03 May 2010

Friending

Much is made of the need for pastors' families not to "get too close" to members of their congregation. I wonder if it's too much in these Facebooky latter days. People are not idiots. They can tell if they're being thought of more as lab specimens or movie extras than human beings. Especially now that it's so common for people to keep their "real" friends online, I think, barring the messed-up-parish scenario, the pastor's wife is well advised to be at least as careful about keeping too great a distance between herself and her geographical/congregational neighbors as she is about getting too close.

It's true that I don't really have a close mom friend here where we live. But I do have friends. As it happens, the ladies who keep the same hours I do are mostly retired, since most women my age work. So when my friends see to it that I get out of the house, which they are very kind in doing, they've got a generation on me. But they're still my friends, and we know what's going on in each others' lives. We don't "not count" because we're of different ages and places in life. In fact, that distance can make it easier since we're not all judging each other about who's going to go home and use formula or Pampers or Baby Einstein or conventionally cultivated kumquats whatever else is maternal contraband this month. They're past the need to take my weird life personally.

As nice as you girls all are, there's not one of you who stops by for a chat when I'm out hanging laundry, or can run over to listen for the napper when Dad gets called away on dentist day.

Not all parishes can roll this way; some are just too screwed up. But in a parish that isn't too screwed up, it's ok to have friends. We don't have to be BFF, but it's also doesn't benefit anyone for pastors' wives to think or act like they're not really part of life where they live merely by virtue of their being pastors' wives. Once again, we're not as special or important as they love telling us at those drag-your-wife-along meetings at the seminary. Support local business, eat local food, and, as the situation allows and to whatever extent is prudent, have local friends. And don't get discouraged too quickly. It takes time.

13 comments:

Untamed Shrew said...

Amen and glory, hallelujah. My closest parish friend turns 70 this summer. Since she is the organist and music director, we spend a good amount of time together. But even without those occasions, we still go for walks and eat together. She's one of the few my quirky kids are comfortable with, and I just don't know what I'd do without her.

William Weedon said...

If you will pardon a pastor's perspective: Amen! What the pastor and his wife must guard against is favoritism, not friendship. Agape sanctifies all things - including phileo.

Dakotapam said...

We're in a very small mission congregation. This changes the friendship dynamic. I have friends in and out of church, and I think it has been beneficial to all!

Katy said...

I was just thinking yesterday about how the "my real friends are on the internet" mindset is sometimes a form of self-idolatry. As if all your "closest" friends who understand you the "best" have to be exactly like you--have the same interests, styles, politics, philosophies, age of kids, etc. We go look for people like us online. (Don't get me wrong, I really enjoy this blog and other obscure subcultures of which I am a part :D ) I know this is't exactly what you are talking about, Rebekah, but it made me think of it.

We are close friends with our pastor and his wife, but we live 50miles apart (for over a year now--we moved). It's hard to get together much, especially when 6 children 5 and under are involved. I'm friends with the lady across the street, a Covenant youth pastor's wife, and she has 4 young children.

But my closest, closest friends (besides DH) tend to be 4-5 friends from highschool who are unmarried (except for one), and my MIL.

Elephantschild said...

Been here five years and have been doing everything I can to try to connect locally, and it just isn't happening.

At a certain point, you get tired of the conversation dying when you try to join in, of the circle not opening when you approach a group, of having conversations conducted over your head.

And at that point, I thank the Lord that he has blessed me with an internet connexion.

Rebekah said...

>>What the pastor and his wife must guard against is favoritism, not friendship

YES.

Katy, big time. And I think this is particularly exacerbated by the seminary experience for those who do it. It is not normal to be completely surrounded by people (outside of family) who share one's most peculiar tastes.

EC, so not cool. :(

Susan said...

Shortly after my husband was ordained, the senior pastor told us, "Friend to all; buddy to none." That was fine there. But after some back-stabbing and major hurts at the next congregation (where we spent 17 years) it was easier to withdraw and have friends in the community and not at church. In the last few years there, I began to get over some of the earlier hurts, began to get tired of living a life of pretending to be Who They Wanted Me To Be, and just tried to be friendly and be myself. And then everything really crashed. Lesson learned: don't be yourself, hide as much as possible. (Bad bad lesson to learn, but I doubt I will ever unlearn it.)

Gauntlets said...

Susan: I hate that lesson. :( I'm so sorry people are mean.

Untamed Shrew said...

I empathize with Susan and EC. I have often smiled and said, "Good morning!" to a group, only to have the conversation come to a deafening halt. And it's hard to be yourself when you are stripped of your identity. Once I was at a birthday party--no one from our church except me, my kid, and the hostess--and she introduced me as her pastor's wife. Not her friend, not someone who supported her Mary Kay business, not Claire's mommy... but the pastor's wife. Within 5 minutes everyone knew my husband's comings and goings, shoe size, SSN.... but no one ever asked my name. I was devastated and explained to my friend what a disservice she had done me. Thankfully she was receptive.

Rebekah said...

Susan, I always think of you when I think on this topic. Maybe I'll end up getting burned--there certainly have been some tense sitches here--all I know is that, for now, I can't help forming real bonds with church people. We study Scripture together, they're my go-to grandmas since none of our real ones are close, they literally live down the street from me. They are my neighbors.

Shrew, I have to say it doesn't bug me to be introduced as the pastor's wife. I don't know what I'd have to say about myself anyway. ?

Susan said...

Rebekah, don't "apologize" for forming friendships in the congregation. Don't shy away from them. It is a good and blessed thing! I agree with you that sometimes they give you the impression at sem that wives should stay aloof from everybody. But that's not healthy. I think Ken Wieting is right about not having buddies to whom you confide all your secrets and your anger and your sin and your longings. But that's different from friendships, even good friendships.

Mrs G, I don't think the people were mean. It's just that some of them believed differently from what I believe. The ones who valued the doctrine & practice of their pastor were kind and loving and supportive as much as they were able. The others, too, acted in accord with their faith; insofar as they believe true doctrine, that bore fruit; insofar as they believed false doctrine, that too bore consistent fruit.

Also, ditto to what Rebekah said about being introduced as the pastor's wife. It didn't bother me as much as it does some women. I also got introduced as the homeschooler or as the woman with SIX [gasp] kids. Okay, fine -- that pretty much pinpoints me as the weirdo in the community and allows people to figure out who I am -- even if their stereotypes are off-base.

Untamed Shrew said...

It wouldn't have bothered me in a church setting. But at a mostly non-Lutheran party, being married to a "preacher" just made me a freak. No one would talk to me except to ask about my Jesus freak husband.

Pam said...

I empathize with anyone who's been "burned" as we've had that in both parishes so far. The concept of a kind, loving congregation still seems strange to me, but I do hope someday we get to find out that such a thing exists... for us.