Miscommunication & Ministry

There’s an exchange in the Acts of the Apostles that always makes me laugh when I hear it.  Paul enters Ephesus and meets some other disciples.  He asks, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They look around at each other and say, “Well, no.  We have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” (Acts 19:1).  I wonder if this isn’t perhaps the early church’s first communications gaffe.   
I thought of the passage from Acts last week when I heard about one parishioner inviting another to a meeting of the communications committee.  The other person looked at the first with surprise and said, “What are you talking about?  I’m ON the communications committee!”  It turned out the first person was a part of our newly gathered communications sub-group (charged with fine-tuning and crafting the message for our capital campaign) and was talking with a member of our parish communications committee (charged with helping us look at the use of our printed materials, our internet presence, and the use of social media).  Communications had not fully communicated with communications.  While this sort of thing can be frustrating and disheartening, the Acts of the Apostles shows us that this is nothing new and is simply a part of ministry.

It seems that the word, “miscommunication” did not come into use until the 1960s, but whether it is the serpent “spinning” God’s word to Adam and Eve, the garbled confusion of the early disciples, or the mumbling of King Henry II resulting in the murder of Thomas Becket; the challenge of speaking clearly and forthrightly is a part of the human condition.  As Christians, we are about incarnation—making the Word flesh and making all words flesh, and so we struggle with one another to be clear, correct, and avoid hearsay and miscommunication.  “Language malfunctions” will continue in spite of web pages, tweets, emails, letters, and personal conversations.  The Good News is that the Holy Spirit offers us patience for understanding and forgiveness when we have misspoken.  Especially in these early days of planning a capital campaign and fine-tuning our building plans for accessibility, may we be attentive to one another and to the Spirit’s movement among us.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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