Tuesday, January 13, 2009

More on Pastoral Boundaries

During a pastorate while attending Duke Divinity School, I invited one of the pastors in my district to present a workshop on stress management. He actually did a great job; he was a good communicator, an authentic human being, and fun to hear.

He asked some of the church members if they were taking good care of me, because, as he said, "Sometimes churches can chew and spit out," their pastors and he hoped they weren't one of those kind of churches. That particular church tottered back and forth between having full time pastors and student pastors. It seemed with every new appointment the arrangement would change, based on their level of compensation and indebtedness, etc.

The visiting preacher then said something that I've always wondered about. After having pastored his church well for a number of years, this pastor's marriage fell apart in divorce. Broken and wounded, the church, in the pastor's words, "took care of me" for a year or so after "I had taken care of them." I've seen this too in my life as well as in friends' and colleagues' experiences. Since clergy are human beings too, and since there is not a protective bubble around them and their loved ones, isn't it okay, even required, for clergy to receive, not just offer, kindness and support from the people they serve? Isn't that what spiritual friendship is, in part, all about?

What about receiving care and support from parishioners? What are the boundaries here? When is it OK or not OK for clergy to receive? I don't know any hard and fast rules. The only thing we owe is to love. That means to share our humanity by either receiving it or by giving it.

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