Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The times they are a-changin'...

I often ponder change. I wonder why it is so difficult for some while others easily take the stance of "It don't bother me, Poppy." People leave churches where they have worshipped for decades--even generations--if something changes that they feel they cannot bear. It is usually not a major theological shift--it is usually something like the 7:30 AM Sunday Morning service is shifted to begin at 7:45 AM or someone moved the flag to a different spot in the church. I am also aware that sometimes people depart a congregation they have loved for very good reasons.

But the truth is: change happens. Constantly. Even the details, the every day little things in our lives, are constantly changing. This summer Tom and I attended some worship services at Montreat Conference Center (which is just down the road from where we live). We noticed that the younger ministers preached directly from their laptops or iPads--no written, printed out copies. I am not there yet, but I liked this a lot. Seems environmentally friendly as well as an expression of the immediacy of the text and the ability to change/edit rapidly.

I read this post by Tom Ehrich on Mary MacGregor's blog ( and now I pass it on. Both Mary and Tom's blogs are well-worth following. I like it how posts can pass along from blog to blog to blog (appropriately credited, of course!)--it seems a new way of sharing the good news, or as D.T. Niles put it, " beggar telling another beggar where to find bread."

Here's how Mary introduced Tom's post:

I have come to appreciate Tom Ehrich's blog 'Morning Walk Media' alot. Recently he posted the following article. I hope he doesn't mind me copying it for you all to read. It is about the things we often cherish or think are essential that are only a means to an end and are disappearing from our lives. This includes church buildings. I urge you to read it and consider the implications for you as a missionary leader. Here goes:

The Yawning Divide Between Pencils and IPads
by Tom Ehrich, Religion News Service

In preparing a commencement address this week, I decided to werite it on my new Apple iPad, sitting on a sofa beside a window, using an app called Quickoffice. Big deal, you say. But, think about it.

A month ago, I didn't own an iPad. I had never heard of Quickoffice. I had never imagined that a touch-screen keyboard could be satisfying. I carried 20 pounds of gear, files and books onto an airplane; now I tote around a 1.3 pound iPad.

In one month's time, everthing has changed. What's the point? The point is change-rapid change, change in even the most basic functions we perform, like stringing words into sentences. New gear, new media, new ways to express thoughts, to store and process images, share ideas, collaborate with others, and manage time. Of all the current tools I use in my work, only one, a mechanical pencil, was in my toolkit a year ago.

Is it all about gadgets? Not in the least. I read this week about a family that sold their property in Arizona and now just travel around in a Winnebago, doing their jobs by internet and laptops. Others live and work on boats or run businesses from coffee shops.

My list: no car, no checkbook, no landline telephone, no lawn mower. Much that I considered normal a few years ago isn't even part of my life now.

Churches are forming without buildings, pipe organs, stained glass windows, pews or wood-paneled offices. Bricks and mortar universities are moving online. Even dating has moved online.

The point isn't to extol technology, but to note that most of these changes will seem normal any day now. Former ways, it turns out, weren't essential. We want to fall in love, yes, but whether we do so at a church social, company picnic, group meetup, or is just a detail.

We need to eat, but whether we shop at a corner market, a huge Cosco or online grocery is just a detail.

We need to have faith, but whether we find it in a building with a steeple, a house church, or walking with a friend is just a detail.

A divide is openining between those who still consider the details of yesterday's normal to be necessary and those who perceive the details as optional. When something is necessary, you fight to preserve it. When it becomes optional, letting go is no big deal.

Church buildings, for example , feel like sacred space and a solemn trust to some people, who sacrifice much to preserve them. Others say, "So what? We can worship in a hotel ballroom, meet at Starbucks, study online, and find the sacred anywhere." The point is faith , not facilitites.

Sorting out these two perspectives is wrenching work, filled with misunderstanding, suspicion of motives, loss of employment, loss of certainty, loss of common ground for imagining basic things. These deep divides aren't about age or maturity, education or income, or intangibles like respect. It's more disposition than anything. It's like the gulf between ranchers and farmers a century ago over need for fences. There are elements of self-interest, but also different ways of seeing history, land, values and future.

The obvious answer is to coexist: some using pencils, some iPads. But when so much is changining, and details are in constant dispute, the bonds of community can get strained.

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York.. He is the author of "Just Wonder, Jesus" and founder of the Church Welllness Project. His website is Follow Tom on Twitter@tomehrich.

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