Aw, people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. Forty percent of all people know that.”
In a 1994 episode of The Simpsons
, Homer Simpson was clearly suffering from an acute case of opinion survey overload. Can you blame him? Everywhere we turn, it seems, someone wants to slice, dice, crunch and slow-cook our views on just about everything — usually when we’re sitting down to dinner.
How would Homer view the survey available in this month's print edition
? If he were a member of The United Church of Canada, I hope he would grasp that it’s not every day that you get a chance to tell the rest of the church about the things that matter to you. I also hope he’d understand that filling out the survey could help the church set a course for the future. We’ve timed it so that the results will be available before the 41st General Council this summer.
We’re not trying to say what course the church should set — that’s the job of General Council commissioners and other decision-makers. We’re certainly not saying that this General Council will or has to be the one to unlock the secrets of the United Church’s future. But I think it’s fair to say that the church has been searching for a sense of direction since the day it woke up to discover that the culture had become secularized and the old ways of being the church no longer worked. If you’re going to talk about setting directions — and let’s face it, every General Council in living memory has — it’s a good idea to know something about the passengers journeying with you.
So this survey is designed to shed some light on the things our readers believe are important in their personal and collective church lives. The fact that most of the people who will complete the survey read this magazine will naturally skew the results — Observer readers are probably better-informed about the United Church than non-readers, and their theological points of view may well be shaped by the theology that is explicit and implicit in our pages. But our readers also tend to be engaged with the church, and therefore represent a good sampling of United Church people who care about where their church is headed. (You can help to un-skew the results by photocopying the survey and giving it to non-subscribers in your congregation to fill out and mail in.)
You need to return your completed survey to us by the end of March. Rest assured that your responses will remain completely anonymous — we don’t even want to know your name, only the first three digits of your postal code so we can analyze regional differences. The results will be professionally and independently tabulated this spring, and we’ll report on them in our July/August issue. I hope you use this opportunity to contribute to the ongoing conversation about your church’s future. Maybe you’ll find yourself thinking about things you haven’t really considered carefully until now. That’s a worthwhile exercise, too.
Yes, this is another survey in a survey-weary world. But I think you’ll find it’s different from the others. And best of all, we didn’t interrupt your dinner.
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