I just had a fascinating exchange with one of our readers. I love it when people take me to task, because it gives me something to think about outside the echo of my own head.
Here's the email:
"Father, I am not going to ask for a blessing this time, because I must unfortunately take you to task about something.
"Your first three brochures are good. However, I think that last two you have published are good and needful sermons, but disastrous brochures.
"Why? Please stop and think a moment! Brochures are what we give to visitors to our churches. We don't give brochures to the faithful. They don't need them. They are already in the Church!
"Is this really the kind of thing that first-time visitors and spiritual seekers need to hear? I think not! Rather, it is the faithful and the baptized who need to hear these things.
"So, my recommendation is that you scrap these last two brochures, and develop them into homilies to be preached in your church and posted on-line, for the benefit of the Orthodox faithful who need to take this message on board (of which there are, indeed, very many).
"I will NEVER distribute either of your last two brochures to visitors. It would drive them away from the Church, when the Church may be the one thing needful for them.
"Please go back and rethink this. I have to tell you, that if I were your bishop (which God in His wisdom and mercy has thankfully spared everyone!), your telephone would be ringing just now. I can't believe that an experienced priest would actually consider distributing such material to first-time visitors. That is unbelievably obtuse."
Here's my response:
"In my parish experiences, the vast majority of brochures are used by people already in the Church, largely those who won't read books.
"Of course, these brochures are not meant for newcomers or visitors, but they can be left out for those 'experienced' people.
"I don't believe in hiding problems. Inquirers would also do well to realize we have lots of problems. I spent over an hour with my inquirers just last week trying to explain why, at coffee hour after liturgy, big platters of roasted chicken were left out for the people to eat after I had given a sermon talking about the fast. Even the new people notice the horrendous problems we have with overlapping jurisdictions, Sunday-only Christians and the like.
"We do need to let people know that we see these as real problems AND we are willing to do something about it.
[some personal information here]
"What I have written is the truth, and it is from the Scriptures that we all read. Inquirers don't have to get this as their first taste of Orthodoxy, but they will find this out sooner rather than later.
"You don't have to print these. You don't have to distribute them, either. I'm not forcing anyone to do anything they don't want to do. But, as you know from reading this blog, there's a lot I put out here that can be taken out of context or misused. It is the risk that I take. I also don't put warning labels on these, because I assume that people will use them with common sense. The last thing I would like is for someone to take my brochure on the 12 Steps and use it to bully their drunk spouse, say "See? Why don't you get sober like this says!"
"It is all about context. There are a lot of parishes where visitors are not welcome at all. Look at these as a ministry to these parishes.
"The blessing of a priest not not from the priest. That's why he says, "God bless you," rather than "I bless you." You don't have to get either one if you don't want! ;)
"I appreciate your candor. Thanks for speaking plainly."
No one has to use anything they don't want. I would not want these brochures to be abused.
Use what you find here judiciously.