A “submergent” introduction

Admin’s note: This is the introductory post for our new submergent category. Posts in this category also automatically appear on submergent.org under “Submergent Friends” as part of the wider submergent conversation.

About a year ago, as a known fan of emergent style communities and a young staff member of Franconia Mennonite Conference, I was asked to be a part of a newly developing conversation and relationship between Mennonite Church USA and Emergent Village. The hope was to find a way to connect Emergent churches who were discovering they had an Anabaptist theology with an Anabaptist denomination that could help those congregations find their identity in Anabaptism . . . a few months later, “Submergent” emerged. Submergent is not a project of either Mennonite Church USA or Emergent Village; it is an idea sparked from people who met at this original conversation that is becoming a connecting community.

The name “submergent” is intended to reflect the essence of the 500-year-old Anabaptist movement and the newly budding Emerging Church movement. Both yearn for a faith that reflects the vitally prophetic impulse that sparked when Jesus began his movement 2000 years ago, he called his followers to a radical way of peace . . . a way of loving enemies . . . a way of embracing the outsider . . . a way of forgiveness and transformation and reconciliation.

As it states on our website, submergent.org, “We affirm the spirit of the early Anabaptists as we emerge into a new way of being and doing church. Both Anabaptism and the Emerging Church traffic in subversion. We embrace a counter-cultural identity as we seek to be faithful to Jesus Christ in the shadow of the Empire. We are Submergent.”

This group aims to…
…actively explore ways to embody the Gospel of Jesus Christ in North America. We aren’t interested in mere ideas…we want to live this stuff out.
…foster dialog between the emerging church movement and the Anabaptist movement.
…develop partnerships between Anabaptist denominations/organizations and emerging church organizations.
…and, informed by an Anabaptist vision, to live into the Kingdom of God in a postmodern, post-Christian world. Together, we will re-baptize the Christian imagination.

For the last six months, five emerging Anabaptist leaders have been in conversation and action around building a network of Submergents. These five leaders are:

* Eliacín Rosario-Cruz – Husband and Father/artist/communitarian/provocatuer/ and organic intellectual. He and his family are part of The Mustard Seed House, a neo-monastic/intentional community expression in Seattle, where they eat, play, work, garden, pray and conspire for a new reality. Eliacín enjoys hosting conversations about alternative living, intentional community, new monasticism and subversive Christianity. He is the Program and Community Catalyst at Mustard Seed Associates. (Bio taken from www.eliacin.com) Eliacín lives in the beautiful tension between being an Episcopalian who also considers himself an Anabaptist – go figure!

* Joel Shenk – Director of Learning and Service Ministries at the Center for Anabaptist Leadership and Conference Administrator for Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference. Joel is currently working toward an M.Div degree at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA.

* Lora Steiner – Communications Associate and writer for Franconia Conference. “I became interested in the Emergent Church when I started getting involved in discussions about young adults and the future of the church–and I realized that if I was serious about those conversations, I needed to know something about post-modernism. I’m currently a full-time M.Div student at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, and I have no idea what I’m going to do when I graduate.”

* Mark Van Steenwyk – Writer, speaker, and grassroots organizer. He is the founder of Missio Dei, a new monastic community on the West Bank of Minneapolis and the editor of jesusmanifesto, a radical Christian webzine. He and his wife Amy are expecting their first child on April Fool’s Day.

* Jessica Walter – Initiatives Coordinator for Franconia Conference’s School for Leadership Formation, leadership cultivator, writer, and editor for the print publications of the conference. I am also working on my MDiv at both Eastern Mennonite Seminary and Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, Pa. My reflections on everything from cooking to daily encounters with faith can be found at redoraclejess.blogspot.com.

“We haven’t been meeting to engineer a movement,” states Mark. “I’m a critic of centralized attempts at fostering a movement. Our conversations have been focused on finding existing people and groups that represent the emerging Anabaptist movements. This isn’t an easy task. After all, it is hard enough to define ’emerging;’ defining what makes an ‘anabaptist’ is difficult. So, we’re proceeding carefully.”

Submergent started with a group on Facebook inviting potentially interested friends and new contacts to the group. Conversations began to arise about meeting together as a larger group to brain-storm and share about ways to practically live out our faith perspective, about creating seminary curriculum that would be helpful for leaders of the emerging church, and about creating an on-going directory of submergent churches. Soon after we launched the website which has an aggregate of submergent blogging voices, a place for discussion and events, and will have a list of submergent communities. If you’re interested in having your blog listed on submergent.org check out the website or contact Mark Van Steenwyk.

