Recombinant Church

The Other Edge (George Meier)

If you’re a hockey fan, you’ll know the famous Sidney Crosby—one of the greatest players ever. And if you are a hockey player looking to improve your game, you can watch Sidney demonstrate skating drills using the outside edges of his skates on YouTube. In hockey skates, a small, hollow trough runs the length of the skate blade, separating the inside and outside edges by about 13 mm.  A competent hockey player must learn to skate on both the inside edge and the outside edge of the skate’s blade.

In recent years, the United Church—through its programmatic arm called “Edge”—and many churches acting on their own are successfully innovating, developing and practicing on the inside edge. Through programs, collaborations, and focus on neighborhood contexts for ministry, new gifts have been developed and shared, good work has been accomplished, and a renewed sense of joy often permeates those involved.  All this ministry has been accomplished with an eye to becoming sustainable over time.  Closer and deeper relationships with the church’s surrounding community have been forged.

The Manual, 2019 of The United Church of Canada makes space for ministry on the inside edge, especially in its broad definition of a Community of Faith.  The introduction to The Manual, 2019 states that a balance has been struck between regulation and flexibility in order “to carry out ministry in ways, both traditional and innovative, that meet local needs.”  As the sections defining Community of Faith make clear, that which is innovative is still subject to regulation.  (See The Manual, 2019 Section B.1.1.)

Notice that the ministry described above has been characterized as emanating and making community contact with the “inside edge.”  What happens on the inside edge may well be quite innovative, especially for those involved.  The church learns to listen closely to the community and its needs; the church participates in collaborations that respond to what arises from the community.  The typical Edge-sponsored project through Embracing the Spirit fits this description. The traditional church has been stretched by these ministries.

In these “inside edges,” the church or denomination usually retains control, church regulations must be followed and any innovation is conditioned on a reasonable showing of sustainability.  Ministries on the inside edge are still recognizable as church outreach.  They generally respond to technical problems or issues of the church or the community.

My favorite ministry that sits on the inside edge but is virtually leaning in to the outside edge is Metanoia, a development/social enterprise-type ministry for community redevelopment in Charleston, South Carolina.  This Baptist ministry sees itself on the outside edge of the Inside and references Richard Rhor’s work.  (See )

But I think we have to start talking about the “outside” edge. These “inside edge” ministries, however lovely, do not address the adaptive change needed to reinvent the church in today’s spiritual landscape.   Ministries engaged in adaptive change—ministries on the “outside edge”—help create the “recombinant” church.  Katherine Prince, Vice President of Strategic Foresight, KnowlegeWorks, succinctly describes the recombinant church (

“We forecast that, in ten years, it will no longer be necessary for an individual to adapt to the institutional church as it has so far existed.  Indeed, we forecast the emergence of a recombinant church in which people will be able to put the pieces of the spiritual ecosystem together in new sequences, potentially creating a living system that can keep evolving as people’s needs and the world that we inhabit change.” Katherine Prince, “Exploring the Expanding Spiritual Ecosystem” (Cincinnati: KnowledgeWorks, 2015).

Ministry on the “outside edge” is often discontinuous with the past.  It is undertaken without the ability to define sustainability.  It is part of an iterative experimentation process that has a life of its own, prompted by the Spirit.  It is not subject to regulation although it maintains a thankful and loving relationship with church and denomination.  Such “outside edge” ministry can feel challenging to denominational identity as maintained by, for instance, The Manual, 2019.

The “outside edge” recognizes the power and truth of Gil Rendle’s statement: “There is no going back.”  He continues: “Until leaders can accept that ours is not a turnaround situation, it (our reality) cannot be addressed as a move-ahead situation.  It takes courage to face a reality that is difficult and can’t be turned around to reclaim an earlier day that is remembered as strong and was certainly easier from a leadership perspective.”  (Rendle, Gil.  Quietly Courageous.  Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019, p.21.)

I think most of us—including our denominations—would like to think we are still in a turnaround situation.  We’re not. The challenge for denominations and churches is to understand that the “outside edge” is deeply embedded in the fabric of our Christian heritage; it is worthy of nurture and support.  It asks churches and denominations to take risks that may lead to a reinvented church and a new identity.

Spiritual directors are located on the outside edge.  They can minister inside the church container, but generally spiritual directors offer ministry to those beyond the church. They are not regulated by The Manual, 2019, or subject to the compensation schemes of The United Church of Canada.  One can be a spiritual director and not fit any ministry.  Training is, by and large, separate from requirements for ministers. The Church Hub has no place in the employment of spiritual directors.  (A blockchain account might be the best way in the future that’s unfolding to find spiritual directors, check her/his background, training, and references and establish a ministry contract.) So how do you find a spiritual director?  Spiritual Directors International has a list of spiritual directors; locally, the Anglican Diocese provides a list of spiritual directors that include members of The United Church of Canada as well as the Roman Catholic and Presbyterian churches.

Another notable “outside edge” is The Living School, offered by the Center for Action and Contemplation led by Fr. Richard Rohr.  (See the article by United Church of Canada minister, Therese DesCamp, in the March 2020 issue of Broadview.)  A smaller Canadian version of this approach is offered by SoulStream in BC and Alberta.  (See

The Centre for Courage and Renewal founded by Parker Palmer is another ministry on the “outside edge,” while Margaret Wheatley has developed a program to train spiritual warriors.  And, yet again, the “outside edge” includes the blog Momastery by Glennon Doyle and the related non-profit, Together Rising, which often have all the elements of “church” except hymn singing.

Finally, here on the home front, we are experimenting with a new concept on the “outside edge” called Community Spiritual Companion.  See  The ministry of a Community Spiritual Companion could be incorporated into a ministry position description or be separate from denominational regulation.  It’s a ministry designed to stimulate new forms of church and ministry on the “outside edge.”

Ministry on the “inside edge” is important in its own right, but it also helps us get ready for saying yes to skating on the other edge.  We find our courage in the Spirit by placing ourselves on the edge of uncertainty that holds both the inside and the outside in ministry to all the world.










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