The Word

Who is the Internet Generation?

Who is the Internet Generation?
Credit: e-Learning Infographics

So, there I am, it’s 1997 and I’m not an atypical Gen-X’er. I distrust(ed) institutions, certainly lumped organised religion into that camp and I am (was) cynical about most public offices, politicians, celebrities, and certainly men and women who claimed to lead their flock.

Of course, in this clearly defined land of mine there was a problem … more like a longing that had already driven me to explore other avenues of spiritual expression where I might be able to explore faith! And – no matter where I went – I kept coming back to the Christian-fold. And – somewhat begrudgingly – I thought I would give this United Church of Canada (UCC) a spin. After all, even my well plated armour of cynicism was not able to deflect that this denomination had wrestled openly with the harm done to Indigenous communities in 1986 and in 1988 had embraced an evolving theology of diversity and sexual orientation.

In 1997, sitting in Queen Street United Church in Kingston, Ontario, during my first graduate programme, I experienced The Word: the talking part of a protestant worship service and it blew me away! This talking component – sometimes called the Reflection, Meditation, Homily or Sermon – was novel to me as someone pretty much unchurched.

Now I knew about oratory and speech making – after all I was studying Classical History. I had heard the rants of Christians bent on convincing you that hate could look like love, but this was not that. It was part speech, part lecture, part contextual and whole lot of challenge! I was hooked …

In 2003 (now a member of the UCC) I found myself sitting in an arena during the Annual Gathering of Saskatchewan Conference. The theme presenter led us through a series of reflections about Fear, Faith and Fortitude. At the same time, I was sitting in the midst of a whack of Diaconal Ministers (a stream of ministry relatively unknown to me at that time) and the hook went to wham! That wham led to my own call to ministry …

word is a word

word is a word
Credit: Procsilas Moscas

I have not felt called to The Word – or liturgy/ritual of worship – but I am totally dependent on the direction, insight and awakening that can occur, especially when the person offering the reflection makes space for the community to hear something new, even if it is difficult. This public gathering is no longer normal – though it might have been a generation ago. When people now gather as community it’s usually for a sporting event, concert or some form of extroverted expression wrapped in a focus that does not encourage getting to know one another. But The Word … well it possesses potential to transform people, both as individuals or as a collective. It’s certainly powerful and there’s a ‘but’ in there that makes people uncomfortable.

Discomfort arises because central – in my experience – to The Word is that you have to find a way to let go of your individual or corporate ego. When you sit through the liturgy of the people, space is made to confront your own assumptions with where it is that God might be leading. What does the wisdom of the ministry of Jesus the Christ have to say in our Now? What do we do if the soil in which we find ourselves, is no longer what it once was? The answer to any or all of these questions can be a radical and exciting realignment of where we thought we were going and where we might take a tangent into the unknown.

The Word: it’s been almost 20 years since I experienced a worship experience that challenged me to look into the mirror and face some uncomfortable assumptions. But it’s been an awakening journey ever since. I wonder with what our UCC might be wrestling and how The Word might inspire us, you and me to hear something new, even if it might lead into the unknown?

Let me know what you hear this Sunday, Sisters and Brothers. Let me know seekers and doubters, what might happen this Sunday if you try something new. Letting go and letting God … it’s scary … and it’s most certainly enlivening!

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2017-04-26T14:02:46+00:00July 17th, 2014|Tags: , , , , |


  1. Daniel July 19, 2014 at 13:09 - Reply

    As you know, I’ve struggled in the same way, although I ended up back at the Catholic church. Even churches struggle within themselves, something to which you alluded regarding the UCC, and not just what they’re going to be but also what they’ve been. Heaven knows the Church has had to face things from its distant and not so distant past, and some of those wounds on the face of the church go deep into the body of it. Some of those wounds even make the struggle to hear the Word harder, at least for me, but I like to think that I can be forever recovering from my lingering deficiencies and listen.

    • Richard July 20, 2014 at 14:49 - Reply

      Thanks Daniel! It just occurred to me – reading your own sharing – that perhaps the learning comes through actually confronting and not avoiding. Maybe embracing the mistakes to do something new is sometimes how we (with Grace) begin to transform ourselves and others. Does that make sense?

  2. Keith Simmonds July 19, 2014 at 19:58 - Reply

    Interesting, discerning diaconal ministry probably precludes predilections for proclaiming and prophesying, but you’re opining on offering observers an opportunity to obliterate oblivion through, perhaps, obversion?

    • Richard July 20, 2014 at 14:47 - Reply

      Keith … did you steal a diaconal alliteration book for the letters ‘p’ and ‘o?’ 🙂

      • Keith Simmonds July 20, 2014 at 15:04 - Reply

        Nah, the Ps came easily, seemed to be there waiting…most of the Os too, although I may have had some research assistance from the folk at Google…sorry about that. Give me a word to go on…

        It is something I’ve been pondering lately. Bringing a discerning eye, a hopeful response and an encouragement to personal/communal exploration. As you know I am in a call where practicing the word is a weekly opportunity. Thank you for raising the topic.

