I keep a file with all the angry emails I’ve received over my years of professional ministry and re-reading them is strangely comforting. (Note: The most devastating comments I’ve received were shared without a paper trail.)
As for the ones who put their grievances in writing, they fall into several categories:
- Angry Emails from People Who are Not Well. There’s the email from the Baptist minister I’ve never met who accused me of apostasy because I won’t let him serve a Presbyterian Church because if he served he would prove that only he is the real Christian. There’s the email sent in the middle of the night from a person who was under the influence of something powerful and took out his life frustrations on me. (Note: I contacted that person to review some of his colorful accusations and he had no memory of sending it.)
- Angry Emails from People Who Don’t Like Presbyterian Polity. There’s the one from several elders accusing me of ruining their church because we/I would not let them call a high school graduate who was somebody’s cousin to be their new pastor. (“We all love him. What is wrong with you?“) There’s the one from the congregation who wanted to call the guy from another denomination who had been their supply preacher for a few months. The problem was that he had a history of sexual assault accusations against him and had been defrocked from that other denomination.
- Angry Emails from People Who Are Not Dealing with Reality. I have an email from an elder who was angry with me because I wouldn’t “let them they sing the Doxology anymore.” I reminded them that I have no authority over whether or not they sing the Doxology but they left the denomination anyway.
- Angry People Who Are Not As Angry After We Talk. After praying one Sunday for Saddam Hussein (something about asking that the hate in his heart melt and all our hearts melt after preaching a sermon about loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us) Angry Member and I had a good talk about Jesus really meaning what he says even if it makes us uncomfortable.
I have given people plenty of good reasons to be angry with me over the years, and my point is this: professional ministry is not for the fainthearted. If we are doing our jobs, if we are faithfully interpretting God’s Word, we will make people angry. If we are trying to steer congregations towards healthy choices, we will make people angry. If we are loving the unlovable and standing up to bullies, we will make people angry.
God said via the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am doing a new thing.” People will get angry when we remind our congregations about this. Or they’ll say, “God can do a new thing but our congregation doesn’t have to.” (Well, how do you think God does it if not through our congregation?)
Healthy ministry involves loving God’s people and sometimes they will be angry anyway. It’s okay. We are still called to love even the angry ones.
You are brave to keep a record of the nasties. I’ve been getting quite a few of them throughout the pandemic but I’ve been junking them and only keeping the far fewer “well done Sue’ ones as testimony that not everyone thinks I’m an unscrupulous dictator. Yes a bit “Yay me” but it’s not intended to be prideful just a reminder that sometimes doing what is right is the only thing to do
It’s important to keep the encouraging ones too. I also have a “When I’ve Had a Bad Day” file to cheer myself up.
Rachel Held Evans once posted about taking her hate mail and folding it into origami. It seemed like a good way to seek beauty from the hate.
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I’ve been thinking about this blog since I read it two days ago and a couple of thoughts come to my mind.
1) You are my hero because of the way you handle these situations that come to you! I admire your self confidence and positive attitude!
2) This shouldn’t even be a thing! It made me sad that you have enough “angry with me” letters to put in a file, but even worse is that so many of your colleagues responded to your blog with stories of their own “angry letters”files. Why are church people, who hear about God’s grace on a regular basis, the ones having so much trouble offering grace to their pastors? It makes me sad and ashamed at my fellow church members. We should be doing better than that!!