As a member of a so-called mainline denomination, I have been experiencing – on behalf of (United Methodist ) Mother Church – something like a reverse vicarious identity crisis. It’s really not cool to be a mainliner these days. To rip off an old country song, I’m United Methodist after United Methodist was cool.
I’m keenly interested in doing whatever I can to help us United Methodists embody and live for the Kingdom of God. I’ve listened to and participated in many conversations that started out to be “dialogues” about how we very divided United Methodists (yes, we recognize the oxymoron) can make peace with each other and make a difference in the world. The talks don’t turn out that way. We wind up fighting about who’s going to get to control denominational resources and power structures.
And we’re all frustrated by it. Truthfully, we’ve been sincerely about the Kingdom…in our minds, anyway, all along. We just don’t agree on what the Kingdom looks like. It’s so easy to get headed down some tangential path in those conversations about working together for the sake of the mission. People who have been down in the denominational trenches for awhile know all about how fine the line is between seeking and working for the Kingdom and degenerating into mere church politics.
And along comes “Emergent:” “Emergent Christianity,” “Emergent Conversation,” “Emerging Worship,” “Emergent Village.” Gosh, just when we’re feeling bad about our denominational divisions, a spate of books comes along to tell us that we’re practically out of the game altogether. Thank God for Phyllis Tickle’s book, The Great Emergence, which helps some of us mainliners figure out who we are in this new day.
Tickle says that about every 500 years the church does a wholesale housecleaning and argues that we’re going through one right now. (Denominations, beware!) Toward the end of the book, she offers a very helpful schematic of various groups and how they fit the Emergent picture; hence the “hyphenateds.”
“Hyphenateds” are mainline (Protestant) Christians who operate in an “Emergent” way within their own denominations. They have no plans to leave Mother Church, but they also don’t want business as usual, nor do they care about denominational preservation. They want their ministries really to count for the mission of God.
It can be a fine line to walk, but I’m trying to walk it. I feel God has called me to stay within this beloved denomination, but I don’t want to spend a minute propping up a worn-out bureaucracy. Thus, I think I’m a hyphenated. What are you?