        • Richard July 20, 2014 at 15:09 - Reply

          So can you say more about the ‘discerning eye.’ Do you mean from your own perspective or in respect to my own reference about not feeling Called to The Word?

          • Keith Simmonds July 20, 2014 at 16:35

            Well, in the context of my comment I was referring to the weekly opportunity to open up a portal for reflection, consideration and contemplation in and amongst those who attend, in person, at a communal experience of worship. Discernment is a part of the process I/we undergo. Leading up to worship, in the experience of worship (of which a reflective offering – known as “Word” when used to describe a particular form of call in our denomination – is part), and – perhaps, following worship in the daily reality of lived response.

            As to your reference to not feeling Called to the Word, I would offer a question about what is meant by ‘the Word’, as you discern it? In the context of the thoughts expressed above, it would seem to mean standing up in front of a congregation and delivering a reflection with Scripture, Experience, Context, and Spirit in hand. That is one of the ways we are sometimes startled into seeing the country we live in through new perspectives. But is it the only venue for proclaiming the Word? Would another agree that you are not called to the Word?

          • Richard July 20, 2014 at 17:33

            Thanks for taking the time to reflect further Keith – always a pleasure! I like the way you have framed the weekly opportunity – it is indeed an important, if not necessary, time for a community to discern where their own expectations and Call meet.

            In respect to your challenge in the second paragraph – I think my own clarity is around the liturgical aspect and differentiating between function of the role, for which I may have gifts and skill, and Call as the place in which I am able to let go of ego and control. Does that make sense?

          • Keith Simmonds July 20, 2014 at 19:39

            I think I need to hear a bit more. If I understand you correctly you feel you can function as a liturgical guide/leader, but are more able to let go of self as centre by responding to Call in the ways you are currently living that out (I’m not entirely familiar with all of the ways you’re living it out right now, but I think that’s what I’m hearing). Would that be a fair approximation of what you’re saying?

          • Richard July 20, 2014 at 22:42

            Well summarised. When I was in Congregational context, I had the gift of having an ‘in-house’ liturgist 😉 You’re very wise 🙂

          • Keith Simmonds July 20, 2014 at 23:54

            Well then, let’s consider the moments you describe (above) in ’97 and ’03 – the realizations, or incendiary moments of ignition, that took place. I wonder if experiencing the Word in a similar way would require a similar setting/thread (space more or less defined as worship) , or if the Word and its setting/thread might be offered in another space and utilizing a less (to UCC folk) familiar liturgy?

          • Richard July 21, 2014 at 03:18

            Space: that’s an interesting nuance. I am not sure the space matters – per se – and at the same time the ritual of the space (in a place) I think can be conducive for The Word to be experienced. Of course such an experience treads close to Grace … so perhaps there are other facets a 500-800 word blog cannot fully explore (yes that was a rhetorical revelation 😉 ).

          • Keith Simmonds July 21, 2014 at 03:22

            Well, perhaps so. But maybe a 500-800 word blog can be the Word, too.

          • Richard July 21, 2014 at 13:20

            It can indeed – but one of the realities of a blog is the recognition that it is often an opening to dialogue, as opposed to a definitive stand alone piece. The context of the digital environment is understood to be a place where time and attention are at a premium. The hope – therefore – is the engagement that might follow. Which – I can hear you now – may in fact be The Word. Though in this space, I wonder about the loss of communal ritual. Thoughts?

          • Keith Simmonds July 21, 2014 at 14:13

            I wonder about that too. My ‘jury’ is out on whether or not E space is communal, and whether or not ritual can be communal in an E space environment. I’m not a gamer, but those I know seem to find community in, around and through some of those environments, and facebook (for all its interwovern problematic underpinnings and agendas) brings me into conversation and consideration of voices in the circle I would never otherwise be in community with…so I wonder. Will there/is there a liturgy taking shape? Can one be intentionally recognised and further developed? Does this adjunct an in-person experience? Can we utilize liturgy more in our inperson gatherings. Would that add to the experience of revelation and integration?

          • Richard July 21, 2014 at 16:49

            I think any space can be communal – I think the e-environment just requires new ways of intention. Have you looked into what the Anglican Church is doing – for instance – in Second Life? It is very interesting to see such an exploration of what a liturgical experience might be like in such a milieu.

  3. Richard July 22, 2014 at 16:32 - Reply

    Thanks for this Daniel. As I was writing and musing about this blog, I was well aware that ‘The Word’ possesses several other meaning throughout the Christian tradition. As you have said, Christ as The Word or Wisdom of God. As well, other denominational understanding contain further nuances as well. In fact, all of these variables seemed to pick-up on the connected Seeds blog ( about the various meanings that are contained in parables. This has indeed been a rich discussion! Thanks!

Your reflections are most welcome!

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