What’s in a Name (Part 2)

In case you missed it, read about what prompted us to begin marketing ourselves externally as
“SSUC: Spiritual Seekers United in Community”. Read What’s in a Name (part 1)

Who are Millennials? 

Millennials are the generation born somewhere from the late 1970’s until the late 1990’s. There’s much debate about what defines this generation, but some of what makes them unique is that they are marrying later; are upbeat about their economic future, despite the fact that almost 60 percent of them do not have full-time jobs and are likely living at home; are heavily into social networking; and communicate almost entirely through smart phones. 59 percent of millennials with a Christian background are not attending church, and some eight million in North America will leave the church before age 30. According to Rachel Held Evans, millennials, more than any other generation, will not choose between science and religion, but want spaces to doubt, to wrestle with questions about meaning, sexuality, science, beliefs and understandings, without committing to a worldview, an institution. Instead wanting matters of spirituality to be more than a set of beliefs or rules to obey, but rather a lifestyle to live, values to pursue, and a conduit to make a positive impact on their world.

What has the church always done?

In each generation, the Christian church has had to decide if and how it would change to speak the language of the time. Whether it be literally translating words and rituals into the language of the people they were serving, or taking stands on justice issues to side with the marginalized, or whether to shift their theological focus, age-old customs and practices to meet a changing world, the way the historical church has had to communicate what it offers has always had to meet people in the reality of their experience.

How are we speaking today’s language?

Throughout its 50 year history, Southminster-Steinhauer United Church has been emboldened to have conversations about the kind of community that would express Christianity relevantly for the south side of Edmonton. It decided from the beginning to be different – to be less focused on a church building and more focused on helping populations who were under served. From the start, the expression of spirituality experienced by this congregation was in how a life and love exhibited in Jesus helped inspire a life and love of community, outreach, justice and communal leadership. Those decisions have had lasting impact in continuing the evolution of how this Christianity could be expressed within the community. In recent years we’ve been expanding the act of questioning and exploring as this community seeks to be inspired by wisdom of the Jesus tradition alongside the valuable wisdom of other traditions and sources. In its public gatherings and studies, SSUC has never been afraid to imagine ancient traditions for what meaning they might have in the 21st century, and if they have none, to leave them in the past. Being committed to inclusivity, we’ve taken steps that help exclusive god-talk language be opened so that we can be focus on how we’re connected by our common humanity and desire to live and exhibit the best of our values.

Spiritual Seekers United in Community: why use that phrase?

Using our acronym, SSUC as both a short form for our name (Southminster-Steinhauer United Church) and as a descriptive phrase (spiritual seekers united in community), we are describing ourselves to our target demographic. We want people who might be drawn to a community of value-oriented spirituality to know who we are at first glance. We wish not to hide the richness of our community, but to shine a light on who we are and what we are about to those who’d be very interested. What we’re learning about these often younger people who are finding their way to us, is that they don’t give us a chance because they are don’t get past the word ‘church’ before they write us off. We know that there are those who won’t give us a second look because they don’t think anything called “church” could possibly be relevant to them. But testimonies of some of our newest members reveal to us that this community is much different and much more than the conception they had of ‘church’.

Let’s think of this phrase as a tool. It gets frustrating to describe the kind of christian you are by having to describe what kind of christian you aren’t. The phrase is one tool that has helped many of us describe what we do together in a positive way rather than saying ‘yes, we are a church but not that kind of church’. It isn’t helpful to have only negative responses in describing who we aren’t rather than a simple positive statement that encapsulates what we ARE. We are spiritual: embracing the long history of spirituality, rooted in the Jesus tradition. We are seekers: not limited and constrained to one interpretation of a tradition but seeking wisdom and meaning wherever it can be found. We are united: yes, connected to a denomination but also united in our efforts to live our values and make a difference together. We are in community: recognizing that we all need to love and be loved, to be supported in our often-isolating world to celebrate our diversity and demonstrate compassion. What a positive and easy way to share who we are and what we’re about – all in four letters: SSUC.

Some results so far…

The phrase spiritual seekers united in community interests our newcomers a lot. We have much more contact with younger adults as a result of their interest in a spiritual community. This way of describing ourselves has helped the Rainbow Connection program describe who we are to the more than 20 young adults who participate on Monday evenings for meditation and yoga, to the 100 children, young adults, and families who come to rainbow connection all age dance parties. We inevitably have conversations with people at those events who ask, “I can’t believe a church is hosting this event! What kind of a church is this?”  How heartening to look at our Facebook followers and know so few of them personally, many representing a generation that we are thrilled to connect with.  How heartening to see newcomers in our Sunday circle who have had the courage it takes to venture here in person – here because they identify themselves as spiritual seekers who want to find community.

Our newly relaunched website (where you’re currently reading this) is mobile friendly. Did you know that over 80% of users view this site on their mobile devices? Just a year ago, our old site would receive about 50 visits per week. The new site is pulling about 260 sessions per week and 2000 page views.

We’re working for our future

The name Southminster-Steinhauer carries lots of important history and is treasured by many who’ve been here for 40 or 50 years. We imagine that this name will remain significant within our community for years to come. One of the things we learn from two millenia of church history is that the beauty of our community, the foundations it is built upon, and the message it has for the world is a great legacy, but only if it remains nimble enough to survive. All of us want our community to continue its important legacy with new generations and new people. To do that, we’ll always need to find effective ways to communicate what’s unique about us. In an age when denominational brands don’t carry much freight anymore, where most of the young adults who connect with us have no idea what’s different about lutheran, anglican, baptist, united or catholic but see us all as “church” while not thinking that “church” has much to offer them, we can evolve, we can be who we are in new ways and in ways that honour the past and the changing present. How exciting to be part of that evolution.