We are looking forward to a few upcoming events…

1. Submergent will be at the New Conspirators Conference in Seattle at the end of this month and intend on hosting a lunch “table talk” for those interested in Submergent. We will be introducing ourselves, discussing what the emerging church and anabaptist tradition needs from each other, and dreaming and scheming about the future of Submergent.

2. On May 9-10 Submergent will be co-sposoring Brian McLaren’s “Everything Must Change” book tour stop at Goshen College.

3. There are plans for a future networking conference so stayed tuned.

We welcome any concerns or feedback or ideas, so please share them. Our goal with Submergent is to provide a place for emerging anabaptists to connect and move toward a shared kingdom vision.

Comments (21)

  1. somasoul

    A couple things:

    I was “saved” in a non-denominational church at 19. Once saved the church offered me little. No groups for college aged “kids” and folks my age were barred from youth events. I was told to be a part of an adult type group which I felt was too old for me.

    From there I found an emergent church. We met in a movie theater. It was full of people my age. And although it didn’t have a program or ministry for people my age it didn’t need to, all programs were designed for those in my age bracket.

    But eventually I began to see that the church was exactly like the church I had left. It had cliques, just like the old church. The cliques were younger and hipper but otherwise identical. It had plenty of “programs” for the young, none for the old. It had new music, fresh music, but no tradition.

    The emergent church, in my understanding, was a lot like every other church. It sought the same ends. Preached the same things. And had plenty of focus on “hip, young, and cool”……American Consumerist ideology; not the teachings of our Christ.

    I don’t know that Christians should place any hope in the emergent movement to be a driving force to get us change within Christianity.

  2. Daniel

    In emergent’s defense Somasoul, there is a ton of variety in what “emergent” groups look like, and Horizon(if it even would consider itself connected to emergent) would be very much on the traditional/contemporary side of the movement. What they were seeking to create is what they did, church but for younger people. There is a lot more variety out there and those I know on the submergent side of the emergent thing are very opposed to consumerism and other ills that the american church has.

  3. Mark Van Steenwyk

    I don’t mean to belittle your experience, but you should be careful not to assume all emerging churches are like the crappy one you went to. Most emerging churches are just trendier versions of the churches of the previous generation. But there are some subtle, yet significant shifts happening. Many emerging christians are embracing things that would have seemed off-limits a decade or more ago.

    This isn’t about finding hope in the emerging movement. It is about Anabaptists letting go of some of the things that have kept them from greater faithfulness and emerging Christians to do likewise…by learning from each other.

  4. Shawn

    Well said, Mark. I think Anabaptism at it’s core offers much relevancy in these days of ours, but there are things inherent to it that prevent us from translating that theological core in our postmodern culture. I think that’s the point where Anabaptism can learn from the Emerging Conversation. I also think the Emerging Conversation can learn much from Anabaptism as far as history, tradition, peace, and Christendom are concerned. I think both expressions need each other, a lot.

    I for one am excited about about all of this. Thanks to each of you for putting it all together.


  5. somasoul

    HEY! It’s Danny!!! Dude, I run into you all the time unexpectedly!!!

    My church wasn’t “crappy”, it just failed. The emergent movement is not connected at all, without leadership, and lots of people within the movement have very different opinions. I don’t see something like that succeeding.

    Also, the emergent movement seems to have an emphasis on hip and, as Mark put it, “trendier”. Trends come and go. Styles, jeans, hats; these things will exist temporarily. The emergent movement has a big focus on those things so I don’t see it as way to get back to Jesus.

  6. Jessica

    Brother “somasoul”-

    I understand the cynicism…I’ve lived it, I’ve watched my friends live it. Frustrations and pain caused by “failed” church experiences are among the deeper wounds a soul can bare because they attack our ability to trust and have faith…and we all carry these wounds.

    That said, I find hope in the work I do…a lot of hope. Hope that, while I know we won’t get it completely right, we will get closer. What more can you ask of yourself and the people of faith you are in communion with?

    I think what Mark and others were trying to tell you in their comments is to not over-generalize. There are communities of faith out there, that would identify with other emergent style churches, who are getting closer to living out the kingdom of God. They are not so concerned about attracting a certain group of people, styles of music, church buildings, and what to wear. They are concerned with how what they say they believe effects how they act as an individual and a community of faith.

    However, one failed attempt does not mean we should throw the baby out with the bath water. It does, however mean we should look at the failure with honesty and seek to learn, grow and change out of that experience.

    You and Mark are right, there is an essence of trend about the emergent movement but there is also the capability to leave a lasting effect on North American expressions of faith. After all, jeans were invented a century or two ago…and we still wear them.

