On Boundary Violations

moatThere’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.


6 Comments on “On Boundary Violations”

  1. Scott Gunn says:

    Great post, and you’re right on. I was chatting with a very successful pastor and church planter one time. I asked him how he managed to hold himself together to get the place launched — how did he manage?

    He said the key was to always, always, always keep his priorities straight:
    1. God
    2. Family
    3. Church

    Seems about right.

    By the way, you should get some alligators for your moat. Just have them ready in time for St. Francis day. That’ll be great in the local paper.

  2. Father Tim says:

    Father Gunn — I think that’s the “other” holy trinity. The one for clergy wellness and sanity. Oh, and I’ll get the alligators if YOU do the blessing.

  3. A six-foot blockade? Wild. I like the moat idea better.

  4. Solange De Santis says:

    Moat? Stockade? Heavens, how old-fashioned. Get with modern times, people. What Tim needs is one of those invisible electric fences – like the kind for livestock – around his rectory. See, he activates it on his “personal time,” then he can sit by the window sipping a frosty beverage and watch unsuspecting, boundary-crossing parishioners get zapped.

  5. Father Tim says:

    Solange, I will NOT invent and install a giant Parishioner Zapper modeled on the ubiquitous glowing Bug Zapper. But thanks for putting the idea in my head.

  6. Wendi Gordon says:

    Thanks for providing a good laugh on this subject! Maintaining healthy boundaries is difficult for many pastors and since my work focuses on this issue (I am a pastor who provides life coaching and workshops for clergy to help them cope with the unique stresses of parish ministry) I especially appreciated the humorous take on it.

    Reality TV show…very creative idea! Of course, I can’t think of any clergy families who would want to be scrutinized even more closely than they already are. TV cameras in the home would add a whole new level to life in the fishbowl that I shudder to even THINK about.


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