Sunday, January 23, 2011

Professional Ministerial Boundaries

These are my students that signed up for my Professional Ministerial Boundaries class. They look so happy because it is the last day of class and we were preparing to adjourn. (l to r fron row: Sara, Kali, Lisa and Michael; back row: Dennis, Bruce, Beth and Jim)

January Intensives Include New CourseI taught a January Intensive for the first time since I came on faculty at Meadville Lombard Theological School (July 1, 2008). The class, Professional Ministerial Boundaries was a first for Meadville and my teaching it. It has been taught before but always as part of classes like Arts of Ministry.

I have taught about clergy sexual abuse previously but I have not combined other threats to the safety of the congregation. In this course I included: domestic violence, elder abuse, stalking, sexual harassment, sexual assault, child abuse and youth violence. We also examined GLBTQ abuse. It was challenging, exciting and lots of work. Would I do it again? Absolutely! Especially now that I have done all the research for the course and have worked out the pace and flow.

The students were great and the success of the class was partly due to their participation and to my syllabus I developed! I restricted the number of students this time but I could easily accomodate a much larger number in the future. In the future I will look at including the integration of spirituality and sexuality. A new competency from the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC) now requires awareness and education on human sexuality and gender justice.

With a focus on clergy sexual abuse I devoted a full day to the topic out of the four days.

Q. When was the last time you engaged in a learning experience that elicited excitement and inquiry?
Q. How can you integrate such intentional learning into your lifestyle if you are not pursuing a degree?

Thoughts on Ministry and BoundariesMinisters, denominational leaders laity and the faith community in general have become

Ministry and BoundariesMinisters, denominational leaders, laity and the faith community in general have become more and more aware of the need to address issues of sex, power and boundaries in order to effectively serve the community. Issues of collegiality, conduct and healthy boundaries are particularly important when serving vulnerable populations that include children, elderly and individuals in crisis. Furthermore, members open their lives up to clergy in the most intimate of ways and so we have a particular responsibility to honor that trust. Recognizing power dynamics and understanding that essentially we are sexual beings can become confusing and volatile if we are vigilant and constantly affirming our covenant to serve responsibility.
A healthy collegiality is fostered when all individuals respect the inherent worth and dignity of all involved. Specific guidelines about language, conduct and what constitutes appropriate boundaries are important in the formation of healthy relationships. While it may be challenging to make sharp and clear distinctions between private conduct and public accountability, ministers should always model professional and ethical conduct. Private conduct which proves to be embarrassing or even harmful to others cannot be minimized or ignored because of its deleterious effects. Claims to a private life in which freedom is asserted need to be balanced by an awareness of the public role of ministry that require congruent and consistent professional conduct at all times.
Ministers simply must conduct themselves with care and integrity in the performance of their duties lest those whom they serve become confused and possible victims of abuse due to our carelessness and failure to hold sacred our duty to do no harm.
Many of the issues explored in the course, Professional Ministerial Boundaries relate to the more and ethical issues as well as the legal and liability issues. To some extent an inability or unwillingness to act with appropriate discipline and vigilance, love and compassion have led to more and more intervention on the part of the legal system. While the social controls are integral primarily this is a question of covenant between the clergy person and that which he or she recognizes as the source of their call. Violating that call then renders a clergy person prone to violating personal relationships.
Maintaining good self care that includes ones spiritual practices, healthy support networks, spiritual insights and awareness , effective denominational policies and procedures and continuing education for clergy will go a long way towards providing the necessary building blocks for good ministry and minimize the risks of unintended harm.

Q. As a clergy person, who has the power - you or the laity in your congregation?

If you hesitated let me assure you that you have more power than you realize. In order not to unintentionally abuse your power you want to get intimately familiar with all the ways that you have power and then learn to share it appropriately so that your laity feel and act empowered. If you already are a collaborative leader then I encourage you to continue to practice collaborative leadership.
Blessings Rev. Dr. Qiyamah A. Rahman – January, 2011

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