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The Future of Progressive Christianity


Question & Answer


Q: By Rev. Laurel Gray

While traditional Christian congregations continue their gradual decline, I’m often asked, “Well, how is Progressive Christianity doing?”

Other than your comment, “It is growing” I have no credible answer to that. If indeed, PC is growing, I am happy to hear that, but to what extent is it growing? I’ve been attending the Jesus Seminars on the road for many years, and have noticed a definite decline in attendance, particularly among the youth. The millennials do not seem interested.

What does that say about the possible future of the PC movement?

A: By Fred Plumer

Dear Laurel,

I realize events like the Jesus Seminars, and the Jesus Seminars on the Road seem to attract mostly seniors and they are fading away. You are right, the younger crowd is not interested in much of these events. It is true for Bishop Spong’s crowd and to some degree they are not necessarily attracted to progressive Christianity. Even more obvious is that younger generations are not attracted to churches, especially churches that have not changed. Thus the losses and closing of churches is obvious to anyone who wants to look seriously at any of these things.

However, the millennials are the most spiritual group of people ever to be classified as a generation. They have started forming small groups for “Sunday discussion,” support groups and lots of other forms of planned communities. The have started dozens, if not hundreds of on-line connections.One of the first ones that kept popping up is “Juniper Path.” Like HeadspaceGlobal Spiritual lifeSearch Inside Yourself, Juniper Path brings the tradition of meditation to modern day life. “It focuses on the rigor of ancient practices in new cultural packaging. It is committed to providing the wisdom and experience of a long-standing meditation tradition in secular form, tailored to contemporary culture, knowledge, sensibility, and psychology.” It is designed for people to meet in small groups but also to follow the teachings and suggestions from their website. Its primary goals are for transformation and accountability.

One of their participants, Lawrence Levy, states:  “We need a path – spiritual teachings, a spiritual way of life that is not an affront to what we’re learning in science and to our norms like gender equality. It has to blend with who we are because this is a path to make us the very best that we can be in our world-right here where we are sitting.”

One of the more interesting ones for me is something called The Dinner Party.  The Dinner Party is a young community gathering of 20-30 young people who have experienced a significant loss. There are others like it, Good People DinnersDeliberate life, Civil Conversations Project but this one seems to be better organized. It is following the Alcoholics Anonymous model in many ways and it is having positive impact on lives. These gatherings bring people together for conversation that tend to be more intimate and personal than every day chit chat. They take on subjects like death, racism, and loneliness that ensures that connections are made more quickly and participant have the experience of being seen, truly seen. Some of their groups are identify as Christian. These folks make the dinner explicitly sacred utilizing communion bread and wine. Other groups are encouraged to bring a level of spirituality into the gatherings.

CTZNWELL, like The FeastKunto and Off the Matt, is attempting change the world from the inside out by mobilizing the well-being industry. Their main function is to increase the interest in the practice of personal transformation through meditation, the participant connects the dots between these practices and the politics of social and environment well-being.

From their website: We engage in deep transformational work around our values; and are led through relationship to issues like access to healthcare, food justice, living wage, climate change and education. From there, we partner with campaigns led by the people most directly affected and respond in conscious and creative disruption and re-imagination of our world. We aspire to move and unify our community at a scale that will have an impact at a systemic and global level.

And finally, one of the closet things to church is something called The Sanctuaries. Like Sunday Assembly, and Bodi Spiritual Center, the Sanctuaries is a diverse arts community with a soul in Washington, D.C. It goal is to bring together a multi-racial and multi-spiritual community of “citizen artists.” Events like Soul Slams and Community Huddles allow people of diverse spiritual and artistic backgrounds to share their perspectives, do creative projects and engage in honest conversations. They develop creative skills to do social justice in the city and foster partnerships with other organizations.

Like other new communities they are building on the assumption of diverse spiritual and non-spiritual expressions. Besides the Huddles and other activities, they meet in large groups on Sunday morning. They assume a spectrum of spiritual and religious inclination and build from there, with a loyalty to fostering spiritual growth but not necessarily to a church like community format. They are primarily run by volunteers but they do have at least one ordained pastor leading services. There stated goals are personal transformation, community and social transformation.

I definitely appreciate the love that I get from everybody-from all walks of life. To just be able to come and be themselves and genuine. The Sanctuaries allows people to open up and there’s no other place where people could do it, just given how life has become. Everything is hustle and grind, no time, no money, and stress. The Sanctuaries is a safe place that I can go to and share what I do, creatively.”

So my conclusion is that most of the old denominations are going to die or certainly become even less influential-the same thing for churches and organizations like the Jesus Seminar. However I still believe that something powerful will replace these things that will be more relevant to our changing world. Unfortunately I doubt it either of us will be around to see it happen.

~ Fred Plumer

This Q&A was originally published on Progressing Spirit – As a member of this online community, you’ll receive insightful weekly essays, access to all of the essay archives (including all of Bishop John Shelby Spong), and answers to your questions in our free weekly Q&A. Click here to see free sample essays.

About the Author

In 1986 Rev. Plumer was called to the Irvine United Congregational Church in Irvine, CA to lead a UCC new start church, where he remained until he retired in 2004. The church became known throughout the denomination as one of the more exciting and progressive mid-size congregations in the nation. He served on the Board of Directors of the Southern California Conference of the United Church of Christ (UCC) for five years, and chaired the Commission for Church Development and Evangelism for three of those years.

In 2006 Fred was elected President of (originally called The Center for Progressive Christianity – TCPC) when it’s founder Jim Adams retired. As a member of the Executive Council for TCPC he wrote The Study Guide for The 8 Points by which we define: Progressive Christianity. He has had several articles published on church development, building faith communities and redefining the purpose of the enlightened Christian Church. His book Drink from the Well is an anthology from speeches, articles in eBulletins, and numerous publications that define the progressive Christianity movement as it evolves to meet new challenges in a rapidly changing world.

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