As s a form of literature, the letter holds a central place in communicating the Christian faith. One-third of the New Testament is made up of letters or epistles. Thus the modern Christian owes much to the practice of letter writing. It is therefore difficult to imagine the Christian minister misusing or distorting the values of letter writing. Yet this is frequently done with that special kind of letter called the letter of recommendation.

Perhaps the following sardonic quatrain is relevant:

A clergy letter penned with tongue in cheek

Is like a cup of tea that’s pale and weak

For tea it is, as you can plainly see,

But sipping it reveals from taste it’s free!

Undoubtedly many clergymen write what appear to be letters of recommendation but are really little more than aggregations of pale words, devoid of real meaning.

At a recent meeting of college and university admission officers, one official remarked, “We require two letters of recommendation, not including the one from a clergyman.” When asked to explain, he pointedly said, “Experience has shown us that the letter from the minister is useless, little more than a string of platitudes and worn-out clichés.”

The pastor may claim that he has far too many other demands on his time to be particularly concerned about writing good letters of recommendation. But that is hardly a satisfactory answer. For after all, some conscientious ministers do write letters which are exceedingly helpful, individualistic enough to show close knowledge of the candidates and realistic enough to show that the writers have not adopted the all too prevalent attitude, “If I can’t say something good about a person, I won’t say anything.”

The traits of a good letter of recommendation are not hard to identify: ...

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