Months ago I was asked to lead a workshop on “Healthy Boundaries for Clergy and Spiritual Teachers.” At first I questioned it – asking both friends and my regional minister – if I was the one to lead such an event since I had struggled throughout my time in ministry with boundaries. I was assured that I “would do a good job.” And so I said Yes.
Now as I work towards this day I recognize that I am diving deep into reliving many events of the past thirty years. It seems that I am stirring up memories that I had buried a long time ago.
Healthy boundaries in ministry are easy to describe but hard to live with. During this workshop we will talk about dating, dual relationships, gifts, touch, transference, and self care. What is tricky is that ministers are expected to maintain clear professional relationship in the midst of the life together that we share in a congregation. For a doctor, whose patient makes an appointment and sees them only in a professional setting, this is much easier. But even doctors have issues with crossing the line from professional to personal.
There is this belief that the minister sort of becomes part of the “church family” except eventually we will leave and they will stay. There is a "psychic whiplash" in that we are expected to be available at the most intimate times and still keep a professional distance. And at the same time we are living our lives in full view of everyone– raising children, having marital issues, losing family members.
As I do the deep dive in preparation I can see how many ways and times I struggled with boundaries in my ministry. There is in me a need to be needed and a basic insecurity that has led to overfunctioning and oversharing at times. When I went through divorce, dating and remarriage and the death of my parents, there were challenges with boundaries partly due to my emotional pain and vulnerability. And then there is that basic ego and my self centeredness that can lead me to thinking that I am special.
But that reality is not the end of my deep dive. I cannot stop with my flaws and failings, my mistakes and missteps. Instead there is a call to go deeper to encounter the Holy One , who has called me into the messiness of pastoral ministry and has inspired, empowered and forgiven me along the way. The deep dive leads to the loving face of God who somehow used this very imperfect woman to guide others - not to the perfect existence – but to the graced and saved and abundant life.
The deepest dive takes me to places which bring discomfort at times but ultimately wonder and awe. I can accept my humanity and also experience the shimmering presence of the divine that transcends my limitations and fills me with mercy and joy.