  7. dave

    The emergent movement is not connected at all, without leadership

    Wrong. There are some emergent churches that are not connected. Many, if not most, emergent churches are connected to a denomination.

    lots of people within the movement have very different opinions.

    This is true to an extent. But I say, So what? I think that is really what is driving the emergent movement. It has a diverse group of people involved with diverse perspectives, and casts a very wide net.

    I don’t see something like that succeeding.

    I am not sure what you mean by succeed. How would you define this success? The emergent movement is not a denomination.

    They are a diverse group of people trying to reexamine our ecclesiology.

    Also, the emergent movement seems to have an emphasis on hip and, as Mark put it, “trendier”. Trends come and go

    I disagree. I think that this is a characteristic of a bad emergent church. I don’t think that the emergent movement emphasizes hip and trendy church.

  8. Mark Van Steenwyk

    That’s the frustrating thing. The hip emerging churches get the big attention, but many many of the churches that fit into the “emerging” category simply aren’t going for “cool.” Take my church for example: Missio Dei. We have been nomadic around our neighborhood for the past few years. Currently we meet in my living room. We often have to cram 25 people or more into a cramped space, where we eat and discuss and sing. We have low production values but are a creative, diverse group of people.

    Some would simply say we’re not emerging. But here’s the deal. I coordinate the Twin Cities Emergent cohort, go to emergent type stuff and connect with emerging people on the web because, whether they’re doing it right or not, they’re way more open to change and rethinking stuff than almost any group. And the problem with Anabaptists is (speaking as a newly minted Mennonite pastor) that they tend to be willing to change in all the wrong ways. You’ve lost your prophetic edge.

    When Anabaptists care more about their ethnic identity than they do about peacemaking or speaking prophetically, then something needs to change. And that change isn’t to become seeker sensitive. And it isn’t to become “hipper” either. It is to re-embrace the Anabaptist core and raise One Voice in the emerging Post-Christian America.

    …stepping down off my soap-box.

  9. somasoul

    Look, I’m not knocking emergent churches as individual organizations. I simply don’t buy into the emergent movement as a movement that will ever spur on rampant change within the church.

    This isn’t to say that I think other denominations or ways of “doing Christianity” are better or that they are worse.

    Christians are best when they are daring. But let’s not throw out 2,000 years of history in one fell swoop here. Let’s not re-think everything according to our own cultural perspectives. We have lots of history to rely on and many great leaders (and failures) to learn from.

  10. dave

    See… that is clearly where you can I disagree. I think that the emergent “movement” DOES use history. Many emergent churches HAVE done a lot to embrace historical church practices.

    What I think the emergent church does really well is balance historical church practices with the 21st century.

    Don’t get me wrong – I have my criticisms, and I don’t think that the emergent church is perfect, but I think that they have a lot to offer many current strands of Christianity, and especially Western Christianity.

  11. somasoul

    I think from what I’ve seen in the emergent church is what I consider an overuse of current culture. Something stuck in a time period is usually doomed to failure.

    Thus Guns N’ Roses’ November Rain still rocks and no one remembers a single White Snake song.

    Some things transcend time and space.

  12. Shawn

    Well, debates about an Emergent Anabaptism aside …

    Some one finally cited freakin’ Guns N’ Roses in a theological conversation! LOL! I’m a fanatic from way back …

    *still waiting for Chinese Democracy.

    Carry on with the regularly scheduled conversation.

  13. Mark

    A nice discussion, gennlemen. I’ll have to check in around here more in the future.

    I have the distinction of coming to the “emergent” party through the back door, and apparently late (as usual). In looking over some things at The Ooze website last year, I tried to see if there were any emergent churches listed for Chicago’s north side or North Shore. Much to my amazement, my own church was listed! (Reba Place [Mennonite], in Evanston… a congregation now in its 51st year) Who knew?!

    All this to say: the emergent movement itself– definitions and evaluations of that movement, claims of who’s in or who’s out– all this is proving as slippery as the postmodern ideas themselves. The theological content and day-to-day practices that emergent churches grapple with are all about that TENSION… between past and present, between denominational identity and local individuality, between the world’s iconography (dreadlocks, rockin’ guitars, political action, etc) and the church’s own culture. Tension = imagination. We’re building hybrid churches that recombine the best from all of these older traditions, and then inventing new traditions to go alongside them.

  14. ShaneBertou

    Several of us from around the blogsphere are reading “Everything Must Change” together and discussing our thoughts. We’ve just begun, but we’ve set it up in a way where it’s never to late to participate.

    If you have any interest, you can visit us at:


  15. somasoul


    You’re from Reba Place? Do you know the McKinney’s? They used to Pastor there. They live like a mile from me and went to my church until they were called to pastor elsewhere.

