Monday, October 11, 2010

Dealing with troubled people

Over the course of my life, I have dealt professionally with a number of troubled souls, some of them my students, struggling with issues of domestic violence, with sexual orientation, addiction, and more. Some were adults whom I knew through our professional relationship, either in a school setting (parents, for example) or as others who sought me out for counseling or other help. Some were friends or acquaintances who saw me as somebody who had helpful professional skills but were not clients in any sense. With all of these folks, I interacted from my professional self.

In every profession, however, there is a strictly professional aspect and then there is a somewhat personal aspect. Sometimes they get intermingled, despite our best efforts to maintain the professional relationship, and a professional decision means an injury to the personal aspect.

In ministry, this is particularly true. When I was a seminary student, preparing for UU ministry, I was also a person who was seen in my home congregation as an active and energetic lay leader. Most of my close friends were members of that congregation and I saw them often, both in worship, in church activities, and in groups outside the congregation. But as I got farther along in my education and ministry experience, I began to separate somewhat from my life as a lay leader and to become more aware of my ministerial identity.

This had the effect of distancing me from my friends in the congregation, as they didn't see me as a minister. They just saw me as Kit----until the moment when they wanted to dish about something the current minister was up to, and I couldn't do it because of my collegial responsibility to him/her.

"You've changed! You're not the same Kit any more", I heard often. Sometimes this was a good thing and underscored an improvement in my skills, but more often it marked a shift, away from my lay leader identity and toward a very different identity, that of minister.

It was hard for many of my friends to accept my new identity. Because I was less present at the activities of my home church and had less time for my outside activities, I lost contact with many friends, was not invited to gatherings, and I spent much more time with my new seminary friends, friends who were also budding colleagues and with whom I had much more in common.

I tell you this to begin a series of observations on the ways that the professional and the personal can overlap and often pinch, particularly in ministry.

Without revealing confidential data, I hope to describe in generic terms some of the most difficult kinds of situations I've encountered and the resources I used to work through these difficulties toward a more positive outcome.

Stay tuned. Surprisingly, my previous post about my sense of inertia around blogging produced a lot of new ideas, because of the many encouraging comments received. Thanks for re-enlivening my blogging life, friends!


Kelly KH said...

As a seminarian, I find your post a relief. I look forward to hearing more. I have been struggling with this identity shift for the last 18 months, and have begun to find more balance, but it's sometimes lonely

ms. kitty said...

It was one of the hardest parts of formation for me, Kelly. I wish you well. One day you'll likely look back and be able to help someone else with the same difficulty.

ogre said...

I look forward to those posts. This part;
I spent much more time with my new seminary friends, friends who were also budding colleagues and with whom I had much more in common.
is thinner now, I think, as more and more of us move into non-traditional seminary experiences, and particularly into things like MLTS's non-residential model. The ties between us (seminarians) seem to run deep, but we're spread out most of the time and don't get to develop those friendship ties and experiences that helped fill the gap (I think).

Kelly's right, it's lonely. And it's strange--this new model means that we live inside the congregations where we were part of the crowd, part of the community, even as we cease to be part of it. The sense of loss and alienation is sometimes palpable. You get to feel like a ghost, present, but not. And with the increasingly popular non-residential model for seminary (hi, Kelly!), the seminary friends experience is... well... not as it was. It can grow deep sometimes, quickly. But the opportunities to make and foster those ties are fewer than they were, I think, and rarer. And then we return to being ghosts in our home communities....

ms. kitty said...

I can see how lonely it must be, particularly for those non-traditional experiences. I'm sorry, Ogre. As you progress through the discernment and formation process, I hope you will find new connections as your ministerial identity grows stronger.

ogre said...

I'm sure that it has its recompenses, ms. kitty. I haven't had to peel myself--and my family--out of life and the congregation that we're part of, in order to go to school. And it's not as if I don't have a list of people I've met in/through seminary that I feel attached to.

I'm not complaining.

But... maybe a little creative whining...