Back in 2008 – which seems like a lifetime ago – journalist and editor Phyllis Tickle published a book called The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why. In her book – which I and others have referenced in sermons and other places over the years – Tickle writes that every 500 years or so, the church has undergone a time of great transition. About 500 years ago (give or take a few years), the church in Europe went through a radical transition with the Protestant Reformation. Tickle, writing in the early 2000s, was saying that the church – because of dramatic shifts in society, technology, learning, and other factors – was (and is) going through a time of radical transition. As Tickle writes, 

. . . the Church, capital C – is not really a “thing” or entity so much as it is a network in exactly the same way that the Internet or the World Wide Web or, for that matter, gene regulatory and metabolic networks are not “things” or entities. Like them and from the point of view of an emergent, the Church is a self-organizing system of relations, symmetrical or otherwise, between innumerable member-parts that themselves form subsets of relations within their smaller networks. . . in interlacing levels of complexity. – Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why.Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008 | 152

In other words, just as the world is a complex series of networks – social, familial, and otherwise – so is the church. All of this complexity means that the church, along with other institutions and social structures in government and community, has become decentralized. “The way things used to be” when it comes to authority and how church and society are organized has shifted.

As Tickle describes, the world, including the church, consists of intricate networks such as social and familial connections. Consequently, the church, along with other institutions, has undergone decentralization due to this complexity. This shift has altered traditional notions of authority and organizational structures in both the church and society.

We saw this shift being sped up by the COVID-19 pandemic – which radically impacted trust in traditional structures and institutions (from the government and public health apparatus to, yes, the church). We, who are still seeking to lead in these traditional structures, are having to reinvent how we “do” church as we go along. A friend recently said that “being a leader in the church right now is like trying to reinvent a bicycle while you are riding it.”

Just this past week, I was reading several articles on how “The importance of religion in the lives of Americans is shrinking” and “Church closings have created crisis, and opportunity“. Headlines like these do not spark confidence in whatever is supposedly emerging. . . whatever God is supposedly doing. It can be so disheartening. And yet, as a person named Dominic Dutra says in the latter of these two articles, the churches “. . . are not ours, they’re God’s. . .” 

And because the church – and we – belong to God, we are called to trust that the radical shift of the Great Emergence is not an “emergence-y.” Instead, God is doing something new, and we are a part of it.

Two questions we could be asking in the midst of all of this is, “If the church belongs to God – and we belong to God – where and how do we see God at work? What do we hope to see God do through us?” These questions imply that the ministry at Bedford Presbyterian Church (as it is in all churches) is undergoing a time of Spirit-led change that might lead toward a future that we cannot envision without God’s help. 

I am thankful that Bedford Presbyterian Church continues to be a place of health and positive momentum. Thankfully, we are not having to make the tough choices that some churches are currently making. 

In a spirit of gratitude and hope, at the next Session meeting, the Elders of BPC will discuss several Spirit-led goals we have for the next two years in light of our new Vision and Mission Statements. These goals will likely not involve trying to recreate a church that was, but looking forward to the church that is emerging. How can the connections of our own faith network be strengthened in light of what God is doing?

May God do a new thing to us and through us. . .

See you in church!

Grace and Peace,


Prepare for Worship

This Week: “Moving Toward One (Forward, Together)”