Pastors across the country will no doubt have plenty to preach about this morning. The debacle between Pastor Alois Bell, Chelsea Welch, and Applebee's offers several issues for composing a good sermon. Going beyond that, this article is for the purpose of offering some calm into the storm. Reconciliation and peace are always the high road in the midst of conflict, though not nearly as sensational. This article offers five possibilities by which the parties concerned could find growth out of this whole thing, moving further than they were before it happened. Adversity can quite often be our best teacher.
1. Go beyond an apology and take responsibility for having made an error in judgment. Now that this whole situation is so public, this needs to be done publicly since Pastor Bell is also in a publicly visible role. What could be helpful would be to invite the waitress that served her as well as Chelsea Welch (who was fired over this) to her worship service. In place of the sermon, have three chairs up front and sit down with the two women for a conversation. Open up to the congregation and admit that this started by an error in judgment. Pastors are human beings as well and just as susceptible to mistakes as anyone else. Bell can then open up for conversation with these two women in a place of accountability since the congregation would be watching. Bell could open up for questions from these two women and make every effort to true reconciliation with them. An added step for helping the rest of society learn here would be to have this recorded and put it up online.
2. Open up to the public about her church's ministry. The church does not seem to have any public presence either online or in the community. While it seems to be a new church, there are other ministers with successful ministries who mentor other pastors in growing fledgling ministries. Letting her church develop a public profile to show that it is not, as has been asserted on many online discussions, simply a tax write-off. A free website through Facebook where her self-published books can be available would go a long way toward generating trust with the public and actually open her church to members of the public who would be receptive to a pastor willing to admit her mistakes.
3. Ask for a sit-down with the Applebee's manager and Chelsea Welch. This should be private with no cameras or reporters allowed. This is an opportunity for Bell to ask for the company to rehire Welch. Although the company has a policy of employees not disclosing customer information to the public, Bell provided a highly unusual impetus that apparently went beyond the normal customer information employees see every day. With all the confusion and disinformation, Applebee's could possibly give Welch a second chance. The possible result makes this worth making an effort to set this up.
4. Stop hiding and retreating. Several articles about this event referenced Bell's self-published books, but those links are no longer valid. Some sites that come up on a web search indicate YouTube videos of Bell's sermons and worship, but those are no longer available. Taking down this information makes it look like Bell has something to hide, increasing a sense of distrust. Does it matter what the public thinks about Pastor Alois Bell? Absolutely, since she is the pastor of a church. She is in a role in which she represents to the community and society what it means to be Christian. The message that has been portrayed to this point is not very favorable or consistent to the teachings of Christ. Bell can rectify this.
5. Write up a public explanation about her beliefs on tithing, how much she actually "gives to God" either through her own church's ministry or elsewhere, and what she truly believes about how people are compensated for their hard work. In this, she is likely to have to make some hard self-reflection and maybe change some assumptions she's always made. That would be okay, wouldn't it? Going beyond a press release sort of format, if Bell writes this as a heartfelt, personal expression of her beliefs and personal exploration, she could go a long way in turning this situation into a positive reconciliation instead of the catastrophe it has become.