Yesterday I was in Dunedin celebrating the 90th birthday of a very dear and wonderful friend of the Carrell family. My parents, two brothers and one sister with her husband made the effort to travel there because that friendship has been very precious to us through the last forty-seven years. We joined with a host of parishioners at Mary's church, St Matthew's, along with other friends of hers who had also travelled there to be there for this special occasion.
That friendship began when my father became the Vicar of St Matthew's in 1965.
Yet over my years of being a clergyman I have heard on numerous occasions the advice given, with all the solemnity of pronouncing eternal dogma, that clergy should never make friends with their parishioners.
I do understand why that advice is given: parish life can be a complex calculation of considerations which is made more complicated by friendships with some when one cannot be friends with all.
But as a piece of practical dogma, I reject the advice. For a start off, it would have deprived my family of friends like Mary, and a host of other friends made through life in other parishes. It would also have deprived Teresa and me of wonderful friends we have made in the parishes we have been associated with.
In the end, friendships are made because we find things in common with people and enjoy their company. We are bound to meet new friends in parish life. We shouldn't deprive ourselves of those friendships because of silly advice pronounced as dogma. We should heed the kernel of wisdom within that advice, and manage the way we conduct our friendships as part of being good ministers.