Tuesday, May 01, 2007

One of the dilemmas of ministry for me

has been how to handle the changes that occurred as I began to see myself as a minister, as I moved from being a layperson, a layleader, to being a minister, a person with a different kind of relationship with the congregation, a different kind of authority.

I recently had a communique from a longtime friend in my home church who feels I dropped her and other friends there when I moved many miles away to take my first pastorate. It has been several years since I moved; it's both a shock to me and yet not a shock. I'd had no inkling from her or from other friends there that they felt this way, but I also know that I have changed a lot since I became a minister and I know that those changes are part of this rupture in our friendship.

Our friendship began when I was a layleader in the congregation, many years ago. When I started seminary, I became less active in lay roles and was often absent because of preaching gigs elsewhere, as well as a year-long parish internship and chaplaincy internship.

The "formation" process for a minister means learning to think of oneself differently; consequently, one's actions change as one's formation progresses. I spent less time with lay friends and more with clergy/student friends as my identity shifted.

When I moved away, I intended to stay in touch with old friends but found the demands of ministry more than I had expected and let things many miles away slide from my consciousness. Unfortunately, that took a toll on those friendships.

I'm hoping my friend will understand but I have little confidence that she will. It is one of the realities of ministry, that one enters a new life at the time of leaving the lay world for the world of ministry. The growth that occurs tends to separate people. Marriages often break up in seminary because of that growth; longtime friendships can't always stand the strain of the changes.

I've sent a response to her. I hope she hears what I'm saying and accepts my apology. I hope we can retain our friendship. But the changes in me are not going away, the demands on me as a minister are not going to disappear, and the way I think of myself is now set pretty firmly in the ministry role. It hurts to think of having hurt others because of this change in my life. It will always be a sadness for me.


Chalicechick said...

Admittedly, my reaction to that is "Geez, lady, grow up. Ms. Kitty moved! These things happen. If you want to stay in touch, YOU reach out!"

But that's why I'm a Whinology, Inc. customer and not an employee.

RandomRanter said...

Interesting. I had heard similar things about going through the police academy - that the internal changes are such that marriages often end. It makes tons of sense that ministry would lead to internal changes that would impact relationships, on top of the moves and high demand job it leads you into.
But I agree with CC that phone lines go both ways.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks to both of you. CC,her note was a bit of a whine but I didn't think it prudent to respond with a Whinology, Inc. ruling!

RR, I'll bet it would be similar to going through something like the police academy---or any training where you have to change your self-image to be able to do the work effectively.

LinguistFriend said...

Indeed, such personal changes are real and extreme. One university department in which I both studied and worked as a soft-money researcher had a recognized syndrome referred to as
"D & D" ((doctoral)dissertation and divorce). I survive partly thanks to my friendship from graduate study, but I have lost most friendships from earlier stages of life. I seem to keep a core of friends and make more when I move, some of whom stay connected and many of whom do not.
There are of course recommendations as to how a minister should interact (or not interact) with members of congregations in which the minister has previously served.
But I do not doubt that some of the side effects such as you describe can be painful and unintended.

faded said...

When you change it can be frightening for the people around you. Even if the change is a positive one. Some people want steady unchanging relationships. They can become quite upset if you change the dynamic in the relationship. However, your obligation is to grow in service to the people around you and in service to God.

For me if a relationship does not grow or have a dynamic component to it, I can become board with the relationship and let it fade away. I expect people to change and grow and will try to contribute to an environment where they can do that. I also understand that they will probably grow way from me at some point or I will grow away from them. That is ok, if was I able to serve them in some capacity along the way even better. Your friend needs to take joy in the dynamic of serving. Perfect love casts out all fear.

Remember as Bill and Ted said, "Be excellent to each other."

ms. kitty said...

What great comments and insights, my friends! Thank you so much for your wisdom.

Miss Kitty said...

Wow. I'm sorry to hear about your friend...it's weird how friendships can change without our even knowing. I hope your friend and your former lay-peeps (OK, that doesn't sound quite right) can get over thier problems.

I do imagine going into the ministry changes a person, though. I was a professional actor for several years...and often, actors are just adults who refuse to grow up. The life allows us to be kids a little longer. Once I left the acting scene, though, I "grew up," and some acting friends accused me of leaving them out in the cold. But what could I do? I had to "grow up" (or grow away)...or risk being stuck for life.

Mile High Pixie said...

I can empathize, Kit. I have a friend right now that I've had to stop being around. He sent me an email today telling me how devastated this has left him, but I did it for both of our own good(s). I was growing and he wasn't.

If I'm accused of changing, due to school, work, life, whatever, I say Hell yeah I changed. We are never the same person that we were five years ago, and we likely won't be the same five years from now. Doesn't mean that the core of me has changed, though sometimes it does, but change happens. I hope that this gal can understand that, even if she doesn't like it much. And I hope that your new peeps give you what you need to carry forth and do your job and live your life.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, all, for your insights and support. I'll let you know if things change.

Lizard Eater said...

Hmmm. Very interesting. I've seen a similar thing happen when one becomes a parent, while her friend(s) remain child-free.

I am about to leave on a "Girls weekend" with my posse. We are all in the process of change -- upcoming divorces, dramatic career changes, etc. I wonder what things will be like for us, 10 years from now.

UU Soul said...

When my husband got his dream job three years ago, I realized I would have to deal with the major shift in our relationship. We were no longer going to be keeping the faith together about career dreams. I've been so happy to see him blossom in his career, but naturally have moments of jealousy and loneliness when he is traveling and living his dreams without me. In many ways, everything changed. I had to find my own ways to grow in order to restore balance in our relationship.