The Labor Day Letter I Wish I Could Send To My Church

Dear Friends,

It’s 6:45 on the evening of Labor Day.  Many of our members are getting set for the second week of school, and some of you are probably running back and forth between the burgers on the grill and continuing coverage of the U.S. Open.  If history is any judge, others are slowly making their way back to Greenwich after another summer in a beloved second place — if that’s you, I hope the traffic through Norwalk isn’t too bad.

In the next few days, you’ll be settling back into your “home” routine, and soon enough, everyone’s calendar will start filling up again.  Halloween candy and decorations are already on the shelves at the A&P — and then it’s the familiar sprint to Thanksgiving, then Christmas.

At church, we’re hoping to see you, too.

But statistics tell us that we won’t see all of you.  On average, across all denominations and across the country, after about six weeks out of the habit of going to church, the likelihood that you’ll return diminishes significantly.

Because you’re gone, we won’t know if it’s something that’s changed for you about our church specifically, about church in general, or about your relationship with God.

All lives have seasons, and sometimes it’s only time away that reveals to us that we are in a new one — the silence of a house now that everyone has left for college, the career that still asks so much when what it offers now doesn’t seem like enough, the end of a marriage or the death of a parent, or the pull of a new dream.  Did some powerful voice speak to your life this summer, and maybe point you in a new direction?

We’d love to hear about it.  You know, if only there were some sort of convenient weekly meeting at a set time and place where we might encounter each other…but I digress.

Most of the time, our curiosity and concern get politely postponed. When we call to check in, people tell us that they’re just so busy but look forward to getting back soon, and thank you for calling.

When you say that, we know that you’re breaking up with us.

There’s a world of difference between “we really must get together sometime” and “let’s have lunch on Tuesday,” isn’t there?

Maybe you’re trying to let us down easy.  Or maybe you aren’t quite ready to admit to yourself that the landscape has shifted.

You wouldn’t believe the number of people who never take their leave, but who just send an email to the church office asking to be removed from the email list.  And the newsletter database.  And the stewardship campaign.

If that’s because, say, caring for an aging parent is wringing you out to dry in every way, by all means, let me know. Let me be your pastor and walk with you through this season in any way I can.

But if it means that, without ever quite saying so, you’ve discovered that golf or little league is your greatest Sunday commitment, then how God fits into the rest of your week is a question only you can answer. Even so, I’d love to help with that, too, if I can.

We want to honor our relationship with you as your life changes.  We also count on you to honor your relationship with us. We can’t make you and would not want to, even if we could.   But we hope you will do right by a community that, at some point, seemed to mean a great deal to you.

So don’t feel guilty or dive out of sight whenever you spot me or the Senior Deacon in the supermarket.I have a different idea: if summer has taught you something new — about yourself, about your family, or about God — and you know you won’t be back, let’s have an exit interview.

I promise that I won’t try to convince you to stay if you promise to tell me honestly about how you’ve encountered God at our church, and what memories are sacred to you, as well as what’s been, well, profane.  Or just blah.  Help us with your wisdom, even if it is just for one last time.

Not sure if you’ll be back? Let’s have that talk, and agree about a sabbatical for you, with permission for me to call at some mutually agreed upon point, even if it’s just to wish you godspeed.

Feeling like you know you’ll be doing something else on Sundays, but can’t imagine family baptisms, weddings, or funerals anywhere else?  Let me tell you what to expect if the pastor you contact turns out to be someone after I’ve moved on.

Because in all those situations, the life of the congregation will be moving on, too.  New stories, new situations, new leadings from God will shape our imagination and our life together.

But if you’re moving on, and so are we, that doesn’t mean that we can’t help each other move forward into whatever God has in store for us both.  And we should.

Somehow, that seems like the Christian thing to do.

Be in touch,

Max

One thought on “The Labor Day Letter I Wish I Could Send To My Church

  1. Peter Luckey

    Well done, Max. How many times in ministry I have had these experiences, felt these emotions. I am amazed and at times disappointed at how evasive people are. Then I think about those who have disagreed with something we have done in the church (Like becoming Open and Affirming) and had the class to come and speak with me in person about what had been troubling them. On the disappointment note, I like what John Thomas (former President of the UCC used to say, “the day I am no longer disappointed in the church is the day I should quit”

    Thank you for taking the time to write this. This would be a great conversation piece at a Deacon’s retreat, etc.

    Peter Luckey

    Like

    Reply

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