One month ago today, Christianity lost one of its great modern thinkers, Phyllis Tickle. She was an Episcopal laywoman, author, professor, and academic dean who may be best remembered for her book, “The Great Emergence.” In it, she notes that Christianity “cleans house” approximately every 500 years. This does not mean that existing forms of Christianity become invalid or obsolete. It simply means that these forms lose their place as the primary expression of our faith. Here is how she categorizes it by years:
0-100 The Great Transformation was when Jesus and his disciples walked the earth.
500-600 The Great Decline and Fall was when Rome collapsed and the institutional church rose in its wake.
1000-1100 The Great Schism was when Eastern and Western Christianity split.
1500-1600 The Great Reformation was when Protestantism (and our own denomination) was born.
2000-2100 The Great Emergence is underway now, even if its form is not yet recognizable.
This Sunday is when Protestant churches traditionally observe Reformation Day and celebrate the wind that blew through Christianity 500 years ago, and likewise the heroes that brought forth reform. However, allow me to suggest that there is a new wind blowing and there are new heroes among us. These are people who listen deeply to God in prayer, act faithfully on what they hear, and trust that God will use them to bring renewal to the world. No act of faithfulness is too small for God to use.
We can do this at our little church in Merriam Park, Saint Paul, of course. We can bless the people in our neighborhood for generations to come, in ways as yet unknown. We simply need to follow God into our world. My fervent prayer is that the hallmark of this new reformation be love.
Yours faithfully, Michael