Echo #9 – May 17, 2011

“What does this research have to say to the Ordinands of 2011?”
– addressing their hopes, their fears… and their careers

I had the opportunity to meet with two groups of graduating ministry students recently:
five ordinands at the Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax on March 10,
and several more on March 21 in Montreal,
students graduating from United Theological School,
Presbyterian College, and Diocesan College.
They will all be ordained in the next few weeks.

In Halifax, the meeting was arranged by Martha Martin (the UCC campus minister at Dalhousie who is also part of the ministry team at St. Andrew’s) and Rob Fennell (AST professor of Historical and Systematic Theology). In Montreal, the event was organized by Angelika Piché (UTC, Director of Continuing and Lay Education).
Thank you!

The two groups were different in several interesting respects;
but I was struck by three themes that were common to the two conversations.

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Echoes #1 to 8 are posted at

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Echo #8 – April 26, 2011

“Help us to grow as a listening, discerning, learning people.”
That is from a prayer in the “Call to Purpose” document, adopted by the United Church General Council in 2007.

The Listening to The Echo project is an ethnographic study, and I’ll be speaking about the methodology in terms of cultural anthropology at the Canadian Society for the Study of Religion meeting in Fredericton at the end of May. But I insist that it also rests on a biblical theology of respectful sensitivity to others, a sensitivity that has not always been a feature of church history.

The Church emphasizes proclamation.
Church history is a narrative of powerful proclamation, often to less powerful societies.

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Echoes #1 to 7 are posted at

If you would like to receive new Echoes via email, you can address me at

I’ll be sending out weekly Echoes for the next two months.

Echo #7 – April 19, 2011: I’ve Been Listening to the Echo

I’ve been Listening to The Echo.

So the sounds of Holy Week echo

    in my ear
    this year:

    * the loud
        and the crowd,
      the Hosannas of Sunday past.
    * the hymns of the Passover supper.
    * the words of prayer.
    * the shouts of a malevolent mob.
    * the sound of a whip tearing flesh
    * the sound of a hammer driving nails.

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Echoes #1 to 6 are posted at

If you would like to receive new Echoes via email, you can address me at

I’ll be sending out several more Echoes in the next six weeks.

Echo #6 – April 12, 2011: “Echo Spirituality” – Six Types of Young Adult Spirituality

Generalizing about social trends among Canadian youth and young adults can be misleading. “Listening to The Echo” is a research project that concentrates on “adulto-lescents” who are not active in formal religious communities. But I don’t want to suggest that the entire generation or cohort is behaving in a unified, coherent way.

Many different social dynamics are occurring at the same time in our society. Parents and grandparents notice that children and grandchildren may be more religious or more traditional than they are; and, of course, some see their children and grandchildren drop out from religious community.

This true for Christians and Jews, Muslims and Hindus – everyone.

We don’t know how this breaks down in our Canadian population, and I am not attempting to discover that in any statistically-reliable, quantitative study. But there is recent American research that may serve as a reference point.

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Next week: Echo #7: an “Echo moment” in Holy Week.

Echoes #1 to 5 are posted at

If you would like to receive new Echoes via email, you can address me at

I’ll be sending out weekly Echoes for the next two months.

Echo #5 – February 14, 2011: The UCC – the Unknown Church of Canada

I’m hearing a lot of ignorance about the United Church, confusing us with Catholicism and American fundamentalists without distinctions. To me, as a United Church leader, that’s so disappointing. The official theology of the United Church is something that many of these young adults would embrace if they knew about it. They often articulate it.

Download the full document:
Echo 5 February 14, 2011 (.doc format)

Echo #3 – January 31, 2011: Listening to an Echo

This young woman, from a United Church background, graduated from high school in 2006.
If you could do a follow-up interview with this individual, what would you like to ask her?

“I grew up attending a United Church every Sunday.
I attended church every Sunday from pre-school until it came time for me to take
confirmation classes, around the age of twelve. At which point I decided that organized
religion was not what I wanted to commit my life to.”

Download the full document:
Echo 3 Listening to an Echo (.doc format)

Echo #1 – January 17, 2011: Introduction

“Listening to The Echo” is a research project which seeks to hear and re-present the wisdom, spirituality and perspective of young adults who are not participating in organized religion.

There are more than 8 million people in Canada who were born between 1978 and 1999, nearly 100 million in the United States. Their parents are the Baby Boomers, the Big Generation born after the Second World War. This younger cohort is often called the Echo Generation – the Echo from the Boom… The Church might call them the Lost Generation…

Download the full document:
Echo 1 January 17, 2011 (.doc format)