Yesterday, I received my first anonymous letter as Senior Minister.
It was an extended complaint about one of the on-site staff, though not about me.
Here’s a taste:
“I am extremely disgusted every time I arrive to the church. It seems every week he has some new sport machine filling the church’s parking lot. I AM SICK AND TIRED OF SEEING ALL HIS PERSONAL JUNK. HE IS AN EMPLOYEE OF THE CHURCH AND NO EMPLOYEE SHOULD EVER BE ALLOWED TO SPREAD THEIR PERSONAL INTEREST AROUND HIS EMPLOYER’S PROPERTY. Let it be known I am not alone with this matter.”
Ah. Of course not. And let me guess–should this matter fail to be rectified forthwith, you shall be forced to withdraw your memberships in protest? Yes, that was there too:
“We all feel the same way and are fed-up. Collectively, several of us are beginning to look towards other churches.”
Wow–don’t throw me in that briar patch, sir.
And yet, of course, it hurts.
It’s a letter that, on so many levels, has nothing to do with me, or for that matter, with the person it’s complaining about. Its tone of aggrieved aristocracy might be more fitting on “Downtown Abbey” than it is in the Age of Twitter, and it might be less a complaint that looks for remedy than an angry elegy for a world gone by.
But it’s also still about me. It’s about the institution I lead, the tone I set, and the relationships I foster. I mean, wow…anonymous letter? I would have expected a stern conversation in some other place, maybe even over lunch at the country club. But an anonymous letter? That’s also about me.
Most of all, though, it’s about the Gospel I proclaim. And that’s what I feel worst about. Because I’ve been preaching God’s Word here as deeply and creatively as I know how, trying to be faithful and to support and nurture faith in this community with everything short of a top hat and a cane….and after over two years, here’s one–and maybe more–who remain as broken and blinkered as ever. This letter is Exhibit A.
I don’t want to suggest that grace and graciousness are always the same thing. Paul was graceful but not particularly gracious. Throughout Christian history, the list of others just like that we might name is, by and large, the church’s honor roll.
But if Paul challenged us to speak the truth in love, what are we to do with those who speak the small in contempt? I mean, good heavens: is this what faith is to this poor man and the others like him?
More urgently, if it is, how do we find ways to reach them, and the energy to keep trying?
And what does it mean that, instead of spending the first hour of my morning following up with people who named “concerns” during our prayer time for “Joys and Concerns,” I spent it staring at the envelope for that letter, trying to recognize the handwriting?
How was the Gospel served by that, exactly?
I can’t say that it was.
I can say that, just after lunch, with the help of the Office Manager, I figured out who had written the letter.
I am trying to think about what I’ll say. I may just write a letter of my own.
Would Jesus want me to sign it, or not?