July 25, 2014

Priests Don’t Answer Emails

closed-churchThe complaint below about non-responsive priests and laity is accurate. But how do the non-responsives think people reach out to them? How do they think people react when their requests are ignored or rebuffed?

What is so hard about returning a phone call or setting up even a one page website?

Hint to priests who feel overwhelmed by the demands of their ministry and let items fall through the cracks: 1) Start reading Dn. Michael Hyatt’s blog and implement his suggestions; and 2) read “Getting Things Done” by David Allen.

Productive work is a matter of good organization, and good organization helps you separate the wheat from the chaff in your ministry. Nurture the wheat, discard the chaff.

Source: Byzantine, TX

It is a surprise to few that priests don’t answer emails. They also don’t answer the phone. If you go to a church during the week they might well not answer the door. This is not true of all clergy, but it’s true enough about many of them for me to be able to bring this up in Orthodox company and receive knowing nods of agreement.

This morning I read a comment from a priest that said:

Evangelistic methodology submitted for your consideration: Orthodoxy in America could be a lot bigger if all parishes would answer their phone, return phone and email messages within a day, and install doorbells prominently on the church.

I answered in the affirmative. When I travel, I often use the phone number and email provided by a parish’s website to confirm service times. Having experienced the East Coast predisposition to change the Divine Liturgy time to “Summer Hours” without reflecting such on their website or diocesan directory listing, I always check first. Parishes move to new buildings (happened to me in Georgia), unmarked side doors are opened instead of the main doors for weekday services (in Philadelphia), being in-between priests allows for only monthly services (in Seattle), no one will open a locked door for you unless they know you’re coming in advance to Matins (in Brooklyn). In short: check first.

The problem is that confirmations are hard to get. A few months back I emailed 2 weeks before a trip to confirm service times. I received an answer two months after I had returned from the conference. This is not an isolated incident, it might well be common enough to be considered the norm.

Leaving voicemails is not much more efficacious. For as often as I have had someone pick up the phone or call me back, I have had twice as many calls fade into the ether. It should also not be forgotten that not talking with some Slavic parish priests beforehand will ensure you will not be communed. I have visited parishes where such a requirement is in place and it doesn’t take much imagination to grasp how disheartening it would be to be turned away from the chalice for want of a returned phone call.

[...]

A woman called a parish I used to attend to get some scheduling information:

Woman: “Father, what time will you be blessing the baskets?”

Priest: “Directly after the liturgy or maybe 15 minutes after.”

Woman: “What time will that be? What time will you be done?”

The priest, knowing the woman was of the ilk to pop in to have some tradition fulfilled, but never actually came to the Liturgy, responded, “My dear, the Liturgy is eternal!”

My recollection is that she did not show up for the Paschal service or the basket blessing. The story, though, is a good cautionary tale regardless.

Read the entire article on the Byzantine, TX website (new window will open).

Comments

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    Andrew says:

    Our family talks about this a lot. We are a family with children under 40 and blessed with a nice income. We make it a priority to attend liturgy every week together showing our child that Church is important at all times. You would think clergy would be supporting our efforts left and right and doing everything possible to keep us involved. However, our priest is so “busy” that we are at the point where we simply give up trying to communicate with him in any capacity.

    Honestly, I question the value of what we are doing sometimes. You would think going to church would make us feel safe and renewed but sometimes we have to worry about protecting our son from all the garbage in the parish. In the meantime, I question the pastoral wisdom of ignoring people who faithfully attend liturgy to chase after folks who simply want to use the church for an event or two and then just walk away until the next “important” event rolls around.

    I suspect I am not the only one who feels this way. Everything is upside down.

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    M. Stankovich says:

    In my circle of schoolmates, acquaintances, and friends of varying jurisdictions, they all tend to be scrupulous in returning calls and electronic communication. Likewise, those priests, who by necessity were required to have secondary employment to support themselves and their family, some even made the arrangement to have the “parish office” phone transferred to the home of a pious parishioner so as not to miss a call. Those that met in locations other than their own facilities tended to have “rituals” – signs & guides or “greeters” – directing newcomers or visitors to the correct entrance. And while I’m not attempting to “cover” or provide an excuse for anyone, I can vouch for those who maintained a “parish within a parish” (a small, even miniscule, faithful group who attended Vespers & Matins, the Vigils on the eve of the Feasts, the weekday Liturgies, and the Lenten cycle) and forgetting to identify the proper door to enter if only because they had never expected anyone to attend. But I can also tell you of when I was a resident in the ER in lower Manhattan and took in a man a young Russian priest brought in because he was intoxicated & needed stitches, only later to be kicked out of the church by parishioners because he “smelled” (i.e. he smelled black); or when, in a Russian Cathedral in San Francisco, when I asked in my lousy Russian when Vespers began, I was told in impeccable English by an elderly man, “You don’t belong here,” directing me to the “English church”; or my poor friend friend in his first parish assignment, who sat in the front pew with his wife, holding her hand as they quietly wept at the fact that not one single person came to the liturgy to celebrate the Raising of Lazarus.

