The Conversation Begins...
In January 2006, Synagogue 3000 first convened the S3K Working Group on Emergent Sacred Communities, a group of visionary Jewish leaders unbound by conventional expectations about what a synagogue is supposed to be. To enrich the conversation, S3K invited members of the Working Group to exchange ideas with leaders from Emergent-US (a network of forward-thinking Christian innovators), as well as three leading scholars of American religious life, Wade Clark Roof, Steven M. Cohen and Ryan Bolger.
This meeting of the Working Group on Emergent Sacred Communities also marked the first time ever that Emergent/U.S. had met with any religious group outside the Christian faith. It was exciting and inspiring, even historic. In addition, the members of the S3K Working Group on Spiritual Leadership - some of the most accomplished and creative Jewish rabbis, cantors, and artists in the country - were also in attendance.
What was learned during all this? A few things.
The nebula of emergent Jewish communities is beginning to define itself and work out what kind of network they'll form. In many ways they are where the Emergent Christian group was in 1996-97, as it formed within The Leadership Network. The journey of Emergent-US up to this point in its existence was instructive and illuminating to the emergent Jewish leaders: time has helped the emerging Christian community become a relatively more tight-knit and well-defined group.The conversation across traditions allows us to understand more clearly what the "Emergent" phenomenon is. Within each tradition, there are two broad streams: a congregational stream based in communities of practice, and an encounter-based stream based in individual spiritual expression.
The priorities of American spiritual communities are changing as Generation X comes of age and takes over leadership positions. The work of Wade Clark Roof, Steven M. Cohen and Ryan Bolger all points in a similar direction: younger people crave spirituality but they aren't interested in either rote rules or in lightweight, "easy" worship.
Instead, they are interested in a devotional experience that moves beyond congregational walls and buildings, that builds community and, perhaps most of all, gives them what they call an authentic connection to their traditions and to God. The emerging leaders at this conference, both Jewish and Christian, are actively attending to that desire.