Hallmark & The 21st Century Church

A friend  told me recently that on her octogenarian Mom’s birthday, sheLife Isn't Fair Unemployment Card

  • Took her Mom out to dinner.
  • Took Mom to run errands (since she no longer drives)
  • Gave her Mom a flowering plant.

At the end of a nice day, Mom turned to her daughter, visibly upset, and said, “I’m a little disappointed you didn’t send me a card.

Maybe 80-something Mom is rude.  Maybe the postal carrier’s daily visit is the highlight of her day.  Who knows?

But I believe that one of today’s cultural shifts is marked by how much we appreciate greeting cards.  A couple observances and wild generalizations:

  • Most people under the age of 50 don’t care about receiving a greeting card in the mail with a one line message and a signature. People under the age of 30 care even less.
  • Some people over the age of 50 still love to receive cards delivered by a real postal carrier.
  • People with Facebook accounts would rather have 100 personal birthday messages, made possible by Mark Zuckerberg, than receive a couple snail-mailed cards.  Specially chosen Birthday GIFs are particularly appreciated.
  • Not everyone loves digital cards. For better or worse, we have a lot of emails to read.  An Evite makes life easier for everybody.  A Halloween card that takes three minutes to download makes life harder.  Perhaps this is obnoxious and ungrateful, but it’s true.

So, what are the implications for community-building and pastoral care in churches?

  • Impersonal cards do more harm than good if sent to certain people in our congregations.  Do send cards to older people who enjoy them.  Do not send form letters without authentic pastoral effort to anyone under the age of 70.  Even those 70 and over would probably like to have some real handwritten news with that signature.  (Sad but true story:  I’ve known church Deacons who committed to sending birthday cards to all church members, but they misspelled names or even called the birthday person by the wrong name.  This negates all efforts to offer authentic pastoral care.)
  • People want authentic community.  They don’t want cursory form letters  in the hospital.  They don’t want to be A Name a Pastoral Care List. They want authentic compassion.  They don’t want fake, thoughtless, or impersonal.
  • We might believe we are actually being real, thoughtful, and personal when we send cards.  But it takes genuine effort to be real, thoughtful, and personal.  Do we care about someone enough to get to know whether or not she prefers greeting cards or Twizzlers?  Maybe he prefers balloons or a cupcake.  Does she want her health situation to be confidential or does she want to be named on The Prayer List?
  • If we want to nurture community, we will need to commit time and attention to human beings as individuals.  We have got to know our people.  Depending on the size of the congregation, the pastor cannot possibly know each individual’s story.  And, actually, it’s not the pastor’s job to visit the everybody.  It’s the pastor’s job to teach other church leaders to do pastoral care so that every person in a faith community has at least one or two personal connections.

I don’t mean to criticize the good people who work at Hallmark.  But Hallmark cards are a metaphor for what’s weak about our care for one another.

The card pictured above is from a new line of cards for the unemployed.  For the love of God, if you know people who are unemployed, please cook them dinner or take them out to lunch or go over with warm muffins and coffee and hear their story.  Do not send them a card.  I’m begging you.


3 responses to “Hallmark & The 21st Century Church

  1. Excellent, Jan. I despise cards with no personal message. But I am annually surprised by how much I enjoy getting 50 happy birthdays on Facebook. Who would have thought!

  2. On Valentine’s Day this year I gave my husband a card made by a friend of ours with a photo this friend had taken of a beautiful sunrise in Canada. Inside the card was a poem I wrote just for my husband on that day. THAT was a special card. At a former parish where all of the parishioners were retired folk it was the practice of the Rector to send people postcards on their birthdays – with a ready made set of wishes all the Rector had to do was sign the card. (Imagine each week signing 10-25 of these). I could not just sign my name, I had to write a personal sentiment to the person. I do use e-cards but not sure what I think of them, nor do I know if the people I send them to appreciate them….I suspect not since they never reply…lol

  3. I don’t think there are many people, regardless of age, who don’t appreciate an appropriate, meaningful card. There are some that mean more than others, of course, but the fact that someone took the time to go to the store, look through the cards, pay the money, address it, write a short note and pay postage means that the recipient is in some way important to the sender. Of course, if the name is spelled incorrectly or it’s from someone they’ve never meant, it negates what I just wrote. So spell names right and send responsibly. (Can you tell I’m an ex-Hallmarker?))

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