Monday, 10 June 2013

Clergy - Having favourites

Had an interesting chat with someone today regarding dogcollars and the issue of 'favourites' and as it unfolded it made me smile as the underlying issues came to the fore. The major issue appeared to be: 'I/we should be the favourites, not them!'

Over the years I have been taught (many, many times) that, 'ministers should never make friends with those in their church'. The interesting thing is that I have often received two pieces of wisdom, often from the same person and they are this:

i. Having friends in your church makes you vulnerable, and

ii. Not having close and accessible friends makes you vulnerable

I would like to think that everyone in the church I belong to is a friend (i.e. we are not enemies) but I am realistic enough to know that not everyone in church will be good, close, or best friends and that none of them will ever be my very bestest friend ever (that's God and the Wife).

Acquaintances - Some will never be more than casual acquaintances. I know their faces and a little of their home situation (married, kids, and the like) but I know I'm never going to be close because we don't share the same hobbies, interests and stuff. These are the people you know in passing but never really get to stop and engage with - and this is often not for the want of trying. Acquaintances might be the starting point but, for some, can also be the pinnacle of the relationship!

There are varying degrees of friendship:

Friends - I usually find that people who consider me to be a 'friend' actually become that but others, regardless of how much you try, will never become friends because they don't really want such a relationship. Friends are the people you spend time with because they, and you, want to. You might not share much the same but you enjoy each others company. I would hope that this would be the minimum position for Christians - but sadly not always!

Good Friends - These are the people who share some of the same interests and goals and strive to spend time with you and respond warmly when you invite them to do the same. They are part of your middle circle on the friend atom and are people who can be relied upon and who can rely upon you. The sort of people who will be there should you need them on a 'works both ways' basis!

Many of those I consider to be 'good friends' are people that disagree with me on some issues and don't share the same values, attitudes and beliefs perhaps - but being around them (and they around me) is something that is positive and enlivening.

Close Friends - For me these are the people I know I can open up to without fear and with whom I will pray and bring my major issues too safe in the knowledge that the relationship is flat (i.e. we are equals and have mutual respect and trust). These form the inner circle of friends and are eclipsed only by those at the very centre. These are people with whom I share a faith life and know I can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with when it comes to 'being Church' and 'doing the stuff'. I'm happy to fill my life with 'close friends' and yet so many who perhaps publicly crave this want the position but are not willing to pay the price of mutual commitment and 'sold out on Christ-ness' that it demands. This, like any front line role, means that unless we are prepared and willing to do this means we are not covering each other's backs and are in fact liabilities rather than supportive and protective (for that's what close friends are): That said, I'm happy for close friends to fall and fail (because we all do) but the commitment needs to be real.

Best Friend - This nuclear group consists of the very closest people and the number of these is limited and the people are extraordinarily special. I'd have to say that this contains my Wife and a few others. Theoretically all have the potential to be here and yet few are actually are willing to invest the commitment that allows people this close. Interestingly some here might only see me as a good or close friend - but they are those I'd share the deepest innermost bits, my fears, hopes and the nasty bits I'd rather keep hidden. The very centre of this is my other half for she is brutally honest and wonderfully supportive and often shows me the sort of love and acceptance that only she (and God) can.

So that's my four levels of friendship; each leading onwards and upwards. Offering, opening up and supporting, caring and engaging with others in the same way!

The key to ministers having friends is that they do not prefer some over others and this is something I have sought to do. The door has been open and the opportunity is there for anyone to come and be part of my life. The trouble is that some have taken this offer seriously whilst others have said they wanted to be friends but that wasn't what they really wanted. In fact some I have spent time with in the (now obviously) mistaken belief that we were becoming friends have later informed me that this was never the case (and whilst that wounded I soon realised that I probably much better off in that they went!). making friends is making oneself vulnerable and that's never comfortable now, is it?

So should pastors, vicars and leaders have friends in their churches?
Of course they should!

Should pastors, vicars and leaders restrict or choose who can become friends?
First response is 'No' but there does need to be some wisdom and discernment involved - to allow some close might well be folly indeed.

I hope this makes people think and helps some to develop proper Christian and enabling relationships in their congregations and fellowships - it's what Church is all about - innit?


Anonymous said...

A challenging piece as my experience is that many of those who want to be friends with the Rector do so because it confers something upon them. They want to be in a position of implicit authority rather than in a place of dependable trust.

Made me challenge my own attitudes and open door-open heart attitude I would like to think I have.


Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Indeed! Those who will complain at 'favourites' when the door is open to all and access is not restricted who are really complaining that they aren't in what they perceive as a position of power and influence - there's no commitment to the clergy person as friends or even co-workers, just a desire to be 'in the know'.

The problem with this is that they can colour the way we (clergy) respond after dealings with them and their ambitions.

That said, the door is always open and I'm willing to make time (which is odd because some who have taken most complain that time was never there for them I fear)

Hey Ho - thanks for comment.

Soup D said...

If you feel your vicar has favourites, ask yourself when was the last time you tried to spend time with him/her socially, outside of church events, without wanting something from him/her, but just for the pleasure of his/her company? Might be an eye-opener :)

UKViewer said...

Vic the Vicar!: Clergy - Having favourites

I know that my previous Vicar was a friend, whether he could be regarded as close, is hard to fathom. But, despite our friendship, he was able (and did) to take me to task when he believed that I'd overstepped the mark in something I said or did. And, I accepted that this was one of the prices of the relationship that we enjoyed, because for both of us the relationship was dynamic. Colleagues at work in the TA, Parish Priest, Chaplain and later mentor while I was in the discernment process, but totally supportive toward the whole vocation journey.

He's now moved on and I miss him, but not enough to move to his new parish!! There are other friends that I've made in my parish, that is home and where I worship and belong. I knew from the outset that one day we'd be separated in the nature of his Priestly role and was fortunate to have nearly 4 years of his friendship and ministry.

And, of course, now that he is no longer my Vicar, that relationship can develop naturally without the artificial constraints imposed by that role. God works in funny ways. In this case, he seemed to choose the friendship for us, by accident, but within his plans. Now it moves to another level as things develop in the future.

DrJ said...

Us medics, particualrly GPs who may know our patients for decades, face similar issues at times. It is hard, though, to imagine myself socialising with any of my patients in the same way that would be natural with many of the clergy I have known. But I could certainly see some of my patients as peripheral friends, and some have been both inciteful and supportive when I have needed it - which is nice.
I certainly recognise the "wanting authority/ wanting influence" situation. I am known by a shortened version of my Christian name, and it makes me chuckle a little when a few try to be matey but get it wrong by using my full Christian name (which, from my family, would mean that I was in big trouble!)

Oh, nice, one of the words in the captcha is "Scripture".

DrJ said...

Oh, and this might help with your evaluations:

Vic Van Den Bergh said...