An open letter to the Snells
October 26, 2007
So todays blog, as promised, is a letter that I wrote for Lonnie and Ruth. I didn’t make it private, though there are some inside jokes, but I chose to put it in my blog for what I deem to be an excellent reason. In the midst of transition and change, many people have the opportunity to ask questions and to probe and to mourn the loss of what was excellent leadership, and then there are those of us who do not. We must fill a gap (in this case a large gap) and make decisions without the benefit of worrying about what happens next. In short, we must run head first into the wall of the future, with little or no information about what everyone’s feeling. I applaud a few people who walk this trail with me: Steve Blumer, Billy McGuiness, and Jeff Campbell. It’s not an easy trail. It would be much easier to have the time and the capacity to really think about the vacancy that is left without the Snells around, but alas, we do not have this luxury, and so we press on.
Having said all of that, I want you to know I do have a heart, and I will miss the times that I have had with Lonnie and Ruth more than I will ever be able to let on, so below is a slight expression of how I feel as they leave for Ohio this weekend.
“Dear Lonnie and Ruth,
For the last 6 years, almost every day – 5 out of 7 days anyway – I have walked into the Fellowship Church offices, and had the privilege of working for you. There has certainly been an evolution in our relationships, as there is in most, ranging from “getting to know you”, then moving to “here’s what I can teach you”, and ending with “Now I can trust you”. All the while, my belief is that we’ve both grown so much and are ready to move into the next phases of our lives.
I remember the day I had been on the phone for hours, talking to people who had just been so hurt by the former leadership and trying to explain to them that “it’s never good that these things happen, but God has a way of taking the worst situations and using them for His own good”. As a 24 year old kid, I was struggling to figure out whether I actually believed those words myself. I was tired. I felt pretty alone. And I really wanted to leave the whole situation and “get out of dodge.”
So I called my uncle Matt. He was always good for a laugh, and for some good advice – not to mention he was sure to have a contact or two up his sleeve. We talked for like two minutes, when he asked me if he could call him back. “Sure”, I said reluctantly, not really believing he would ever call me back. He’s very popular, ya know?
This time he actually did call me back! He said that a friend of his had been in his office only 5 minutes before I had called and told him that “God was calling him to be a senior pastor somewhere.” This was very perceptive of you, because only 4 months later you drove into the parking lot of Wachusett Valley Christian Church.
Shortly after this, I couldn’t wait to leave and let you have some fun here in Holden for a while, so I took a job elsewhere, hoping to ease my way out, but you wouldn’t let me.
You encouraged me and, because of your passion and excitement for the church, motivated me to move out of the complacent into the progressive.
After the starting period of our relationship, the next era was the hardest for me. We could call it the growing stage. It seemed like I had to learn everything about church all over again. I realized that just playing church wasn’t good enough, and you taught me to keep learning better ways to minister to people. You expressed more than once that personal character and holiness were the absolute key to truly “leading someone into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ”, and encouraged me to look beyond the things that are cool into the things that are “true and honest and pure and of good report.” This took some time to really sink in and gravitate to my heart, but eventually, with your help, God has worked in my heart to become the man he wants me to be. Not perfect, but striving.
During this period of time I learned both how to be a pastor and I met my wife! These were great times, and I praise God I was able to share these times with Ruth and you. I specifically remember some of the hardships of going without paychecks for weeks on end, having people leave the church because we took out the all-important communion table (our priorities were on hearts rather than on wood – what were we thinking?) and the time that two people left the church in the same month, one claiming that they were leaving because you were too cocky, but they liked me; the other claiming that I was too cocky, and they liked you.
It was during this time I met Carie, and she has grown to love and admire your leadership too! You helped guide me and mentor me through this time and offered advice whenever I needed it. I am proud to say you commandeered my ordination in August 2003 (incidentally the day Carie and I started dating), and you stood with us on our wedding day giving us our vows.
Another highlight of our time together was a young lady named Pauline, who had been a part of our church since 2000. She was like a mother to both of us, and always had a kind word to say to us. When others would complain and gripe, she would complain to our faces, and then smile and say she was praying for us, and that was so refreshing. Her funeral in January 2006 was probably the only time in our 6 years of working together that we cried at the same time. What an amazing woman!
Being your neighbor for the last several years had its ups and downs too. Ups when we would come over (more times than not, uninvited) to say hi and to hang out, possibly eat Chinese food or pizza, and watch whatever sporting event might be on TV. And downs whenever Ruth would “Have to go to the hospital and have the baby of the year” and Carie and I would “have to watch the kids while you were at the hospital.” Who am I kidding? I was normally sleeping on the couch while Carie did the watching. Truthfully though, Carie and I love your kids so much. They are great and we will miss seeing their flowing blonde hair as they ride at top speeds across the parking lot on their bikes.
And Ruth, Carie has had a wonderful role model of being a godly Christian woman and an amazing support for me because of how you have stood with your husband through good times and bad, in moving to a far away land away from family, and always having an encouraging word to say to those around us who’ve needed it.
In the last few years, Lonnie, you have treated me like a friend and co-worker, and I have grown so much learning and soaking all of it in. We have written church philosophy together, figured out what we’re all about as a church and as pastors, and argued our way to a healthy growing church. Really you have helped me become who I am as a pastor, and for that, I can never repay you enough. I would probably have been a good guy without you, but one of the reasons I will be a great pastor, is because of your influence in my life – The life of character you have mirrored for me, and the things you have taught me.
Carie and I have grown to love your family and you with all of our hearts. There will never be a time where we don’t feel your influence all throughout the walls of Fellowship Church and in our own lives, but we will also be careful not to do you the disservice of sacrificing God’s vision of the future for living in the past of “what life used to be like”.
So thank you Lonnie and Ruth. From Carie and I to the both of you and your sons, you’ve given us so much of your life, and as a payment of that gift, our agenda will be to leverage what we have learned from you for the future of Fellowship Church and its body.
With much love,
Marty and Carie
Until next time…