Facebook “Friends”

I just returned from Pokagan, Indiana at the Heartland UU Ministers’ winter retreat.  I love the location, and I love that I’ve been going for 8 years in a row, and it feels like home away from home.  Usually, we have one single topic that we study (supervising staff one year, preaching another, money was one topic), but this year has been a bit different.  We’ve studied recent trends in church life, social networking in church life, the Standing on the Side of Love campaign, and working with the media.  I’m thinking I’ll tell you more about the Standing on the Side of Love campaign on February 28 when I preach on ‘seeking justice.’  What I’m thinking most about now that I am easing my way back into work is all those invitations to “friend” on Facebook members of the congregation…  I’ve been ignoring them easily since I’ve been on sabbatical, but now I need to make a decision about how I’ll be using Facebook in my professional life.

What I’ve discovered about boundaries – professional and personal boundaries – is that we all draw them differently.  There’s good advice and wisdom out there, but each of us has to tailor the advice to our individual personalities.  I don’t attend Circle Suppers not because I think it’s a bad idea or would violate some professional boundary.  I know plenty of ministers who attend their church potlucks regularly.  I don’t attend Circle Suppers becaue I’m an introvert – and adding another social even to my calendar would drain me.  So, it’s a personal boundary, I guess.  I like to be filled, not drained.

There’s a generaton of ministers older than me that regularly befriended (in real life, not Facebook) individuals and families in the congregation.  For some of them it worked.  The best of them were able to have dinner with some folks, and not with others, and navigate any unrest that created in the congregation.  I am of the generation of ministers for whom that seems problematic and difficult, and I regularly decline such invitations.

But this social networking stuff adds an entirely new complication.  I hear my colleagues talking about “friending” any congregant who asks.  I hear colleagues creating rules about only be”friending” congregants two years after they’ve been their minister (this from an interim minister who serves a new congregation every one to two years).  And I’ve heard ministers stay they will stay “friends” (in the Facebook sense) with congregants after they leave that congregation, and colleagues who say they will “unfriend” all the members of the congregation they’ve served on the day they leave.

I started a Facebook page sometime last spring when my son’s girlfriend told me at dinner how easy it was.  I wanted to be in touch with my cousins and family strewn across the country.  I did it, and I love it.  I don’t ever write anything earth-changing or profound, but the simple act of wishing my cousin, Michael, happy birthday within the week of his actual birthday brings me great joy.

I’ve decided not to ‘friend’ members of the congregation, so I can keep my Facebook page personal and not professional.   We are probably going to start a UUCGL Church page on Facebook soon, and I’ll be able to connect with members of the congregation through that means.   I warn you that I may change my mind, but right now, that’s how I’m comfortable drawing the line.

I look forward to this Sunday, when I begin telling you about my sabbatical and all I’ve learned.  I look forward to getting to know all of you – in real life – not virtually – again.  Please be patient as I take my time working my way back…  Though I will be in the office all next week, the following I’ll be in Tulsa, which is the reason I came back early at all.  You can read posts dated 6/27/09 Guess Who’s Coming to Worship? and 1/7/10 Happy 2010 for more information about that trip.  See you Sunday!

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