One of my favorite pastoral tasks is writing letters. I write a lot of letters. I write letters to individual donors, I write letters to churches thanking them for donations. I write letters informing people of special needs that we have. I like writing letters. I don’t send e-mails, and I don’t even use the telephone unless I have to, a letter is my preferred method of communication. Every letter that leaves the church with my name on it was individually penned by me. I write many letters by hand, which give it a personal touch. Other letters I use the computer, but I type every word myself.
There is something special about letters, something that has been lost. When I read a letter I am forced to listen. I can’t ask questions, I can’t make comments, I just have to listen. I can send a letter back to do those things, and then the other person is forced to listen. I don’t use the word “forced” in a negative sense, perhaps “helped” is a better term. Listening is not something that we do naturally, so letters help us to listen. Sometimes when I talk to someone I spend so much time figuring out what I’m going to say next that I don’t actually listen and try to understand what they say. This is where letters are helpful.
I don’t have to worry about thinking about what I am going to say next, because I have nothing immediate to say. I have time to think after I have read a letter, after I have listened to the other person. Writing actual letters also helps me to slow down and me more intentional. It is easy to shoot of a quick email or text message, but writing a letter takes time. Even if I use the computer to type it, I still have to address the envelope, I have to seal it, put postage on it, take it to the post box or post office. All steps which force me to be more intentional about what I write.
I love receiving letters much more than I love receiving emails or text messages. Letters require a measure of time that electronic forms of written communication do not. I do not see writing letters as an administrative task, it is a pastoral task. This is the main reason that I write my own letters. Receipts can come from our treasurer, phone calls can come from our secretary, but the letters…the letters come from me.