The web is clearly conspiring against me this week - between a wobbly wifi connection, a laptop that sulks if I use a LAN connection (though it's on one just now!) and a blog platform that has decided not to let me comment on its blogs for some unknown reason, it is proving 'interesting' trying to do anything online.
Helen's comments on yesterday's post were quite thought provoking, and served to remind me of the importance, sometimes, of what MS word calls 'noun qualifiers' - they were adjectives when I was at school but there you go. I did, I checked, refer to "appropriate vulnerability", albeit not quite as directly as that. This phrase was used when we were being trained in pastoral care, recognising that there is a role being fulfilled and lines need to be drawn somewhere in a 'helping relationship.'
So, phrases that came to mind as I pondered this were...
- Appropriate vulnerability
- Intentional outsider/Intentional Isolation
- Profession detachment
- Creative tension
I suspect each of these needs unpacking, and could I think, be useful avenues of exploration if I do ever get around to researching "Public Christianity and Private Pain."
What exactly is 'appropriate" vulnerability? Who determines what is appropriate? How far is too far? How far is helpful? Indeed, what is helpful and when?
It is John Rackley who I heard coin the phrases "intentional outsider" and "intentional isolation" to refer to the role of the minister within a church. Whilst the minister is part of the local church they are never completely 'of' it. Not because they don't love the people but because their calling, as pastor-prophet or pastor-teacher necessitates some degree of separation. It isn't a kind of wilful "I'm not one of you" but a chosen, or at least accepted, separation, not in hierarchical sense but of 'intention', the 'why I am here.' But again, what does that mean and what does it look like?
Professional detachment is something that all people in so-called caring professions have to manage - not getting involved with clients/patients in a way that undermines objectivity. There are times when ministers certainly need a bit of this, but I'm not entirely convinced it works the same in churches as, say, in counselling. The minister is not a professional pastoral-care-giver; intentionally outside or not, they are (or should be) in a deeper relationship with church members. I've conducted funerals for well-loved church members and at such times there is a need to be, temporarily, a bit detached in order to cope (though as I type that I recall Jesus at Lazarus' tomb).
So, creative tension. The phrase some people love and others hate! How do I hold together in some creative sense these three phrases and what they mean? How do I find a level of vulnerability that is appropriate for one who is to some extent an intentional outsider needing on occasion to exercise professional detachment? I am sure there is a balance that can be struck that is helpful and healthy, but what that will look like will be different for each minister nad each congregation. This, what might be termed 'personality' effect on the balance, is why it is so tricky: one size cannot fit all.
I have a suspicion that it is probably slightly more accepted for women ministers to do the vulnerability - the flip side of the (often mistaken) view that we are intuitivley more pastoral/caring. Likewise I suspect the detachment is more accepted in men who are (equally erroneously) assumed to be more objective.
Anyway, appropriate, intentional, professional, creative - these seem like good 'noun qualifiers' to describe the task of a public Christian ministering through private pain.