What does a Process Church look like?
Southside Abbey in Chattanooga, Tennessee, as illustrative of its spirit.
SOUTHSIDE ABBEY: a Christian church in Chattanooga, Tennessee
HART Gallery: artwork by local homeless & non-traditional artists
What is a Process Church?
What a Process Church Is and Isn't
A process church is not a church that formally subscribes to process theology. Its members may know nothing of process theology; they may well be guided by other equally enlivening relational points of view. There are many ways to be a process church without knowing anything about process theology. For many Christians, the teachings of the New Testament and the wisdom of inherited practices and traditions are better sources. And, of course, the Holy Spirit is the best of guides, forever surprising us with fresh possibilities from the past and future.
A Process Church is a church that exhibits the spirit of what is most important to process theologians: trust in availability of fresh possibilities; hospitality toward all people, including people with little or no faith; respect and care for the earth; care for animals; delight in diversity; a love of beauty; an appreciation of the creativity within each person; a special concern for the vulnerable and forsaken; trust in relational power; and a heartfelt desire to walk in love as Jesus walked in love, along with the sufferings and the joys. There are many kinds of Christian churches that can do this. Southside Abbey is one of them, and that's why we profile them on this page.
Process Theology: Life-centered, Relational Outlook on Life
So what is process theology? Many articles in JJB are written and read by people interested in process theology. One of the leading visionaries in the process tradition is Rabbi Bradley Artson from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles; his "The Constellation of Process Theology" offers a brief introduction to the worldview. For my part, I think of process theology as a multi-religious outlook on life that can be internalized by people from many different religions and by people without any formal religious affiliation. It is hard to describe this outlook in a single sentence, but here’s a try:
Guided by the idea that we live in an interconnected world in which all living beings have value, by the idea that our calling in life is to add beauty to the world in the best way we can, and by the idea that the very soul of the universe encircles and infuses the universe with creative compassion, process theology invites us to become fat souls whose minds and hearts are inwardly strong and outwardly spacious, who believe that relational power is ultimately more powerful than coercive power, and who seek to build local communities that are creative, compassionate, participatory, and ecologically wise, with no one left behind.
Of course many people in the world will agree with this sentence, and the vast majority will not think of themselves as process theologians. They will think of themselves as Christians or Muslims, Jews or Hindus, Buddhists or Sikhs, naturalists or free spirits, who share the hopes and values articulated. They will embody the process outlook on life without calling it process theology. They would simply call it a hopeful, life-centered, relational point of view. So a bit more needs to be said about the philosophical underpinnings of the process outlook as developed by process theologians.
Alfred North Whitehead: Philosophical Inspiration for Process Theology
Process theologians find the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead especially helpful in understanding how a perspective like that articulated above makes sense scientifically, artistically, ethically, and spiritually. Whitehead understood his own perspective as a way of re-appreciating a more cosmological and less human-centered approach to life; he opens his most systematic work, Process and Reality, by saying that in some ways he is inviting us to return to pre-Kantian or pre-modern ways of thinking. Some who develop his thought, especially in China, understand his perspective as constructively postmodern or, to use alternative phraseology, trans-modern. Whatever phrases we use, what is clear is that, for those who are drawn to Whitehead’s philosophy, we live in a world where there is value and beauty within, but also beyond, human fabrication, enfolded within a divine Life who loves each creature with tender care.
There is no Process Church
But there are Churches in the Process Spirit
In short, process theology is a meta-religious outlook on life influenced by the philosophy of Whitehead. Happily, there is not a single church or mosque, synagogue or temple, which advertises itself as a process church. There need be no "Church of Process Theology." But happily, in our world today, there are religious communities that embody the spirit and principles of process thought and that develop them in terms unique to their own traditions. Moreover, these communities enrich the process outlook with rituals, traditions, and acts of loving-kindness that give flesh to what might otherwise be dry bones. The process outlook on life is incomplete without their deepening. See What is Missing in Process Theology?
Within Christianity there are many kinds of churches that can embody the process spirit: Orthodox, Catholic, Ecumenical Protestant, Evangelical Protestant, Pentecostal, Post-Western (African, South Asian, East Asian). The Post-Western churches of Africa, South Asia, and East Asia are among the most likely places where, in the future, process theology will grow. This is especially true in mainland China, where the process outlook is having increasing influence. See the Institute for Postmodern Development of China: NPR Interview.
But friends in North America, Canada and the United States have excellent examples. Southside Abbey in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is one of them.
-- Jay McDaniel
Images from the Southside Abbey Instagram Page
About the Artist:
Ellen Zahorec was raised in the Catholic faith in Ohio. She received her BFA and MFA, and maintained a home, studio, and gallery. After a personal tragedy, where her home and creative spaces were lost, Ellen began to suffer from severe depression and psychosis. She is now at the AIM Center, where she uses her art to work through anxiety. Her design motifs have become a pathway to quieting depressive and racing thoughts. Every line, every dot represents one more step in Ms. Zahorec’s journey of faith and perseverance.
-- from the HART Gallery: http://hartgallerytn.com/shop/products/treasure-map/
Everyone is Welcome