One of the challenges of ministry in a small community is friendship--------where does the minister find friends? how does the minister maintain a certain professional distance from congregants without sacrificing a social life? is it really taboo to make friends with congregants?
I knew I'd face this when I moved to this island community. One of my strengths is being able to relate eye-to-eye with those I serve. It served me well as a junior high school counselor, because my kids didn't feel talked down to or patronized. They saw me as an adult, but an approachable one. I had good boundaries, I think, but I rarely set myself "above" my students, except to uphold school rules as necessary.
Now I'm a minister, trying to be authentic and my true self, but also aware that too much self-disclosure can easily work against me. Last night I had dinner with a couple in the congregation and we talked about this dilemma a bit. It's hard to explain the need for "professional friendship" to someone whom I respect and like a great deal, people I would readily glom onto as close friends, if it didn't feel a little dangerous.
It's not because they are dangerous, it's more because I am aware that my credibility as a minister can be damaged if I'm known too well or too intimately by those I serve. Yet the desire to reveal myself is strong when I encounter congregants with whom I feel compatible.
This morning I was reviewing the evening mentally and checking to see if anything I had said or done might have damaged my credibility with them---------even my inarticulate explanations of "professional friendship". I doubt that my one glass of wine would cause too-loose lips and I don't think I crossed any line, but I am acutely aware of the fragility of professional authority. I'm also aware that to tout professional authority in such a situation does damage to my desire to be approachable and eye-to-eye with those I serve.
I've examined my thoughts on this through the lens of "do I just need people to like/love me?" and I am aware that this desire is present in me. Over the years (especially as a jr. hi counselor), I've tamed this desire pretty thoroughly. I don't NEED people to like or love me in the old unhealthy ways, but, boy, it sure makes things easier when they do! If I can be liked and loved without sacrificing integrity, I'm a happier person.
So I'll continue my efforts to make friends in the island community where I can truly let down my hair and be real. As an extrovert not afraid to do things alone, I find it relatively easy to reach out to people I don't know. Of course, then there's always the moment when "you're a minister?" creates the old "English teacher" syndrome where the person I've just met is searching the past few moments to see if they've said anything that a minister would disapprove of!
Ah well, one conundrum at a time today!