Originally created 08/20/05

Emerging churches broaden experience

Some United Methodist church planters were visiting one of the denomination's larger congregations when the pastor was asked, "What do you think about this emerging church movement?"

The pastor said, "It won't last."

Sitting among the church planters was the Rev. John Kenney, of Augusta, who knew that the emerging church movement was where he wanted to be.

"That is part of my hunger. That is part of what I feel is missing in my life, and there are a lot of people like that," said the Rev. Kenney, 33, the pastor of The Quest Church, affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Weekly attendance varies from 40 to 60 people of all ages.

The emerging church movement puts more emphasis on relationships and community and less on buildings.

Being "real" is highly valued, said the Rev. Kenney, who preaches in jeans and wears his shirt untucked.

Each week, he and volunteers start at 7 a.m. to transform The Club House on Washington Road into a sanctuary. They unpack sound and audiovisual equipment, a large cross, a kneeler, a communion table, candles and other props to create an environment that draws people into an experience of God.

Most of the people going to The Quest have a church background. Some don't, so the pastor will explain the meaning of hymns, prayers and other things that the church does during services. People think he's trying to do something new, but he's trying to do something old, he said.

The movement is considered Protestant. Emerging churches take a broad view of the Christian heritage, and some incorporate Catholic elements. On Mother's Day, the Rev. Kenney brought in statues of the Virgin Mary and preached on her.

After the weekly communion service, The Quest invites the people to respond to whatever their experience of God was.

People can move to nearby areas, called stations, to write their thoughts or draw a picture, to reflect or to pray, alone or with someone else.

Some stations are outfitted with a chair and a table, a lighted candle and a Bible, and are screened by a partition for privacy.

The people leave their writings and drawings on a table. The drawings are later hung around the room as part of getting ready for each week's service. The writings, signed or unsigned, are meant to be read.

It is a way to live a shared experience, the Rev. Kenney said.

The Quest also gives people a chance to meet in small groups each week.

Kristen, 24, and Vince Smart, 31, of Martinez, have been attending for about five months and belong to a couples group that meets at the Rev. Kenney's home. They like the relaxed atmosphere, the friendly way people relate to one another and the ease of getting involved and find ways to serve, Mrs. Smart said.

Mr. Smart, one of the volunteers who helps with the setup and takedown, said he likes everything about the church.

The broader church needs to take the movement seriously, the Rev. Kenney said.

"This is a movement that is not going to go away. The church at large is going to have to consider this, or the potential is there for the younger generations to be lost (from the church)," he said.

At The Well, another emerging church, the founders, the Revs. Jeremy Carr, 27, and Reggie Horne, 30, share the Rev. Kenney's vision. The Well's pastors have attended New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

"Our desire is just to impact people. We aren't interested in buildings or programs. We do come at it from a very biblical perspective. Our desire is to introduce people to Jesus Christ, to have a relationship with him," the Rev. Horne said.

The Well, which meets Sunday nights at Fort Discovery, is interested in what is called vintage Christianity, which differs from the Rev. Kenney's understanding.

"We do incorporate different elements. We celebrate communion on a regular basis. We go back to the early church and see what they did as part of their worship," the Rev. Horne said.

David Hutchinson, who is a regular at The Well, got to know the Rev. Carr about three years ago.

"I was really excited to find somebody to talk theology with. You can talk about Jesus all the time, but it is hard to find somebody who wants to talk about theology," he said.

Attendance varies from about 20 to 40 people of all ages, but he sees The Well community growing, with more people getting involved, Mr. Hutchinson said.

"People are starting to catch on to the idea that it is not a wholly different church, but there is a different emphasis here," he said. "The emphasis will never be on a building. It will be on people, what meets people's needs the best."

Reach Virginia Norton at 823-3336 or virginia.norton@augustachronicle.com.

IF YOU GO - The Quest Church holds services at 10:30 a.m. Sundays at The Club House, 2567 Washington Road. Call 833-6170 or visit www.thequestonline.com.

- The Well holds services at 7 p.m. Sundays at Fort Discovery, 1 Seventh St. Call 231-1687 or visit www.thewellaugusta.org.


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