Communities have anxiety. All of them do.
Work communities hold anxiety, especially when rumors of acquisitions, layoffs, and resignations begin to swirl. This may be what Jesus was referring to when he said that you will hear “wars and rumors of wars.” Maybe it wasn’t literal wars he was referring to, but the weird wars we play on an uncertain future when given the chance.
Family communities hold anxiety, too. This usually presents itself in grudges, passive-aggressive phone calls, or over-communication between parties. You know, so Edna doesn’t bring too much egg salad again to the picnic because no one really likes it, anyway. And, do you think Brian will bring his boyfriend? Because grandma can’t handle that yet…
The local congregation, too, holds anxiety, but in my experience, they do it in these really strange, yet predictable, ways.
Way One: the rumor mill. It starts churning in the parking lot after church. Or in the Fellowship Hall (really, shouldn’t we call these gossip halls?) during coffee hour. Or in whispers during the offering after spying that thing in the announcements that you really don’t care for.
Notice how, in this particular way, no one actually goes to the pastor. Instead, the pastor will hear about these “wars and rumors of wars” being fought in the shadows, and will say the predictable, “Tell them to come talk to me if they have an issue.” And they have to say this because no one will give up the name of the person with anxiety. Their name is “some people.” As in, “some people are talking…”
Pro-tip: If you’re not ready to reveal who “some people” are, or usually, is (mostly always singular), don’t bother saying anything at all.
Way two: the late-night email. Pastor’s inboxes are these strange depositories for so many people’s anxieties. And I can’t tell you how many anxious, terse, or even just plain nasty emails, usually emboldened by rumor or fact-less fret, were sent after midnight. It’s just there, staring at you, the minute you check it the next morning.
The inbox is where we hold a lot of our anxiety, transferring it there for safe keeping. More often than not, I’d just delete it. Because they didn’t need the anxiety, and had put it in my inbox. And guess what? I didn’t need it either, so the delete folder got it.
Way three: the anonymous note. In what world do we think these are helpful? Can we just all agree to put our name on our issues? Please? Trust me, you will feel better if you put your name on it. Why? Because then the pastor can actually talk to you about it.
But if you don’t want to put your name on it, do yourself a favor and write it out…and then throw it away. Because that’s where your pastor will put it: in the literal trashcan. Or, at least, they should. It’s what I coach them to do.
Way four: the grand withholding of funds. “Until this is changed,” it was said, “I’m not giving another dime.”
This particular tactic isn’t just harmful to the church, by the way, but I truly believe it’s harmful to the giver. If I agreed with every. single. thing. a place who got my benevolence did, enacted, or invested in, I’d probably never give any of it away. Which, ironically, is what so many protestants do, as we’re known for giving only around .46% of our income away.
Notice that decimal point.
Leveraging your generosity to get your way on a pet project is probably the definition of bullying, especially for an organization that runs off of generosity.
Times of change and transition are always touchy, no matter our context. We are animals who say we like adventure, but love to anchor ourselves in routine. Deviation is not something humans do very well. Evolutionarily, deviation meant danger…our lizard brains take over and our anxiety can get the best of us.
So what shall we do with our anxiety? Name it. Call it out. Voice our concerns honestly with those who can actually address them.
And then see what happens.
Let them drift down the river of life.
Because our anxieties are just preoccupations with the future that prevent us from being present, and prevent us from being our best-selves.
One of the reasons I always deleted those late-night emails I received was because I knew that the person sending them was not in their right mind…because no one in their right mind sends those off. And I wanted them to be their best-selves. None of us need a paper trail of our most anxious moments.
But why bother to name these anxieties anyway?
Because they destroy communities. They erode trust using half-truths and misinformation.
And they infect a congregation like a virus. This is how congregations get sick.
The best medicine when you hear of “wars and rumors of wars” is to name the war, name the rumor, offer it up as a sacrifice to both God and anyone who can do something about it, and then, as Elsa would say:
let it go.