Dear Matriarchs,
What’s a gal chaplain to do? I work in hospice and I try hard to be professional and do my job well. What does one do when a bereaved male claims he has “felt a connection” and asks where you “do services” or looks at you very intently in the eye and says he gets “lonely”. So far I’m just taking the professional route and ignoring the hint. Should I call him out and name it in regards to me, risking breaking the “connection” or trust? Or just continue the professional, empathic way? Does “compassionate, pastoral, good listener” equate with “possible hookup” to these guys? I am solidly married with kids and love my work.

Dear Chaplain,
This is common for both married and single clergywomen, especially when someone is lonely and you have been the person who has walked with the bereaved. Continue to be professional and – if necessary, because the lonely person has become more direct in his interest in you – remind him that healthy boundaries prevent a chaplain from socially interacting with clients or their family members away from the hospice or hospital.

It sounds like you are good at what you do. Thank you for being there for your people.
Jan at A Church for Starving Artists

From Sye of Relief
From Sye of Relief

Dear Chaplain,

Without question, I’d remain professional, and listen well, and be compassionate, and state clearly that you are solidly married with kids and love your work. You’re available for spiritual support, but you’re unavailable for anything else. End of story. That’s called upholding professional ethics and boundaries. If the bereaved person feels the connection or trust is broken with you, you should refer him to another person on your staff.

Best to you,

Jennifer at An Orientation of Heart

Dear Chaplain-

One of the rules I try to follow is “If something feels icky, it probably is.” You are the best judge of whether you feel that someone is harassing you, hitting on you or awkwardly seeking pastoral care. I must confess I’ve never been very good at confronting this sort of thing but I do know that when “it feels icky” I need to be extra vigilant about my boundaries. You can still be a good pastoral listener while maintaining your professional space.

It’s possible that this is just an awkward lonely man. You have been trustworthy and expressing loneliness is not always an easy thing to do. If he’s grieving a spouse he may be feeling really isolated. But you know all of this. Trust your instincts and don’t compromise your professional standards.

Best wishes,
Heidi aka RevHRod

Dear Solidly Married —

I think the question here revolves around what’s “professional.” Being professional doesn’t mean you should tolerate being uncomfortable. It is impossible for you to have a healthy, healing connection to a grieving person who has no sexual boundaries. It is professional to enforce those boundaries. The next time your gut tells you to call someone out on their inappropriate behavior, I hope you feel empowered to do so. “I am here as your chaplain, not as a potential date.” If the behavior continues, tell him you will discontinue all contact and follow through.

Really, life is too short for this particular flavor of clergy crap! By which I mean to say — your call is too significant and your marriage is too precious to fritter away your time and energy on people who would gladly abuse all of those things — your call, your marriage, your time, and your energy. To my mind, it is professional for you to protect those most valuable resources.

Ruth Everhart

Dear Concerned Chaplain,

My prayers are with you for discernment in this situation. I would speak gently but firmly with words such “I am honored to be here as a chaplain in this difficult time.” Clearly define your role and then keep your distance. Possibly find a male chaplain to support this grieving person instead of you.

Blessings,

Rev. Kelley

Dear Gal Chaplain,

It does seem to me that this sometimes happens when we meet a need for someone. Sometimes the connection feels personal, but not intrusive or threatening. Other times it is out of bounds. I must confess that I have only dealt with this on occasion, and the circumstances differed each time. I think we always continue to act in a professional, empathetic way, but that sometimes we must be more direct. I must admit, my first thought was to say (when he says he gets lonely), “You should come/go to church at XYZ. You’d meet some new people and make connections, and perhaps you wouldn’t feel so lonely!” It may be necessary to be more direct. “Mr. Jones, I know that it must be difficult for you right now, and that you must feel very isolated. I am happy to continue to be a pastoral/professional resource for you for a while. I can help you find a (grief support group, church, etc.) I can provide you information about local churches. I can refer you to a therapist if that would be helpful. However, any relationship beyond a professional one is not appropriate.”

It’s not an easy conversation to have. Let the Spirit guide you, and give you the words that will be both direct and pastoral. You need to set the boundaries. If the connection and trust is broken, that is his choice, not your responsibility. Blessings.

Tracy at Daily Grace

Readers, what is your experience? We hope you will share your thoughts in the comments.

6 thoughts on “Ask the Matriarch: Is he hitting on me?

  1. Boundaries are tricky and it is definitely OK to name the comments (and the request!) as unwanted. But I have also had family members who had slight dementia issues, and sometimes the “mouth filter” is too loose. In those cases, I have been gentle but clear when comments are not appropriate. I have also arranged for visits to occur when others are present (if in a home), or done a joint visit with another staff member. And I’ve also made sure I am transparent about the comments with my supervisor!

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  2. My approach would be a little bit different than those described so far. If possible, I would simply quietly switch him to the caseload of a male chaplain (who is fully informed about why) with a pleasant, “Goodbye. I will be moving on as your chaplain now; Rev. John Doe will be working with you after this.” I say this because the dynamic you describe would complicate the pastoral relationship, and switching him would allow him to experience care without experiencing his mixed-up feelings about you. You’ll notice I did not suggest engaging him about the boundaries or confronting him about the behavior, at least not unless it escalated beyond what you describe. It sure sounds like he is flirting with you and that has got to be uncomfortable. But sometimes people who are bereaved do nutty things that are out of character. You sound accomplished and comfortable in your role; I don’t think confrontation serves any purpose, at least if the behaviors are as mild as you said. If they were more direct–for example, if he asked you out to dinner, or asked uncomfortable questions about your love life–that would be the time to declare clear boundaries, in my opinion (and still transfer his case).

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  3. Two thoughts strike me:
    Firsty, this is quite common. I’ve noticed that people who are hurting can struggle to maintain boundaries; it’s as if everything has been thrown in the air for them, and our role is to keep them safely within the boundaries while we seek to support them. If we can’t do that for them then we have to move them on.
    Secondly, there are some people I know whose boundaries are set in a different place to mine, rather like the cultural ‘personal space’ physcial boundaries, and even if challenged, would see no issue with their remarks or intentions. I would move that person on.
    My opinion only… I would not challenge the comments directly except by reminding that it’s normal to feel a strong connection with a helper who provides support, (rather like a crutch for someone with a leg in plaster) but that is temporary and will wear off when the client becomes stronger and has less need. On the other hand, if it feels ‘wrong’ in the sense that you feel propositioned, pass him on.

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  4. Start by gently deflecting to give him a chance to move back to a healthy place. If he doesnt then have the talk as others have suggested.

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