Professional distance can be a tremendous asset in that it often permits a frankness that is much more challenging in a friendship.
I know that I sometimes find it hard to speak the truth to a friend. I suppose that this is one of the risks in entering into a friendship. There can be a desire to maintain the friendship—which is often about “me” — over caring for the well-being of the person we feel affection for.
The worry is that if we speak the truth, they might not choose to be our friend anymore.
Some years ago I developed an acquaintance with someone quite new to the ministry trade. He was a bright, likable man who possessed all manner of gifts that made him a great benefit to his church.
Our friendship deepened over time and I would occasionally ask him how things were going in his church, this being his first ministry assignment. One day he offered that his preferred preaching style was choosing a Biblical text and simply speaking “off the cuff,” using no notes and doing little if any prep time. He believed that this kept the presentation fresh and more open to the moving of the Spirit of God.
I chose not to pursue the issue, but I had a sinking feeling. Most examples of this method that I’d experienced (and attempted, truth be told) were anything but inspiring.
Few, if any preachers can regularly preach effectively without significant amounts of time and preparation.
Moreover, he was a part of a church tradition that put significant emphasis on competent preaching and I was fairly sure that his congregation would surely be expecting well-prepared sermons.
After a while the inevitable happened: the congregation attempted to get him to change, he refused, a conflict ensued, and he left, not just the church, but the profession of ministry. As I’ve subsequently reflected on the events, I know that I let him down. Rather than do the hard work of authentic friendship I had allowed myself to choose the route of least resistance.
Sometimes being a friend demands risking the friendship. Sometimes it is hard to speak the truth to someone you love.
I find myself in that position again today, but this time it is related to my denomination, the United Church of Canada.
This summer, our national church body, the General Council, received a report on the continuing conflict between Israel and Palestine.
The report was, in my estimation, fatally flawed in a number of ways.
The authors placed the lion’s share of responsibility for the worrying state of affairs on Israel and recommended that denomination’s members engage in some levels of divestment and boycott.
Knowing the complexity of the politics of the Middle East, and without pretending that any side in this conflict is blameless, I found the one-sidedness of the report to be unacceptable.
Yet, to my (and a good many other’s) shock, the council chose to approve this voluntary, but still highly problematic policy.
I will, along with others, be working to see it overturned.
But it is still hard to speak the truth to those you love.
Submitted by the Rev. Phillip Spencer, St. Stephen’s United Church, Qualicum Beach