This is the beginning of a kind of diary of a sabbatical project. I’ll explain in a bit.
To start with, I’m a 56 year old minister at the Unitarian Church of Edmonton, Canada. I have been a minister for 24 years, which means I went to school a long time ago back when churches were churches and the Internet was barely into its infancy.
“Churches were churches?” Yep. Meaning you went mostly on Sunday mornings to hear some guy like me brilliantly, wisely (and, of course, humbly!) sermonizing about life, religion, politics sometimes, morality, principles and so on. There were hymns and music and an offering and children some of the time…you know, church.
That still happens, of course, but church is changing, no matter what flavour of religious popsicle you lick. It used to be that we (who were part of them) all understood how church worked. The church was really run by volunteers who were members who stuck around for at least 5 years and often 30 or 40. They passed around the jobs and supported the church with money as well. They were the pillars and the backbone.
The thing is, we are entering a new age. Volunteers are harder to find. The idea of commitment and even community is changing in the age of social media, the Twitterverse and radical democratic communication.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. Everything changes in time and technology is not to blame…never has been. Ever since the invention of the alphabet, people have been complaining that these technological innovations would be the ruin of society as we know it. I’m serious about the alphabet complaints, BTW and will mention that in another post. True society changed, but it was because people had new tools and chose how to make use of them in ways they thought made their lives better. I can’t challenge the will of that many people.
But the change brings anxiety to church systems. For one thing those aging pillars still want the church to be the place they knew and where they can still feel comfortable. Seems pretty reasonable to me. They invested the time and money and deserve that support. The trouble is that not enough newer church members share those expectations, or are willing to give to the community in the same way their elders did with either time or money. And this is a generation not likely to have as much money to contribute anyway. That’s fine too.
The challenge for today’s church leaders, lay and ordained, is how to serve the needs of both groups in what is certainly a period of transition and may even be a Digital Reformation.
My Edmonton congregation has kindly granted me an earned sabbatical of several months and I have decided to try to learn and explore these issues. As a first step I am in Chicago right now at my old seminary, Meadville/Lombard. Next Monday we begin a week of intensive lectures on digital/spiritual literacy. I have been doing a lot of prep reading for the course and a lot of ideas are firing across my synapses.
This blog will be a place to share some ideas that I learn, explore some of the things that come my way and hopefully, be a place where people like you can help me learn more.
So this is the start.
And in closing I want to offer a shout out to Elizabeth Drescher, the scholar and author of Tweet if You Love Jesus: Practicing Church in the Digital Reformation. Her term Digital Reformation – used in my title – suggests that we are seeing change that is far greater than a minor alteration in the way we do church. Instead she thinks we are on the edge of a completely new paradigm for religious discussion and discernment, one driven not by fogeys like me, but by all of you, empowered by the radical democratization of communication tools and abilities.
Let’s see where this leads, shall we?