self-critical, self-correcting, prophetic elements w/in Roman Catholicism. The convergence re: interdenominational and interreligious dialogue and collaboration.
    I hope to engage your reflections in some depth, soon, but thanks to you, Mike and other kindred spirits in the cybersphere, it looks like our networking attempts are spreading like an out-of-control viral meme and about to blossom, thus happily preoccupying me with administrative tasks at Cathlimergent:


    Mike is right about Carl McColman. I will one day sit down and list the superlatives that describe his ministry and personhood. It is a task I have too long neglected.

  • Andrew, I was part of Albuquerque and it was the most refreshing experience I’ve had with the whole emergent experience. It was wonderful walking into the event thinking it would be like so many others and being pleasantly surprised by the gray hair, and Catholic friendliness. The average age was probably 55, and probably 60% were women.
    Contrast that to Memphis for Tickle’s event, which was predominantly, white, male and under 35.
    Afterward a group of about 25 of us wrestled over lunch what it meant to live in different theological and philosophical camps and still be followers of the same Jesus. We laughed at how insignificant our differences seemed as we looked into each other’s eyes. It led to an impromptu communion that reiterated the fact that we were all flying under the banner of the Kingdom.
    The overall experience led me to believe that emergence is actually a convergence of what has been broken for a long time. Our banners limit us from seeing a larger kingdom.

  • + Alan says:

    May name! My name! Ah, once upon a time, your blog was my “tipping point,” Andrew. You know that, right? 🙂
    I wonder how many know who in the heck I am any more. I do find it a bit fascinating, the Catholic/emerging burgeoning relationship. Of course there have always been Catholics trying to find “new ways” of being the Church together – the whole monastic “thing” could have been called the “emerging church” of it’s day, all kinds of them. So many orders and movements and renewals of order and revisions of movements. Oh my.
    The Catholic Church is so huge, I don’t think most people notice things until they get huge too, though. And they can become “huge” – notorious, or “huge” – accepted and “canonized.” It will be very interesting, indeed, to watch where some of this goes.
    I still have my slow-cooking vision for a different kind of rural monastic community bubbling on the stove of my heart. I’ll be watching to see what kind of looks I get from inside and out along the way. Peace.

  • Steve K. says:

    Andrew, I look forward to reading your series of blog posts that give more background and history on the Catholic involvement in emergence. Of course Catholics have participated in many ways for many years. One of the core members of the Emergent cohort here in Charlotte is a Catholic, and one of our newest (most passionate/committed) members is also Catholic.
    But before you become too reactionary about the whole “first-ever Catholic/Emergent” language, I’d like to suggest that the good folks at the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) who organized that particular event were the ones to dub it that and make it part of the publicity, which was picked up in the media, etc. For better or worse, that’s what happened with that particular event. It’s natural to pin that bit of “hype” on the Emergents, but I don’t think that’d be accurate or fair 😉

  • linda says:

    a few years ago the ooze message boards were almost shut down by the relentless attacks of a woman who was against the emerging conversation there. her big beef? that the ec was really a return to Catholicism. ironically, there was a bit of truth to her accusation, but some of us welcome more dialog and interaction with our Catholic brothers and sisters.

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