The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


The parable of the new member

The new church member volunteered to serve on a committee. At the first meeting, there was much discussion about unnamed people who didn’t come to church anymore because they had been hurt in the past by other unnamed people. The circumstances of the hurts were also unnamed. And the committee spent considerable time saying what a shame it all was.

For the next several meetings, the discussions were very similar. The new member was told, very kindly, that there were many things the committee shouldn’t pursue because no one wanted to step on the toes of the unnamed members who might be offended if their part of the ministry “turf” were breached. The longtime members explained that the unnamed tensions in the past served as a warning about eggshells that must be walked on in this church.

When the new member tried to understand, and asked about the specifics of all these problems, the longtime members said, “These things happened long before you came.” When the new member asked, “Why, then, do we need to hold on to this?” the longtimers’ chins quivered and their eyes watered, as if they had been cut to the quick.

In time the new member was approached with a generous offer that would fully fund a significant one-time opportunity for the congregation. She gathered the information, presented it to the committee, and encouraged church leaders to consider accepting this gift. The longtimers accused the new member of planning and attending secret meetings, excluding the church leaders and plotting behind their backs. They shed tears, explaining to the new member that this was not the way to do things and that they weren’t sure they should encourage the leadership to explore the opportunity because of the dishonesty involved.

When the new member wanted to reach outside the church walls to help the needy people in the community, the longtimers explained that there were unnamed members of the congregation who didn’t feel the committee was doing enough for the people inside the church walls. The unnamed members couldn’t see the value of the outreach project if it didn’t fill the pews inside the church.

The new member began to get discouraged. She began to notice that the longtime members could turn almost anything into an opportunity to say hurtful things about church, synod, denominational and political leadership, about people in the neighborhood, people who were Latino, homosexual, too liberal — and on and on. And no one would contradict the ugliness because it had come out of the mouths of the pillars of the church.

After a number of years, the no-longer-new member finally saw that this was a beautiful building with beautiful music, much talent and wonderful facilities for the longtime members — but it was a poisonous environment for her spirit. She longed for a place where it was easier to breathe, where her own church-inflicted wounds could begin to heal, and where her spirit could be fed.

As she walked away, joining the ranks of those unnamed people who didn’t come to church there anymore, she knew that the longtime members would have their own stories about why she left, but she knew that if she stayed, she would surely perish.


Linda Worden

Linda Worden

Posted at 3:16 pm (U.S. Eastern) 3/9/2013

Very thoughtful article.  Thanks for including it.


Robert K. Leaverton

Robert K. Leaverton

Posted at 6:36 pm (U.S. Eastern) 3/11/2013

This raises the issue of annonimity in the church. There are times when it is necessary, as in the case of a minor. But when it comes to the ordinary, run of the mill disicisions of the church annonimity is not a good choice or policy.

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February issue


Embracing diversity