No, I’m not giving up on God or Christ or prayer or belief.
But church? God, I’m sick of it.
Once again I have thrown in my lot with a church project. I believe in it. I like the people I’m working with and I value the relationships we’re developing. Projects like this are the only intimacy and community I really have with church members.
It has fallen to me to make phone calls to various clergy. Here’s how I do it:
1. I send an email titled with the impressive name of the committee.I do this in the hopes that it will catch the clerical eye and not get lost in the email avalanche.
2. I explain that we would love to learn about what they’re doing in their churches, and I would like to have a telephone conversation with them for maybe 15 minutes. I send them the list of questions so they know exactly what I will be asking.
3. I get one response. This minister asks me to call him in the evening three days later; I do; he asks to call back 10 minutes later because he is putting his child to bed. I say “Of course.” He never calls back.
4. For the others, who did not respond, I wait several days and then call their offices during work hours. I get their voicemail in all cases and leave polite messages explaining my purpose.
4. One minister responds to my call through email. She has one afternoon available next week; if that doesn’t work, she should be able to talk after a major conference the following week. Sometime between 7 and 14 days from now we may be able to have that 15-minute phone call.
5. Another email or two may be necessary to flush out the other replies. We will play telephone tag and email handshaking for another week or so. Maybe eventually we will even speak!
Here is the truth of modern church life: Everyone Is Too Damned Busy.
The minister who scheduled the phone call — he had a child to put to bed. I’m glad he did that instead. He has the right priority. When he got that done, he was probably still so busy that this call fell off his radar. I understand this.
I also understand that the other minister honestly does not have time to talk for 15 minutes before next week and maybe not even then.
But understanding isn’t the same as feeling OK with it. I hate it. Something is really, really wrong with how we live and how we do church. We (the laity) don’t make the time for it or put the resources into it to have a reasonable-sized staff, yet we want our “church homes” to be all warm and welcoming when we turn to them. We want our clergy to be available — to return phone calls promptly! — and we also expect them to be involved in lots of things that we will warmly admire when we hear about them. I don’t know of any commonly used standard that keeps clergy from killing themselves with work.
I hate this frenzied, contingent, distracted facsimile of community.