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malcolm chamberlain

musings about the emerging church, mission and contemporary culture...

God is at large, intimately involved in his world in ways that the church is maybe just waking up to!

vulnerable spaces...

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Mark Berry writes...

I'm feeling stirred to ask some questions... what is our sense of communitas? where is our sense of shared liminality and spirit? how can we abandon the need for "huddle and cuddle" and truly embrace the dangerous journey? For me this means that we shouldn't be expending our energy creating gatherings to which the needy will be drawn, this isn't about creating safe spaces in our places but is about creating safe space between me and another... safe not because it is risk free, but safe because it is open and honest, safe because ALL are vulnerable not because none are."
(bold highlighting mine; read the full original post 'here')

There's a lot of talk about communitas in the emerging church, and a lot of discussion about how Victor Turner's findings and theories can inform and shape missional communities in liminal (post-modern) culture. There is a danger, however, that all this can become simply a conversation about semantics - 'let's call it communitas instead of community' - rather than praxis. I think Mark hits on an essential insight here... what distinguishes communitas from structured community is the 'space' in which it occurs - the 'dangerous journey' as Mark refers to it. Communitas is, by definition, organic and undefined; it is built around relationships and assumed roles, rather than programs and structured hierarchies. It may also, as Turner strongly argues, be temporary, and inevitably give way to structure at some point (and this tendency is evident in some more established emerging church communities currently grappling with questions of leadership, pastoral support structures, etc).

Communitas or not, I'm drawn to Mark's comment that I've highlighted in bold. In my own journey I've valued the 'spaces' (by that I mean relational spaces as much as physical spaces) where I can be real and honest about my faith and my struggles, and that hasn't always been possible in church communities. Mark calls for a space that is safe not "because it is risk free, but safe because it is open and honest, safe because ALL are vulnerable not because none are." I couldn't agree more Mark!

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 9:53 AM


Malcolm, good to have found your blog - I have had little time to look since the gathering.

I agree with what Mark and you say, but wonder if we have missed the point of communitas, which is that it is community forged out of doing something else. I'm sure the people at The Truth Isn't Sexy are feeling communitas right now.

commented by Anonymous David, 7:46 PM  

Yes, from reading Frost's 'Exiles' I'd understood that the main feature of communitas (as distinct from community) was that it was forged in the context of a challenging, dangerous or 'liminal' situation.

Wasn't the original context something about African rites of passage - about young boys learning to survive away from the security of their village?

commented by Anonymous Paul Walker, 12:16 AM  

David, good to hear from you - I followed your comment back to your own blog and enjoyed the post on communitas you've written there. I think you're right with regards to the people at 'The Truth Isn't Sexy' - they are definitely in a 'dangerous' space in the sense of being open to misunderstanding and the huge possibility for it not to work (though personally I think it will and we're right behind the initiative in Liverpool, seeking to raise the finances to have the material in local pubs).

Paul, thanks for your contribution. Indeed, Turner's 'The Ritual Process' is a study of African tribal initiation rites, and the occurence of communitas in the liminal 'betwixt and between' phase. This liminal stage is 'dangerous' in that normal structures of authority and even tribal law are subverted. However, roles are assumed in communitas and the ritual process often follows a pre-determined traditional path towards the re-establishment of structure.

I think the connection here with the emerging church is to do with the subversion of 'inherited' structures of authority such that the emerging communities are genuinely organic and non-hierarchical. The question is, can they remain that way? Turner would answer that with a firm 'no', arguing that anti-structure will always give way to structure. If that's the case, what will the new structure in the emerging church look like?

commented by Blogger Malcolm Chamberlain, 10:30 AM  

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