MAHONING VALLEY DISTRICT
Mr. Anonymous and Ms. Name Withheld
I’d like to discuss your concerns with you. Really, I would. It’s my job to help shepherd the churches of the Mahoning Valley so I’d like to talk with a member of the flock for the sake of your church’s mission. But I can’t do that. Because I don’t know who you are.
You didn’t sign your name. I know you didn’t forget, like a child rushing through their schoolwork, because you took the time to obscure your name. It is a real mystery to me just what you want to accomplish by sending me an anonymous letter.
Do you expect that, having received an anonymous letter detailing complaints, I will show up to your next council meeting demanding changes? Do you think I will call your pastor on the carpet, based on statements from a mystery person?
Neither of those things are going to happen. Showing up to the council meeting with concerns is actually your job. If I knew who you were, we could have some conversations and I could help you figure out the best way to address your concerns with others at your church. I could also clarify for you some things about how we do things in the United Methodist Church, because it is clear to me from your letter that part of the issue is that you only partly understand what is going on and/or how things work. If we could discuss our system, you might not agree but you would at least understand what’s happening. If you aren’t sure how to talk to your pastor, I could coach you to figure out how to begin the conversation.
I have questions about what you wrote, but I have no answers, because I don’t know who you are. I’d like more information. I’d like to understand what’s going on. I’d like to do something to help. But I can’t—because you chose to hide behind “Mr. Anonymous.”
You are hiding. Anonymous letters are generally destructive to the fabric of our faith communities. Anonymous sources in newspapers are generally known to the reporters. Whistleblowers are often known to the agency they report to. As a society we do allow anonymous tips regarding certain crimes and abuse, because people are so afraid of repercussions. But the type of things you typically write about are often discussed openly and regularly at church meetings. The pain that led you to write your letter isn’t resolved, because, well, see above. But I can only speculate you think you did something so now you’re mad at me for not fixing it while absolving yourself of any more responsibility without having done anything constructive. From my view you are pointing fingers and pointing out problems, and you are also creating more problems instead of working towards solutions. Your letter creates or exacerbates a climate of mistrust and fear. Your pastor is deeply hurt that you wrote anonymously to me instead of having a conversation with them. How do you see yourself following Jesus by writing an anonymous letter?
When did Jesus say, “If you have a problem with someone, the best way to deal with it is by lobbing accusations to a 3rd party while remaining in hiding”? In Matthew 18:15, Jesus does say, “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and correct them when you are alone together. If they listen to you, then you’ve won over your brother or sister.” He goes on to give instructions about how to proceed if the problem is not resolved. As your DS, I’m actually #3 or #4 on that list of instructions.
Part of what it means to live in Christian community is to talk with those with whom we have disagreements or who have hurt or wronged us, so that we can see God’s reconciliation and redemption in this life. “If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people.” (Romans 12:18) “If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.” (John 20:23)
Restoration and redemption through forgiveness are some of the most powerful gifts God offers us, but we shortchange them when we don’t give other people a chance to repent and apologize. It might be the case that repentance isn’t even needed—just clarification— but as long as you withhold your name, we can’t straighten that out. It could even be that the God who makes all things new would reveal something new in conversation together— something that neither you, nor I, nor your pastor, nor anyone else has even considered yet; something the Holy Spirit could bring out between the two or three who converse in Christ’s name. But you didn’t give God that chance when you withheld your name.
You should know your letters don’t go in your pastor’s file if you aren’t willing to own your letter. Mr. Anonymous, Ms. Name Withheld, They, and Some People are not members of any UMC. I’m not saying your concerns aren’t valid. I’m not saying I don’t want to hear what you have to say. I’m not saying your pastor is right and you’re wrong.
I can’t say anything to you, because I don’t know who you are.
Your District Superintendent who loves and cares about your church, your pastor, and you.
The Mahoning Valley District Office:
Rev. Abby Auman
4580 Canfield Rd, PO Box 11260 Youngstown OH 44511
Office Hours: Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
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