We are strange people: We like the U.S. Post Office.
Tammie visits the Post Office several times a week. She knows the workers on a first name basis. She went abroad with her sister for a few months three years ago for a medical treatment, and the first time she went to mail something after her return to CT, the clerk asked, “O good, you are back, how was your trip? How is your sister?” She even brings them treats during the Christmas shipping rush. Maybe it says more about Tammie than the U.S. Postal system – but she found community at the Post Office.
They know me at the Post Office too. I’m there on a regular basis purchasing postcard stamps for the birthday cards I send to our church members. Often when I am there and I step up to the counter, I’ll be asked how many books of postcard stamps I need before I even have to ask.
We like our mailman. He’s a great guy, who if we have a lot of mail or a package has come will bring our mail right up to the door. Whenever we see him in town in his truck, we exchange waves and smiles.
Right now the Post Office in New Canaan is in flux. For reasons beyond my comprehension, their lease was not renewed and as a result we have experienced strange mail service. A service truck offers stamps for sale. Another building that was vacant in town now houses the P.O. Boxes. I ran out of postcard stamps a while ago. I have been holding off on getting new ones until the Post Office situation gets settled.
I decided I couldn’t wait any longer. The people whose cards are sitting on my desk might start having another birthday before I get the cards out otherwise. (OK, it’s not that bad, but I was feeling guilty.) Friday afternoon I walked down to where the truck has been: gone. Maybe I missed it. Perhaps I had the time it was open wrong, or it is also possible I missed the memo on a more permanent solution being found to where the Post Office will be housed. “I’ll just try another day,” I thought. No truck Saturday either. So I drove to a neighboring town’s Post Office. Closed on Saturday. “Urrgh.” I drove to another Post Office. Open! Walking inside the line was a mile long. I waited. The person in front of me had an outburst of frustration. He was either trying to send a package, and told the clerk that this was the third Post Office he had been to, and none of them would send it for him. He was particularly angry because he called ahead, and they told him he could mail it from there. He demanded to speak to a manager. I thought to myself. “Postcard stamps…that’s all I need…just postcard stamps…no drama.” After chewing out the manger he decided to go to UPS and mail it from a “real company.”
I was starting to see why people hate the Post Office so much.
Finally it was my turn. The clerk looked like she was already counting the minutes until her shift was over. It was 9:30 a.m. I looked at her and smiled. A blank expression with a raised eyebrow looked back at me as if to say,
“And what do YOU want?”
“Two books of postcard stamps please.”
“We are out of postcard stamps.”
I wish someone took a picture of my face at that point. “Ok, where is the machine?”
“Over there,” she pointed, sighed, and said, “Next.”
I went to the machine where two people were congregated. Once it was my turn I used the touchscreen to purchase the postcard stamps I needed. Then I discovered a person can buy no more than six stamps at a time. An audible, “You’ve got to be kidding me” was heard by those still queuing to see the “friendly” clerk. She shot me a glance that could kill. I purchased twelve stamps, put them on the cards, fit them in the slot and left, wondering why anyone would use the Post Office at all, or if I would ever, ever come here again. I thought to myself, “Facebook. I’ll wish people happy birthday on Facebook.”
The Post Office used to be a central part of connecting us. For a low fee, a person could mail a letter, contract, package anywhere in the country, even the world. The Pony Express was a marvel of efficiency and speed as our nation pushed westward in prior centuries. Our family even found community there. When we lived in South Dakota our local Post office was a place to catch the town gossip and run into people midday I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Here in New Canaan, we connected with the workers, and I think we brought the occasional smile to their faces on long days. Now all that was tarnished; disrupted; gone.
We still need communication, but there are so many other ways to accomplish it now. Email takes seconds. Phone calls, texting, messaging, and other technological breakthroughs are instantaneous to anywhere in the world. The mail is cluttered with junk we mostly throw away. Even the bills can mostly be dealt with online. The Post Office is outdated, inefficient, and not user friendly. Private competition from FedEx, UPS and others are more efficient ways to ship things. After my experience Saturday, a once treasured institution seemed irrelevant.
Is this the way some people experience church today – outdated, tarnished, not user-friendly, and full of grumpy people unable to help with their concerns or who would rather be somewhere else? The church used to be a central place for connections, building relationships, and pointing people to good news that changed lives and set people free to serve their communities. Is a new storefront really the answer?
Today when many people see the church they roll their eyes, drive on by, find other opportunities to connect and serve, while looking at us judgingly and uttering, “urrgh.”
How do you think the Church is/is not like the Post Office?
What needs to change?
What can you do about it, right now?
“Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” (Matthew 10:38-42)