The Angry Email

I just got an angry email from a church member whose wedding I performed this summer. She's been an active member since she and her fiance joined last winter. Their lesbians. They both grew up in a very conservative Christian traditions that taught them about the saving blood and their damnation. Enter United Church of Christ. Turn left and meet new pastor who is young and somewhat hip. This young, angry church member has always wanted me to be her friend. She's never really caught on to the fact that I never offer something about myself. I've never felt comfortable with her to do so.

And then, a month ago or so ago, I was at a show that Musicman was playing. Angry church member's best friend was there. She's also a musician. She played at the wedding. She's like nails on a chalkboard to me. Somehow, it came out that I'm dating Musicman. I flipped. I wasn't ready for anyone to know -- especially not church people. I asked her not to say anything to angry church member. Well, it shouldn't be a surprise that she did. (This, by the way, doesn't help that I think she's nails on a chalkboard.)

Now, the lesbian is angry. She wants to know why she can't just avoid church politics and have a beer with me. That would be how Theology on Tap slapped me in the face. I don't want to tell her. I'm not ready to tell her. It's my story to tell -- and I really don't want her to know. She starts this email by saying that I don't need to write back because there isn't much to talk about anyway. I think there is -- but I'm angry. I think there's lots to talk about but really I want to tell her that she gets to make choices about what she shares with me, and I want the same right. Of course, I can't say that. She won't understand. She won't understand that she's not my friend. She won't understand that I never wanted her to be. I'm her pastor -- and that's all I want. I want to rant about this because it makes me so furious, but I also want wisdom. What do you do when the people you serve find out about your personal life and then are angry about it? How can you be pastoral to them when you're furious yourself? Help. Please.


Anonymous said...

I have no words of wisdom, just prayers of support for you. If it helps at all, I went the other direction and got beat up pretty badly for that as well. I used to think you could be a pastor and a friend and walk both sides of the line, but now I am not sure. From what I read, and have been reading, you set the boundaries you were comfortable with and stuck with them, which is commendable. Your private life is your private life.

((((pastor peters)))

MadPriest said...

There is a difference between being honest and being open. If your parishioners regard you as an honest person then you should be able to tell her that you simply don't want to talk to her about everything in your life. However, I strongly suggest that you do not mention that you like to maintain a distance between yourself and your "clients" as this can really annoy some members of the laity, especially if they see themselves as the same as you (priesthood of all believers etc.). At the end of the day honesty (not openness necessarily) is the best policy. Even if you still end up with a mess on your hands you will, at least, have the self-knowledge that you did the right thing.

Erica said...

I'm sorry...this stinks.

But remember, this is not about you, it's about her. It's not just that she doesn't get pastor-parishoner relations, she doesn't get boundaries.

Not that this makes it any easier.

Sarah S-D said...

i concur with erika. the e-mail tells you much more about her than you. she has serious boundary issues- your gut told you that already. in my experience, the only way dual (or multiple relationships) are possible is when all involved understand and respect boundaries. and it is always the folks with the weakest relationship to boundaries who want the dual or multiple relationships. tricky to negotiate for sure.

your strong anger does tell you something about you, i don't know what, because I don't know you. this is worth processing with a therapist or a spiritual director.

and yeah... don't respond until your past it.

but a simple... "it is important to me to have a private life" should suffice, when you're ready. she may not think it suffices, but that is irrelevant.

Sarah S-D said...

oops "eriCa"

and ((((pastor peters)))

Pastor Peters said...

it's a boundary issue. of course it is. i'm not sure how knowing that makes it easier. the email was mean. that's why i'm angry. no matter how much i understand her anger, she was hurtful. and like many, i don't like when people are mean to me.

the edge for me is that i already feel like i'm hiding about this little bit of personal life i have. i'm not sure if i'm hiding because i'm not ready to share this or for some other reason.

i don't know. i meet with my spiritual director today. we'll see.

hughman said...

Weird letter.

BTW, it's "they're" lesbians not "their" lesbians.