Outline of new life

27th and last in a series

Eighteen months ago, I started out on a reporting project that soon became a series and took the name “In Search of the Emerging Church.” Twenty-six reports later, looking back through scores of interviews, demographic data, anecdotes and personal experience, what emerges is the outline of new church life, much of it quite healthy, if less fastened than the church has been to traditional clerical structures.

In hindsight, the headline -- Emerging Church -- was, as headlines often are, at least inadequate, suggesting that something whole might be emerging in place of something else. The reality is more complex.

The reporting would take me to Ohio, New Jersey, New Mexico, California and Pennsylvania, and included interviews with experts both inside and outside the Catholic community. What precipitated the project was a conference in Florida in 2009, the culminating event of a four-year study, Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership, financed by a $2 million Lilly Endowment grant. The financing and the study have since been extended. The 1,200 people who showed up at the gathering, most of them lay, and the stories they told clearly demonstrated that change was under way.

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