Sunday, August 12, 2012

Silliest advice ever given to parish priests?

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.


Father Ron Smith said...

Thank God, Peter, that at Saint John's College, as early as the latter half of the 1970's, we students were never advised that must must not make friends of parishioners when we became beneficed clergy.

Our Pastoral Studies lecturer, in fact made the point that we would need to create meaningful friendships with parishioners - a situation that would vastly improve our pastoral skills. The point was that no-one was outside the pale.

Maybe this situation you speak of was a conservative attitude towards the great gift of friendship - feared - in case someone took advantage of the clergy? What did that say about the body of Christ?

Jason Goroncy said...

A good call Peter.

You may be interested in this post that I wrote a while back:

Cheers, Jason

Suem said...

I think it is entirely appropriate and beneficial for vicars to have parishioners as friends. If not, their friendship groups can end up very limited as clergy often don't come into close contact with a lot of other people besides clergy colleagues. It is important to be aware of potential pitfalls though. I remember one parishioner who became intrusive and would phone my parents at 4am in the morning to unburden her problems. It is hard to deal with such neediness when an obsessive parishioner has access to you every Sunday and at prayer groups/ church social events etc.

Tim Chesterton said...

I have heard your current bishop, Peter, advise young clergy that It would be inappropriate for them to date someone from their congregation. How young clergyminmtinymrural communities are supposed to find good Anglican spouses without dating people in their congregation is beyond me! Marci and I would not have enjoyed our thirty-two years of happy married life if that rule had been in force when I was a young minister!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Suem,


Also, thank you for your autobiographical contribution on another thread here.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Tim

In general terms, that episcopal advice is sound. However, as you point out, and as I know from collegial life stories, there are brilliant exceptions to prove the rule.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Jason
That is a very interesting post!

Father Ron Smith said...

Ree Timk's experience; I remember the Vicar of Whangarei - at my induction as a single curate - saying that not one of his many curates who had arrived in that parish single, had departed unmarried. how's that for Peter's possible 'exception'?

Incidentally, it happened to me, too - after a bit of protest, of course!

MichaelA said...

Over here, most Moore College grads seem to get married before they graduate (I think it might be an unwritten policy, but someone might correct me on that) so it generally doesn't arise.

But where it does, I can see how a priest dating a parishioner could be a practical problem - not because there is anything wrong with it, but because of the jealousies of others. Even with the best will in the world, some people in the parish will imagine that the priest is showing favouritism to his girl-friend/fiancee, and the whispers and back-biting could start.

But then, why should we the church give in to such issues? Perhaps it must just be handled in a godly way by everyone concerned, with frequent exhortations and teaching by all the church leadership about the need to behave in a loving manner to each other, and avoid gossip and back-biting...