While we are not gathering in person, are you introducing online platforms for facilitating congregational community? This week’s question reminds us that in-person dynamics can easily migrate to the new venues.
In my small congregation are several women who are all good friends, which is fine. There are times, however, that they are cliquish. I don’t believe they mean to be.
Here’s what happened. I introduced them to Zoom and told them about some churches even having fellowship and coffee hour over Zoom. Then I hear that these folks are doing that, but that it isn’t open to everyone. It’s just a few friends getting together via Zoom. One of the gals, who is very inclusive casually mentioned it in conversation today. I told her I only found about it yesterday and that I wasn’t invited. She sounded shocked.
When on internship, I remember being told by my supervisor’s wife that we are always outsiders and I think she’s really right. Just when you think you’ve built a solid relationship, maybe even a friendship, something like this happens. I was really hurt. Then during my devotions today, God really spoke to my heart about God’s inclusiveness and Christ’s love. I’m basically ok, but we put ourselves out there over and over and then feel like you get slapped down.
I’m not sure how to phrase a question about this. I did tell two of the ladies involved that I felt excluded and hurt.
Any guidance for me, matriarchs?
Oh dear treasured colleague. We hope you find the advice and support you are seeking in the responses below:
Many years ago my grandmother told the story of someone in her bridge club or some such thing, who said that the pastor had never come to her home. At the time the pastor was no longer brand new. However, my grandmother’s response was “Did you ever invite him?”
Somewhere between the friend’s complaint and my grandma’s snappy retort is the truth of the matter. People invite us into the most intimate moments of their lives. In fact, they expect us to show up when someone is sick or dying or giving birth. We get invited to family celebrations like weddings, baptisms and graduations, but we aren’t exactly their friends. We’re their pastors.
So while it hurts when we aren’t invited to be a part of the in crowd, it comes with the territory. This is one reason being a pastor can be a really lonely job. Making friends can take a lot of intentional effort and we have to look beyond some of the places where people naturally make connections. As a pastor, your congregants shouldn’t be your best friends.
Dear Left Out: Your question took me right back to middle school, and the feeling of trying to figure out how I could get a group of girls to be my friends. I wonder if there are two levels to your question. One is about how the congregation treats you, and whether they consider you a friend, or not. As Heidi says above, we live in that liminal space of being loved, but not exactly friends. People still feel a need to behave in certain ways around the pastor.
I don’t see the problem with friends getting together over a zoom chat. That they all worship in the same congregation is just part of their friendship that extends into their community of faith. I think the pastor assisted them in supporting their friendship during this time. Good for her. I don’t see an issue beyond that.
As other matriarchs have said, you have articulated very well one of the legitimately very hard things about serving in our role as pastor. The congregation does not include us, and they are not our friends. Still, the pain of wanting to be included is real. Though it’s especially challenging right now, I encourage you to find your own community of belonging. Or two. Or more. For example, could you start a Zoom group of your nearby clergy colleagues?
Your instincts about introducing Zoom were right on, in my opinion. Could you try to start one or two other new (inclusive) groups, or help previously in-person groups to make the switch to Zoom? Check in on the group leaders from time to time — including the clique-y one — to inquire how they are doing and how you can support them as only you, their pastor, can do.
Thank you, Matriarchs, for your insightful responses.
The comments are open below for more input about ways to create community in the age of COVID-19.
Are you looking for ideas about ministry in the age of COVID-19? Send your questions to askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com
Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor living in Austin, TX. She is a contributor to the RevGals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit and blogs erratically at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.
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