    Andrew, Christ is Risen! I greet you in the Feast. I am of the type that believes that the most respectful course of action is taking one’s concern directly to the person in question. If I may use myself as an example, I am engaged in a “chaotic” environment whereby much of my time is focused on “containing” those who are disruptive and difficult. I rely and depend on those who are “stalwart” and consistent – and this is not to say I take them for granted or am unappreciative – but I am at times forgetful in expressing my appreciation. It seems to me you will best serve yourself, your family, and him by meeting with him privately and telling him what you need and how he may support you in guiding your family. I do not believe you will resolve this on the internet!

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    -- says:

    Priests who don’t answer emails are doing a great disservice to their ministry and to the Church. A few years ago I moved away from an Orthodox OCA parish in Cincinnati, OH that I really loved but had to leave because of my move to California. I had felt guilty for not keeping in touch with some of the members and the priest, but life was difficult for me in many ways after my move. When you are depressed about your life, the last thing you want to do is call up people you used to know and tell them, so I admit I hadn’t kept communication lines open. This always bothered me in my heart that I did not keep in touch, so during Lent one year I decided to email the priest. Frankly I felt awkward for trying to start up an email with someone I hadn’t talked to in years, but don’t forget I confessed to this priest and spent two very formative years in his parish. Frankly speaking all I was really looking fo at the time was, at the most, a blessing or at least an acknowledgement of some kind as one human being to another. I remember how he preached in his sermons about the Prodigal son and felt like on some level that was me, you know? Anyhow I didn’t even get a response back. I wasn’t asking for a golden ring or a fatted calf, all I wanted was a “Glad to hear from you God bless you during this Lenten period” or something like that. I was pretty bitter about the thing and felt how hypocritical it was for him to not even send a 1 sentence email. Does that take too much effort on the part of clergy? It would have made a big difference to me in my life at the time to have received some kind or otherwise words from an old friend. Anyhow I ultimately forgave him but I didn’t forget the lesson that it taught me about how important the little things are in dealing with people, especially with regards to a pastor and his flock.

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    Anonymous says:

    I see this from both sides. Sometimes I think if our priests had better support from the parish (more involvement) our priests would not feel so overwhelmed. That also goes for sponsoring seminaries so we can have more priests and deacons. Sometimes we converts take for granted how much work the priest must also do outside the walls of the parish (visiting the sick, attending to the dying, house blessings, births, traveling to mission parishes, etc). In my city of one million residents all the priests in all our Orthodox parishes are American-born and as such most are responsive, although in our fast-paced, smartphone world I’m sure everyone would like answers in seconds. Despite the ethnicities in my local parishes I’ve never been once told to go to another parish. In fact, it has been the opposite. Those with other ethnic backgrounds have often been the kindest to me.

    Perhaps, Father, you could enlighten us on communication with monasteries? Is it a natural hesitance that monastics feel toward lay people that makes them slow to respond and sometimes seem awkward to me in church? Seems like I read somewhere once that monks and nuns are taught not to develop close friendships with lay people. I understand from the perspective of maintaining peace. But, I do not understand from the perspective of not answering emails, even just a courtesy answer, for their wisdom is much needed by us who live in the world.

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    Isaac says:

    My priest spent a lot of time answering my emails and meeting with me in person. Our parish is now filled to capacity and there is talk of building another sister parish in the same city. It makes a huge difference to have a responsive priest.

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    James says:

    How ironic. I sent a message to the administrators of web site (via their “contact us” link) well over one year ago concerning publishing an essay and never got a response! A case of not practicing what they preach (or at least what the author of this piece preaches)?

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      Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

      Well, that would be me. I’m pretty good at answering stuff but maybe this one fell through the cracks. Try resending it.

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