Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Anonymous Letter

I received an anonymous letter in the mail at church last week. It came in a plain white envelope with no return address. It was addressed, simply, to the Pastor. Inside was a neatly typed, well written unsigned half page communication. From what had been written, I could only gather that it was from a church member, presumably a lady.
Over the last four decades, I have received several unsigned letters. Having served on my local Board of Education, the city Board of Zoning Adjustment, a Seminary Board of Trustees, a Little League Board of Directors, a State Baptist Convention officer, and with four decades of pastoral ministry, sometimes anonymous letters just go with the territory. Generally these letters have been angry in tone, accusatory, and down right mean. Some were unsigned because the writers "feared for their jobs" (perhaps a valid concern in some cases). Others were unsigned, simply because the poison pen authors were simply too cowardly to sign their names. A former School Board colleague once told me, "If they won't do me the courtesy of identifying themselves, I won't waste my time reading their letter. It goes straight into the trash."
I've read every anonymous letter I have ever received. Some raised valid concerns, but most were quite deserving of the "round file" that sits in the floor beside my desk.
This letter was different.
It made me sad.
The person who wrote it, was either a member of our church or someone who at least has attended for a while. From the content of the letter, one could assume the author was a woman, based on what seems to be her perspective in the writing. However, a reading of the letter also indicated that she may have been more peripheral in her church relationship, and not very familiar with church polity, or past practice.
This dear lady apparently had an idea that she had shared with someone else before the service last Sunday morning. She thought her suggestion might be benefit the work of the church. As she shared her idea, with another person she was told, "The men will never allow it!" As she explained what she saw as the merit of her idea, she got the same response, "The men will never allow it."
Now, I don't know the identity of either party in the conversation, but I can tell you this. The one who kept repeating "The men will never allow it" either spoke out of ignorance of the facts, or with the intent to upset the lady who had made the suggestion. If their intention was the latter, they certainly succeeded. This lady was hurt, and it came through in her writing. It caused her to wonder "why her opinion meant nothing, and her voice could not be heard". She further wondered if she "had been attending the wrong church for all these years".
This letter was heartbreaking. Here was a person who is at least attached to our congregation, and may even be a member. Yet she seems to be unaware of how the church operates. We operate under the model of congregational church polity. There is no select group (Elders, Deacons, etc) that makes policy or sets direction for the church. As a congregation of believers and followers of Christ, we have adopted a church constitution that sets out who we are, why we are here, and how we are organized for ministry and mission. Furthermore, we have a policy and procedure manual that has been compiled and revised over the years, by action of the church body. These policies and procedures are to provide clarity as to how we operate as an "organization". A copy of the manual is kept in the church office and is available to any person who would like to peruse it.
Our congregation holds regular quarterly business meetings, to hear reports, ask questions, set policies, and consider all important business that is necessary for our church to handle. Every member of the church (age sixteen and above) has a vote on every issue considered in each meeting. Every one's opinion means something, and every voice has the right to be heard.
Sadly, this dear lady does not seem to understand this. But even more sad is the fact that she was given bad information by someone else - and just took it for the truth. I don't know the identity nor the motives of the person who dispensed the bad information to this lady, but whether it be due to ignorance of the facts, or out of some type of malice, it was harmful. Harmful to the feelings of the letter writer, and in a larger sense, harmful to the unity and harmony of our church.
The letter writer seems to have access to a computer, since it appears to have been typed in some type of word program. I pray that she may read this blog post. If she is reading this, I urge her to contact me. Give me a call, drop me an email, or preferably, come by the office and let's talk about your suggestion. Your voice is important, and open communication can answer many questions, and head off many potential problems.
You close your letter by saying, "I am not signing this letter because I do not want to be identified as a trouble maker...". Believe me when I tell you that I have read a number of anonymous letters over the years - and your letter was not that of a trouble maker. Every member is important to this body, and it breaks my heart to think that someone may think that they are not! I hope to hear from you, and I will keep your identity in confidence.
Today's prayer: Lord help us to be understanding of others. May your Spirit bear the fruit in our lives of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. May our communications and actions reflect those qualities. May you rebuke the Enemy, who would use his wiles to cause us to focus on the things that take our eyes off the mission! Thank you for loving us. Thank you for your Church and for the people who make up your body. Amen

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