    In other news…………I see an urgent……..uh, urge to change the church. I just hope that as we do so we don’t lose focus of Jesus and shape Christianity toward our own social norms.

  16. Mark Nielsen

    Yes, somasoul, I remember the McKinneys, and they might remember me as well. Did not have lots of close contact with them, but they contributed a lot to our church life while they were here.

    What a growing, strange family of mutts we all are…

  17. Clint

    I just don’t buy it. Some people are really passionate about these issues, but it just looks like people are trying very hard to get excited about something that, if it weren’t excitingly packaged, they wouldn’t care about at all. If it weren’t “emergent”, “submergent”, “subversive,” or whatever else, then no one would care. Oh look, you sit around someone’s living room, light some candles, talk about God, do some community service, sing some song that just sounds like every other song you listen to, only the words are about Jesus. How is that “counter-culture”?

  18. Mark Van Steenwyk

    Where is this coming from, clint? How do you know what emergent or submergent groups do? Sure, my community meets and talks about God and serves our community and sings. You talk like those are bad things. We also have homeless ex-convicts living in our house, dumpser-dive, have big community meals, tell people about Jesus, and befriend odd people. Does that mean we pass your test? And who made you judge, anyhow?

    (calming myself…breath deep, Mark…ok…nice and easy)

    There is certainly a high level of buzz about stuff out there. And sure, Emergent in particular has been known to get people’s attention through controversy and packaging.

    But you’d be downright silly to think that was all there is to it. And at the risk of sounding rude, if you think that is all there is too it you are simply missing it.

    What is Submergent? Do we exist because of buzz? Right now we are a group of people trying to network based upon shared convictions. Shared convictions that the Anabaptists know something important, and if they are to have a prophetic voice in our culture, we need to re-engage culture in creative ways. Not compromise to culture. Not simply whore our legacy away in order to be trendy. We need to get a fresh breath of what Anabaptism is all about and breath it into our culture.

    Here’s the thing. USA is as powerful as ever. The world is filled with conflict. The church is fat, stupid, and happy. We are lulled to sleep with consumerism. We exploit the world through global capitalist systems, and the provocative, powerful message of Jesus and his nonviolent revolution has been domesticated. Submergent is a growing group of leaders that realizes that the Anabaptist tradition can speak to this sad state of affairs. And we realize that to speak boldly, we need to shed those things that have stiffled our voice as we re-engage our society with prophetic words and actions. (stepping off of my soap box)

  19. Clint

    Wow, why is it that people seem to think challenge = judge? Just because I don’t buy it doesn’t mean that it sucks, or that the submergent movement isn’t useful or valuable, it just means I don’t buy it. Sometimes it feels like people who name themselves names like emergent, submergent or radical are saying that “this is real Christianity and the rest of y’all are just sellouts,” or that people like me are boring or complacent because of our musical, liturgical or cultural tastes. The above may not be true, but it sure is what it feels like.
    And just who am I? I am a ship in the night, nothing more. You need not concern yourself with my opinions, they and their speaker are as impermanent as all this stuff you seem to be so engaged in combating. The root causes of the world’s suffering aren’t going to be dug out by all this. So, Jesus transforms the world because of all your witnessing. You and He have shown the Man his wicked ways. The poor have something to eat, and they don’t wanna beat up on homos and witches and people they don’t like (good luck with that), and the wealthy don’t wanna crush the poor under their bootheels to pay for their new Lexus. Then what?

  20. somasoul

    Can I cruh someone under my bootheels for a new Lexus?

  21. Mikie

    Great post, Mick. And thanks for the shout-out. You and I don’t desagrie. The post you mention was written to a particular audience and contributed some new concepts to a particular debate, hence the language to communicate. In that particular debate, people are asking: what does following Jesus’ really mean exactly . . . and *which* Jesus are we talking about? You and I are actually saying the same thing, we’re just using different language. What I call beyond evangelical (to those in that debate) is the same as not being part of any theological system but returning to living by the indwelling life of Christ in a corporate context (which is how we follow Him today) and His grand mission, or Eternal Purpose (which is the goal of that following).The early believers didn’t call themselves by any titles, not even Christian that was tagged onto them by their unbelieving neighbors. I believe it was because they talked about Christ so much. Some folks today object to that term, as well as the word church. But ditching both would make it very hard to communicate to certain audiences. Thus some feel we need to reclaim and redeem certain terms instead of throwing them out, and infuse them with new meaning. That’s an interesting discussion in itself.Thanks again. A fellow follower.fvPsalm 115:1

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