Carol Howard Merritt made it clear during Thursday’s (July 26) Synod School keynote address she doesn’t mind a little competition.

Even when she’s competing against herself.

During her 45-minute talk, Merritt used a large screen to display tweets from people commenting ― in real time ― about her talk. The tweets ranged from a tweeter who loves Merritt’s laugh ― “it’s so genuine” ― to comments on the substance of her talk.

The comments may be found at Search for “#SynodSchool.”

Merritt, keynoter at Synod of Lakes and Prairies’ 59th annual Synod School, held last week at Buena Vista University, said today’s use of social media is just another way of recreating the stories our parents and grandparents told while shucking corn on the front porch.

“Now Mom is blogging and exchanging ideas on the Internet,” she said. “When we stopped consuming our entertainment [on television], we become not just consumers but producers as well.”

If you must watch TV, Merritt suggests using a Twitter hashtag to find other fans of your favorite show. “It becomes a communal dialogue,” she said.

She said she looks forward to the day that young consumers know as much about what, for example, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is doing in Haiti and New Orleans as they do about the latest department store social justice campaign, such as “Can buying a t-shirt save the world?”

“When Hurricane Katrina hitNew Orleans, we were the first people down there, and there are still teams going down to help,” she said. “When the disaster hitHaiti, we were already there, and we’re still there. A new generation may be interested in changing the world, but they don’t know what’s going on in our churches because we haven’t told our stories.”

To those who might dismiss the Occupy movement with “Come on! Get a job, you slackers,” Merritt answered with these reminders about the changing economy:

  • More and more young people are now temporary or part-time workers with few benefits
  • College tuition prices have led to ever-larger student debt levels
  • Wages are stagnant, and millions of Americans are stuck in homes they purchased at the height of the housing market. Many are under water with their mortgages.

“This is very difficult for the church,” she said. “Can we begin to really speak out for young adults? People in the Occupy camps would say, ‘We don’t just want a change in the economy and legislative changes. We want to re-imagine a new community in which we share each other’s burdens and each person has what they need.’ What does that sound like?”

When someone shouted out “Friends,” the popular television sitcom, Merritt only laughed and said, “How about Acts, Chapter 2?”

“There is this need to share with one another,” she said. “Anxiety and depression are at their highest levels in decades, mainly because we have cut ourselves off. It’s time to shift the idea of community, to share mutuality, and the church can lead the way on this. We have been doing that for a long time.”

Mike Ferguson is a ruling elder at the United Presbyterian Church of Lone Tree (Iowa), a reporter for “The Muscatine Journal”― the newspaper where Mark Twain got his start ― editor of “Out and About, the enewsletter of the Presbytery of East Iowa, and a frequent contributor (especially this week) to Presbyterian News Service.