I’ve enjoyed Andrew Ainsworth’s recent posts on (1) being a loving critic of the church, (2) in a way that doesn’t get you excommunicated. I thought they were very insightful. I also enjoyed Stephen Marsh’s post asking if we want to be an improver. In Andrew’s 2nd post, he mentions the option of privately expressing concerns to a letter via letter or email. I think it is difficult for many of us to express differences of opinion in a way that will not cause defensiveness in a church leader, so many of us never consider the option of writing a private letter to express a concern.
I must say that I am one of these people who believe that private communications don’t work very well. However, I have tried hard to improve my communications (though I’m not always successful.) A few months ago, I decided to give Andrew’s option #3 a test to see if it would do any good. I was quite surprised at the positive result.
I wrote my stake president (SP) a letter expressing concern for how large our ward is. I live in a growing community, and the last time the ward split, we reached about 950 people. I thought it was outrageous–parking was terrible, and even finding a seat in the gym was hard if you were late. So, our ward was over 700 again, and I decided to write the SP a letter expressing concern at the size of the ward, the parking problems, and difficulty finding a seat in the gym for sacrament meeting. I have a baby, and one particular Sunday, he had a blow out just as we were leaving for church. So we had to change his clothes completely and were late, having difficulty parking and finding a seat.
I tried to take extra care to emphasize that I wasn’t trying to “counsel the brethren”, and I hoped my email would be considered in the same way that Jethro counseled Moses. My email was met with silence. I told my bishop I wrote an email to the SP, and asked if he had heard anything. He hadn’t heard anything (and was concerned that my email might be taken the wrong way) so he asked the SP if my email had offended him. The SP said it was no big deal, and made a comment that when I was stake president I could split the wards as I chose. (I wasn’t overly impressed with the SP response.) I never heard a word from the SP, but in the coming months, he or his counselors would visit the ward and tell us they were aware of the overcrowding problem, and exhorted us to be patient. I kept wondering if my email was the reason they were saying this. Within about 3 months, they decided to realign the ward boundaries, and during the meeting, the SP used a phrase from my email that only he and I knew about.
As I discussed the ward split with my bishop, he said, “You’re the one that started this whole thing!” I said, “Wow, I have a lot more power than I thought.” I’m sure there were other influences here (my bishop had served 5 years and was due to be released anyway, and I am aware a counselor to the SP also had similar reservations about the size of our ward), but I do think that my email did play a role in influencing the SP in this decision when I talked about concerns about parking and overcrowding in sacrament meeting. One Sunday I counted 60 people in the foyer because they couldn’t find a seat for sacrament meeting. I think the split did happen sooner than it would have if I had stayed silent.
Now I know my issue isn’t very large in the scheme of things, but I was positively surprised at the results of my email. Have any of you had any similar experiences, or are they all bad experiences?