Lent @ ECVA: Recognition and Return
Reflection on the gospel for Lent 1C

Hearing criticism as applause

Father Dan Gunn, rector of of St. Stephen's Wilkes-Barre, wrote the following note today to parishioners and others on his mailing list. It is a model for turning potentially bad news into good or, as he states at the end, hearing criticism as applause.

Dear All,
A Blessed Ash Wednesday, to you.
I hope you have seen the stories in the local papers the past three days.  Here, here and here.  I think this is good news for us.  The reporters have been balanced and reasonably accurate.  For the record, I went down to Reach this morning and was greeted with a chorus of “Good morning, Father!” and even inquiries of when the Ash Wednesday Services were scheduled.  (Jokingly, I asked them to go out to the street and assault someone so we could be in the paper again on Thursday.  They all declined.)
I have spent a great deal of my time in the past few years trying to make certain that Reach is operated in an appropriate manner.  If you read the articles in recent days you will hear a great deal of innuendo and speculations.  In four years I have only found one needle, 3 drug packets (I have them in my desk), and a couple dozen beer cans.  I would love to say that there had been none of these items, but I live in reality.  Downtown Wilkes-Barre is an inner-city, and that comes with all the problems of such a place.
For those of you who read the local papers on-line as I do, please scroll to the end of the articles and read the posted comments.  The overwhelming majority of the feedback is POSITIVE toward St. Stephen’s and Reach.  One person even said that we are the one church that “practices what we preach.”  Another said that we are the only church open and active during the week while others are locked and guarded except on Sundays.
One of my mentors tells me that this sort of press is good press, and better than any advertisement we could buy.  I tend to agree.  Please if you or any of your neighbors have questions direct them to me.  I will be happy to respond as I am able.
It is times like these when I think about our brothers and sisters in Kajo-Keji (maybe because I was there this time last year) and wonder where would our critics want to send them?  They’re uneducated, poorly clothed, poor and black, suffering from years of mistreatment.  Our mission, though at times needing critique, is true and good and right, whether in Downtown Wilkes-Barre or in Africa.  We are truly an International Parish: we need to tell others about our good works.  Just as we welcome Bishop Anthony in a few days, we welcome Kevin whom I met in the basement of Boscov’s today who asked me to bless the cross he was wearing around his neck and say a prayer for him, too.  We are known by our deeds, whether they be acts of charity or music or liturgy.  We are a dynamic church and God bless those who think and say otherwise.
Finally, Rabbi Ed Friedman, whom you have heard me speak of often, said that “You know you have reached a new level of maturity when you can hear criticism as affirmation.”  He went on to say that “criticism is an act of pursuit.”  This is true for individuals and parishes.  In the past few days I have heard an abundance of affirmation.  I have also felt pursued.  Can you feel it?  Can you hear it with me?
In peace,


Posted by Bill Lewellis


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