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.