International Leader of the ‘Emergent Church’ Movement – Which Uses the Internet to Unite Churches - in Boston Soon

Share Article

"The emergent church is a way of “assisting people to shift from being spiritual tourists to becoming Christian pilgrims.”

President and Dean of Episcopal Divinity School, the Very Reverend Dr Katherine Hancock Ragsdale

A prominent leader in the international ‘emergent church’ movement arrives in Boston in early March to share ways in which churches of different denominations are reaching out to each other. The new church movement uses the full spectrum of new technology to engage the faithful and those who are simply “spiritual tourists.”

The Reverend Ian Mobsby, an Anglican priest on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s “Fresh Expressions” team who arrives in Boston in March for a series of talks, says that the emergent church is a way of “assisting people to shift from being spiritual tourists to becoming Christian pilgrims.”

Prominent US Episcopal theologian Phyllis Tickle calls the new trend: “The Great Emergence”, and puts it on par with other great shifts in Christian practice. She describes it as a new expression of the Christian community that is radically Jesus-oriented, post-denominational, post-Protestant and uses virtual reality and the internet to seek alternative ways to express faith.

Mobsby will present a multi-media church service at Episcopal Divinity School at 12:15pm on March 3, and will speak about the emergent communities at Episcopal Divinity School the following day, March 4. On Saturday, March 5 he will deliver the keynote address at the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts 2011 Spring Learning Event.

President and Dean of Episcopal Divinity School, the Very Reverend Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, said, “Episcopal Divinity School is known for being at the forefront of progressive theology and we look forward to the ideas Mobsby will bring to discussions about 21st century religious practice.”

Mobsby has previously said, “the mark of the emerging Church will be its emphasis on both-and. For generations we have divided ourselves into camps: Protestants and Catholics, high church and low, clergy and laity, social activists and personal piety, liberals and conservatives, sacred and secular, instructional and underground. It will bring together the most helpful of the old and best of the new, blending the dynamic of a personal Gospel with the compassion of social concern.“

At Episcopal Divinity School, for example, the use of technology, most notably web conferencing and DVDs, has enabled the School to reach close to 200 congregations across the United States over the last eight years, according to the Rev. Elizabeth M. Magill of EDSConnect.

Julie A. Lytle, Associate Professor, Pastoral Theology and Educational Technologies and a Director of EDSConnect said: “At the Episcopal Divinity School the use of technology began as a continuing education project and gave us a new platform for degree programs and courses. The internet allows us to develop relationships that are more intentional on every level.”

Churches are trying to reach out to those parishioners who no longer make it to the pews on Sundays and to their children who may rarely, or never, attend church. Mobsby noted, “Statistics in the UK again show an increased interest in holistic spirituality rather than religion. This remains the key missional focus for the emerging church in the UK as church-going is predicted to decrease over the next twenty years.“ It is a trend that is being echoed in other parts of the world, including the United States.*

Mobsby says: “Many of the emerging churches are attempting to engage with those who are either ‘de’-churched (left churches for whatever reason – around 50% of the population) and ‘un’-churched (never been churched – now around 30% to 80% of the population, depending where you are).” Additionally, he notes that the response from churches has not always been helpful: “Much has been written about how the Church in the UK, along with other faiths, has increasingly shifted to become more conservative and in places quite fundamentalist. One of the challenges for the church in the UK is how it responds to a culture of complexity.

“The emerging church increasingly has a difficult relationship with traditional forms of church, which are becoming more conservative and disconnected from culture, and where Christians tend to be more specifically conservative evangelical or Pentecostal.”

Discussing the use of video in churches and online to parishes, Mobsby says: “We are now very much a visual culture, which creates real opportunities to enable spiritual encounter through the imagination. This is nothing new. The prophets used the arts and music to enable people to imagine another way of being through an artistic approach. The Emerging Church mixes up the secular and spiritual - through arts events on a theme of the spiritual.”

Those interested in attending should go to Events on the Episcopal Divinity School website

  • In the USA, 51% of Episcopal churches have been experiencing declines in attendance, according to research released late last year by the Reverend Canon Keith B. Brown, project consultant to the Church Pension Group.

Pew research into Religion in the United States in 2007 found that 78% of Americans considered themselves Christian with 51% Protestant. “The study's statistics on religion show that more than six-in-ten Americans age 70 and older (62%) are Protestant but that this number is only about four-in-ten (43%) among Americans ages 18-29. Conversely, young adults ages 18-29 are much more likely than those aged 70 and older to say that they are not affiliated with any particular religion (25% vs. 8%). If these generational patterns persist, recent declines in the number of Protestants and growth in the size of the unaffiliated population may continue.”


Charlene Smith
Communications and Marketing Director
Episcopal Divinity School
99 Brattle Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
Office: 1 617 682 1502


Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Charlene Smith