No two ‘emergent’ congregations look alike

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An artistic display focuses on Jesus' last seven words as part of a Holy Week worship experience at Antioch United Methodist Church.

June 15, 2005

A Feature
By Amy Green*

What does an “emergent” congregation look like?

“That's almost impossible to answer,” says Mark Oestreicher, whose San Diego company has organized national conferences exploring the topic. “It's a movement driven by theology, so the application is different at each congregation.”

No two emerging churches are the same. For some, the worship feels New Age with candles, chanting and meditation. They include Taize or compline services rooted in old Christian traditions. Others use spiritually inspired rock music by artists such as U2. And others make no outward change at all.

The Rev. Jay Voorhees describes his Nashville congregation as a typical United Methodist church – and an emerging church. The average age among his 300 parishioners at Antioch United Methodist Church is about 50, and the worship is traditional. But Voorhees, who has lectured on the emerging church at national conferences, says his ministry is “emergent.”

“This is a place where you can ask anything,” he says. “You can articulate. ‘I'm angry with God!’ and that's OK. ‘I don't agree with this dogma,’ and that's OK. ... This is a place where you can question all of those boundaries, and you can question what is the truth.”

During the week before Easter, Voorhees and his church organized an art exhibit focused on Jesus' last seven words uttered on the cross. The exhibit, an example of “emergent” philosophy, was designed to encourage contemplative examination of each word.

Though the emerging church is led especially by young adults, Voorhees says his church's older members are just as eager for a deeper understanding of their faith as they approach their final days.

At heart, he says, the emerging church is about a stripped-down service of worship that holds true to the Bible's teachings without embellishments added by today's culture.

“You can do the form, but it only goes so far if you don't have some of the theological understanding behind it,” he says.

*Green is a freelance journalist in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Matt Carlisle, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5153 or

This feature was developed by, the official online ministry of The United Methodist Church.

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