Getting Intimate

Welcome to the Evertsberg’s home. Bill discusses how some outmoded communications—the telephone call and the handwritten note—can have a powerful effect on the people around us.

Hi friends, my name is Bill Evertsberg. I’m one of the pastors at Kenilworth Union Church, and this is Doogie, he’s a church employee, too. As I point out quite frequently, “dog” is “god” in the mirror, sort of.

So a pastoral colleague asked me the other day “how are we to function as God’s embrace for our congregations when we can’t see them or touch them?” It’s a great question, but Jo and Katie and I are not the first American pastors to answer this question of how to care for our flocks when we can’t be physically close to them.

Almost exactly 100 years ago, in the 1918–1920 Spanish flu pandemic, pastors came up with what they thought was a brilliant idea at the time. They decided to use this newfangled technology called “the telephone” to connect with their congregations. Now in 1918, the telephone was already about 40 years old, but it was actually quite novel technology at that time. There were 10 million phones in the United States in 1918; about one in three American homes had a telephone. And so the pastors to these Christian congregations in the United States in 1918 would literally make pastoral calls. They would connect with their congregations and keep track of them via the telephone.

Now 100 years later, we’ve almost put that ancient technology in the closet, haven’t we? Teenagers tell me that they almost never speak to anyone else voice-to-voice. They use Facebook and Instagram and texts and Zoom, but they don’t talk to people face to face. Yet, in the last six weeks of this social isolation, I’ve made more phone calls from a landline than I have in the prior six months before that because it’s the way I can get most intimate with you.

And you can do the same thing during this time of shutdown. You can call somebody you’ve lost touch with and haven’t spoken to for a long time, or you can call somebody who lives alone and might appreciate a little human contact, or you can phone your grandmother.

I’m also writing a lot of notes. I mean real notes on paper, with a stamp and an envelope that you drop in the mailbox. I am trying to get a lot better with my note-writing ministry. You know, President Obama was famous for writing thousands of letters to Americans. Every day, among the thousands of missives the president received, his staff would pick out ten notes for him to read and respond to. So every day, ten Americans got a note from the president of the United States. Now, he probably had a little help in getting this task done, but I thought that was such a wonderful thing to do. Ten notes a day from the president.

Years ago, my minister friend Steve pastored a small church in a shaky neighborhood in Philadelphia, and one of his members took it upon himself to collect food from his fellow congregation members. A can of green beans here, and a box of rice krispies there, and he would pile it into his beat-up Ford, and drive over to the food bank in Germantown, the neighborhood in Philadelphia. No one ever asked him to do this, and no one ever thanked him for doing it. So one day, my friend Steve had a few minutes between appointments in his office, and he decided to write this man a thank-you note for his faithful service. My friend says this note took him about ninety seconds to write. Steve didn’t even know if he should mail it because it was written in a shaky hand. It was almost illegible even to himself. But he decided to mail it, and then years later, when the man died, and Steve called on the man’s widow, she pointed out Steve’s ancient thank you note framed behind glass and hung on her family living room wall with all the family photos. That’s how much that almost illegible note meant to that man. You can make that kind of difference in people’s lives, too. Someone who’s lonely or lives alone or needs a little human contact.

And, of course, no one has done more for a note-writing ministry than Jimmy Fallon. Can I have some note-writing music, please? Dear Julie Peterson, thank you for being my faithful photographer. Dear Christine Adams, thank you for being such a snappy producer. Thank you Julie Smolucha for being our website wizard. So that’s all for today, the lord bless you and keep you and make his face to shine upon you. Amen and goodbye.