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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.