By The Rev. Jean Niven Lenk
Pastor of the First Congregational Church of Stoughton, United Church of Christ.
General Synod affords clergy and lay people from United Church of Christ congregations across the country the opportunity to come together face-to-face – what a concept in our high-tech world of cyber relationships!
Yesterday (Saturday) I attended a workshop on using technology in a church setting. The leader’s premise was that the message does not change, only the way it is communicated. Therefore, in the 21st century, Facebook and Twitter can be effective ways to spread the Good News of Gospel. Indeed, they are the best (perhaps only?) ways to reach the younger generation, which considers email impossibly old-fashioned. I see this in my 14-year-old son who doesn’t have an email address and wouldn’t dream of actually calling a person – including his own mother -- on the phone; he uses his cell strictly for texting.
Then this morning I participated in a committee meeting in which we debated the possibility of holding General Synod less frequently – every three to four years rather than biennially. There are solid pragmatic reasons to consider this proposal – costs are rising exponentially; from a purely financial perspective, a triennial or quadrennial Synod makes sense. One former Conference Minister noted that most delegates are age 50+ -- the last generation that thinks the only way to communicate is face-to-face.
But what is lost when face-to-face communications are replaced by technology? In the 80s, John Naisbitt came out with a book entitled Megatrends in which he noted (even back then) that we can become too high tech at the expense of “high touch” aspects of life such as hope, love, forgiveness, and spiritually.
Yes, there is much we can do technologically. And yet… and yet… tactile communication still has a place in human relationships and also in UCC conventions, where community, collegiality, connectionality and a sense of family are treasured.
Ours is an incarnational faith. Gathering together in person is the very essence of church. Indeed, it is a long and cherished tradition of our congregational polity that we are gathered by the Holy Spirit in order to be guided by the Holy Spirit. Can such God-guided discernment take place electronically? I think not.