Leadership is often a focus for these musings. That focus has become sharper since I began as Principal of St. Andrew’s College in 2019. I have the honour to be involved in the ways that leaders are formed and shaped from the vantage of faith in my context of The United Church of Canada. In this role, t has become more apparent how important it is to have discussions about what boundaries mean when you walk with people through moments intimate, heart-breaking, life-celebrating, and soul-shattering. These are blessed places in which conversations are holy and sacred. Boundaries, therefore, are central to ensuring that such conversations are never about the person in leadership, Lay or Ordered, but about the person who has extended trust, as well as the nature of the relationship itself.
There is a spectrum, if you will, about what boundaries should look like, especially in the context of relationships between pastors and those with whom they minister. The spectrum, therefore, ranges from the advocating that boundaries should be fluid and not limited by binaries owing to the intimacy of the role between pastor and congregant should be fluid and not limited by binaries. On the other end of the spectrum, reflects those who want rigid boundaries. There is a belief that those in faith leadership must adhere to clear protocols, and processes that delineate clear do’s and don’ts, in order to avoid the harm that can occur when those in leadership are unable to recognise when lines get crossed.
As many who regularly read the A Deacon’s Musing blog know, these brief discussions in this format are often a beginning point for reflection and an invitation to ongoing conversation. So, I do not believe that a blog can – nor should – reconcile or advocate for the “right way” to understand what boundaries and leadership in faith contexts should be. I do, however, believe that this highlights the need for those who walk into faith leadership to intentionally reflect, in order to be prepared not to cause harm when relationships begin to bloom in the context of ministry.
It is the possibility to cause harm, I suggest, of which leaders must be aware. However you come to understand what boundaries mean for you as an individual, or how places and people who are responsible for introducing such conversations and learning should do so, we must be aware that without having these conversations, the very care we might intend to offer, the commitment we might have to helping journey with others becomes problematic, even compromised, right from the beginning. If we do not know our stuff, our own triggers, and responses when witnessing stories that contain anxiety, perhaps even trauma, we will not serve those in need well.
Ultimately, the intention of this discussion about leadership and boundaries is not to focus on harm or the hurt. Rather, this exploration is about how to ensure that those offering leadership in the intimate relations of faith communities can do it well. To do this well means aspiring to nurture healing, spiritual awakening, and mutual transformation. This calling is a blessed trust and being fully human–integrating our sense of spirit, mind, and body–is assisted by our knowing what boundaries mean and how to navigate them in the reality of the ambiguity that constitutes our shared lived lives and experiences.