To the person who left an anonymous letter at the church door:
First of all, let me say thank you. I’ve been a pastor for just about a year and this is the first time I’ve received an anonymous letter that expressed such … “concern” for my church. And, because I love my church and the people who come here and every day I am impressed by what they do in response to the faith they proclaim, I have to admit that I took your letter personally.
And even though several veteran pastors told me never to read anonymous “feedback,” I couldn’t help myself. I wanted to see what you had to say about my church. And I couldn’t help myself — I took what you said personally. I responded defensively. My feelings were hurt.
I thought about what I would say to you if I ever had the chance. And then I remembered that I should pray about the situation. And about my response. I should pray for you. For my church. So thank you for introducing me to my first anonymous letter of “concern.” It was an experience I was bound to have and an experience that will hopefully teach me a thing or two about being a better pastor.
Now if you don’t mind, I’d like to address some of your specific “concerns.” Apparently, you are familiar with our motto, “Act Your Faith,” but you’re not sure if we “really” act our faith. So my guess is you are familiar with our motto, but not with our people. Because if you knew the people here — if you stopped in during the week while they were sorting donated clothes for our Free Store, planning a worship service for the Montana Women’s Prison, organizing school supplies for Broadwater students — you would witness their faith in action.
I’m quite certain that if you shared a coffee with a church member, you would hear him talk about how his faith has helped him. Believe it or not, you would probably even hear him talk about Jesus. It probably wouldn’t be in a “if you don’t know Jesus you’re going to hell” kind of way (that’s not really our style), but it would be in a “Jesus has made such an amazing impact on my life that I want others to know about it” kind of way. That’s more our thing.
You also mentioned a specific denomination that has “all” the answers (my uncle, a beloved spiritual mentor of mine, has been a pastor in that denomination for over 50 years. He is a wise and faithful man, but I’m sure he’d be the first to admit he doesn’t have all the answers), as well as other types of churches we should “stay away from.”
I have to let you know that I’m skeptical of people who have it all figured out; maybe it comes from jealously or insecurity or my own judgement about people I perceive as being judgmental (ironic, I know). But the more I grow in my faith and the more I get to know people from different faith backgrounds, the more I am impressed with how God’s love and presence exist in all of these places.
I’m amazed to see the ways
that people in all of these places act their faith every day. It reminds me that God is much bigger than I can even imagine. God is much bigger than my actions, my judgments, my words. God is bigger than this church — and God’s plan for all of God’s beloved children, is bigger (and better) than any of us can imagine. That’s the kind of God and the kind of love I want this church to share. And I think we do a pretty good job of it. So we’ll just keep Acting Our Faith; I hope one day you’ll join us.
Pastor at EUMC
The Rev. Wendy Ochs is pastor of Evangelical United Methodist Church in Billings.
Pastors, ethicists, educators or others who would like to write a column about faith, ethics or values for the section, should contact: Susan Olp; Billings Gazette; 401 N. Broadway; Billings, MT 59101. Or call her at 657-1281; fax to her attention at 657-1208; or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.