In October, we had a “question box service” in which you wrote down questions for me and I tried my best to answer as many as I could in 20 minutes. I ran out of time before I could answer all of your questions, so I am taking this space to answer a few more of them here. A number of your questions have also inspired sermons that I will be preaching in early 2016.
Is it assumed that the minister/congregant relationship is sharply divided? Can a minister and a congregant be “friends?”
This is a wonderful question. The minister/congregant relationship is different from a friendship in some important ways.
Our relationship is not fully mutual. There are some things that you can tell me about your life that I will not tell you about mine. As a mentor in ministry told me, “a true friend is someone that you can complain to about your job. It’s never appropriate to vent to a congregant about your job because they are, collectively, your employer.” If you need to talk about a workplace frustration, please feel free to call me up and do it. Just don’t expect me to follow suit.
As a congregation, it is our mission to care for one another. As your minister, I am set apart from some of that. When you have a dark night of the soul, I would hope that you would turn to the church—to me and to others. When I have a dark night of the soul, I will turn to support outside of the congregation—to my spiritual director, to clergy colleagues, to friends and family, to a therapist. When I have passed through, I will likely share with you any insights gained along the way.
Many of us have memories of grade school of another child telling us, “You’re not my friend!”
I hope none of you reading this are hearing this tone in my words. I am not intending that. I hope, instead, you can see the opportunity in our relationship. The minister/congregant relationship is not a friendship with expectations of reciprocity. In your relationship with me, I hope that each of you receive more than you give.
I hope that then, you can take whatever it is you have received—love or care, insight or wisdom, support or courage—and, instead of returning it to your minister, direct it to others in your life who need it. This, to me, is the beauty and the magic of the minister/congregant relationship. By calling a minister who doesn’t expect reciprocity, each of you become better equipped to minister to your families, your friends, your community and the world.
Will you please share the words you spoke after Joys and Concerns that we might add it to our own practice?
These are the words that I say following Joys and Concerns. They are adapted from a prayer in the Book of Common Prayer used by the Episcopal Church.
Sources of reason and radiance, sources of comfort and compassion,
keep watch, with those who work or watch or weep this day.
May the sick be tended.
May the weary find rest.
May the dying and those who love them find peace.
May the suffering be soothed.
May the joyous be shielded,
and may all of us remember that we are wrapped in the love that surrounds us always and will not let us go.