Monday, February 28, 2011

Pastor-Congregation Member Friendships (and Interim Ministry)

Pastors are intimately aware of how people often approach them differently when they discover their line of work. My favorite is when people apologize for dropping an f-bomb in front of me, especially when that person wouldn't blush for saying the same thing in front of their grandmother. I was troubled by this at first. "Hey, I'm cool (not). Swear away."

Since I got over that dynamic, the question of how to relate to people in a congregation still remains, give or take the awkward apologies in social settings. A pastor does not operate in a clinical setting (unless they are some sort of licensed therapist). Yet, a pastor carries an expectation of presence in the midst of life's most turbulent times. The connection is powerful. I know I must be proactive to find friendships outside of church life, lest I lose perspective from fusion. If I minimize the connection with people in the congregation, there's an incarnational loss of shared faith and practice.

Because I live away from the interim ministries I serve, when I leave the congregation, a majority of the relationships essentially end. While we serve together, we have a shared focus. That does not mean there are not opportunities for friendships in the future; however, the relationship changes, as does the proximity. When I am no longer the pastor in a congregation, I do not officiate at weddings, funerals, baptisms, do pastoral care, or address congregational dynamics. I do not want to create triangles involving me, the called pastor, and others in the congregation. This situation is challenging to navigate. There is reciprocal value in the pastor-congregation member relationship. I deeply appreciate the support, camaraderie, service and learning shared in congregational ministry. Once again, the dynamic is changing because I will no longer be the pastor at First Lutheran Community Church in Port Orchard after March 7. I value the connections of yesterday, and maybe there will be connections tomorrow. But the relationship will change. I am still learning what that means, and a pray for what my colleague Marcia Carrier called, "a space of grace" as I see members of the congregations I have served in the future.

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