On Boundary ViolationsPosted: August 25, 2009
There’s a new article out from a researcher at Penn State that examines the challenges of balancing home and work life. The guinea pigs? 60 Episcopal priests — no I wasn’t one of them. I was too busy trying to balance my home and work life to participate. They chose Episcopal priests because they wanted folks “who face particularly extreme challenges in balancing work and home demands.”
I smell a reality TV show in the offing. “Clergy Encounters of the Extreme Kind” would have spouses yelling at their clergy husbands/wives as they attempt to conduct pre-marital counseling (“I can’t believe you’re stressing communication to these two. Why don’t you practice what you preach for once in your life?!”). Haggling over personal finances in the sacristy just before the 10:00 am liturgy (“Okay ‘God Guy’, why couldn’t you have been ‘called’ to be an investment banker?”). A vestry meeting being conducted at the dinner table during a family meal (“Would you please pass the salt and do something about the out-of-control flower budget?”).
In reality it is a tricky balance. Clergy have taken two vows: one to our spouses and one to our God. And at times there’s tension between the two demands — the demands of family life and the demands of parish life. The priest who performed our wedding at the Church of the Redeemer in Baltimore (I was in the ordination process at the time) used to always tell me that the vow represented by that ring on my left hand always came first. This advice has come in handy on more than one occasion. But it’s always a work in progress — BlackBerry’s and laptops don’t help matters.
Much of the research revolves around setting appropriate boundaries — between your personal and professional lives. Of course some of the “solutions” are pretty funny. One priest swears by having his wife answer his cell phone to screen calls on his day off. Solange DeSantis — the friend and editor extraordinaire who forwarded me this article — already has her take on this one: “I can hear it now – ‘Bryna, honey, here’s my cell phone, would you handle all my calls today? Be sure to take messages and tell them to please respect my boundaries.’ Fill in the ^%$&^*&^&* answer from Bryna.” I couldn’t have said it better!
Then there’s the priest (I’m not making this up) who is quoted as having “had a six-foot stockade fence built between the church and the rectory to physically separate her work and her home.” You can’t see me! You can’t see me!
Gotta go now — I’m off to dig a moat.