My dear friends in Christ,
I know that we are still very much in the process of getting to know each other ~ this pandemic has unfortunately slowed that process down to a fraction of what I believe would have been the case had 2020 been a normal year. And that makes it difficult for me to come to you and say, “trust me” … but that’s what I’m about to do. I’m going to ask you to trust me, because I’m about to take a bit of a risk.
Last week, I received an anonymous note, typed in a plain font and without date, signature, or any other identifying mark, from someone who is apparently very dissatisfied … no, more than that ~ quite upset, actually … at All Saints and (though the note doesn’t mention me by name) at me, personally. I know nothing about the author; I don’t even know for sure that he or she is a member of the parish. All I can say for sure is that it’s someone on our mailing list.
Now, conventional church wisdom, as well as all my seminary training and the advice of many priests who have served for far longer than I, says “ignore it.” And under normal circumstances, I admit I would probably do just that. But that’s just it: 2020 is hardly a “normal” year by any metric, and maybe the fact that this year has been so full of crises … is the best reason not to treat this note like I might in any other year.
I believe that whoever wrote this letter is hurting and maybe afraid. I believe the author feels abandoned, if not outright betrayed, by his or her church. Y’all, it breaks my heart to know that anyone who’s been connected with our All Saints family is feeling that way. And to be prevented from reaching out to this person (because I not only have no idea who wrote the note, but I have no way to find out, either!) breaks my heart a second time.
So … I’m taking a risk. I’m not ignoring this anonymous note. I’m bringing it to all of you, and I’m inviting us to talk about it. Honestly, I don’t hold out much hope (some hope, but not much) that the mystery author will see this response and be willing to talk with me personally. I suspect that if he or she were interested in any sort of follow-up communication, he or she would have left a phone number, or an email address, or at least a name …
But it seems likely to me that if one person on our mailing list is having such thoughts & feelings, then someone else out there is probably having similar thoughts and feelings, too, and I do hold out a real hope that it’s not too late for us to connect, or at least converse, and see what kind of relationship we can build.
So, here’s the thing: you all need to know that each and every one of y’all can talk to me about anything.
If you’re worried about something, tell me about it. If you’re concerned about something, tell me about it. If something in the world has got you scared, talk to me ~ don’t try to carry that burden all alone!
And for God’s sake, if you’re angry, even if you’re furious, holler at me! Especially if what you’re furious about is something that I, as your priest, am doing. Or not doing.
You’re not going to hurt my feelings (and even if you were, that’s no excuse for me not to listen to you!), and if you don’t talk to me about it, it’s almost guaranteed to get worse, whatever it is.
So that’s the general message ~ talk to me! That’s it. Just know that you can talk to me, and that I will listen.
Of course, I cannot guarantee that I won’t talk back.
I say that somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but also with a hint of seriousness, as well. Let me explain…
My vocation ~ my job and my calling ~ here with you is defined by my ordination vows. As the bishop says in the ordination liturgy, I am “called to work as a pastor, priest, and teacher” (BCP 531), and I take those roles very, very seriously. So you might say that fully one third of my job here at All Saints is to teach.
Now, pastoring and teaching are two different things, but my job and calling include both. Part of my vocation (as pastor) is to provide comfort, support, encouragement, counsel, and healing; and part of my vocation (as teacher) is to provide information, inspiration, challenge, and even gentle correction. Sometimes, I have to be pastor and teacher at the same time.
That should tell you two things about me:
First, if you’re concerned, or hurting, or afraid, or angry, about anything, you can come to me and unload everything you’re feeling. When you’re talking to me, you are safe! So get it all out, and say what you need to say.
Second, I will always speak truth with you. The Church is God’s house, and our God is the God of truth ~ our God is Truth. So as Christians, we have to seek the truth, always. So if you come to me and you’re upset about something that isn’t true, I will hear you and listen to you and comfort you … but I will also, always, be truthful with you. I have to. Anything less would be a disservice to you.
I mention the importance of truth because, of the four sentences in the anonymous note I received, all four contained statements or assertions that are factually untrue. Two of them expressed virulent ~ and easily debunked ~ conspiracy theories based upon Q-Anon propaganda.
Folks, that won’t do. Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life.” As his followers, we must constantly guard against letting ourselves be taken in by falsehoods, deceptions, lies, or any kind of distortion of truth.
But here’s the thing: even though the author of this anonymous note got his or her facts completely wrong, nevertheless, the underlying pain, fear, and anger are very real, and they cry out for help, for ministering, for pastoral care ~ they cry out just to be heard.
And that is what I am here for. Literally, it’s my job. Beyond that, it’s my calling. It’s why God formed me to be who I am, and it’s why God brought me here to this place.
So if you’re upset, bring it to me, and let’s at the very least share that burden together. Or if you’re upset at me, then pick up the phone, shoot me an email, or ask for a Zoom meeting so you can be upset at me, to my face. Again, when you’re with me, you are safe. So bring me whatever you’ve got, and let’s work through it together.
I love you. I am blessed to have the opportunity to minister among you and to share with you in the work that God has given us to do. And I so look forward to walking with you in faith towards wherever God is leading us next.
Yours always in Christ,
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Phone (920) 734-3656 or (920) 249-4147