Well-defined personal and professional boundaries are essential for clergy, but many of us find it difficult to set and observe good boundaries. I am committed to good personal and professional boundaries, and have enumerated some here. The website Soul Shepherding offers a helpful overview about the importance of boundaries in the life of the Church and the example of Our Savior. For a deeper and very helpful theological discussion of Christian relationships and boundaries, check out early 20th century German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s short and very helpful book Life Together.
Keeping good boundaries in a congregational context is difficult. It’s tempting to “let my hair down” and relate more as a personal friend than as a priest and pastor. It’s a boundary I have violated in the past, and always to my regret – not because I don’t value personal friendships with members of the congregation, but because indulging the desire to violate this boundary has a destructive effect on my ability to relate entirely as a pastor when that’s necessary. Can we be friends? Absolutely. But with members of the congregation, never in a way that sets aside my responsibilities as priest and pastor.
Boundaries also are difficult to maintain because some (not all) well-intentioned members of any congregation have unrealistic expectations about clergy. They may believe, for example, that clergy are (or should be) available all the time, and are obliged to do whatever it takes to ensure that everyone is happy. That’s not possible, and the back-door machinations that the working assumption generates are destructive to the mature spiritual health of the congregation.
As a priest since 2001, I’ve often made plenty of bad judgment calls. So the list below has been hard-won through experience of the consequences of not keeping these boundaries clear, and keeping my actual behavior consistent with them. That said, here’s what you can expect from me:
Priority of Roles
I have many roles with other people, and at times, those roles are in conflict. I hope to be friends with everyone I meet, but I when I have more than one relationship with a person, I will prioritize those roles in this order:
- Family member (because my marriage vows and responsibilities to my family came before my ordination vows)
- Supervisor (because my responsibilities to parish staff may require me to delegate pastoral care to another priest)
- Rector (because this role places some specific responsibilities on me if you are a member of my congregation; note that this comes after “supervisor,” because in the case of a person who is both an employee and a parishioner, if those roles were in conflict, I’d make arrangements for alternate pastoral care and fulfill my responsibilities as supervisor)
- Priest (because I’m always a priest, even when I’m not at work, and even if you’re not an Episcopalian)
- Personal friend
Note on this one: It remains the case that my responsibilities as a priest apply even to those with whom I have no pastoral relationship, and to whom I relate entirely as a friend. Ultimately, I am obliged to remember the responsibilities of my ordination vows. But I do have personal friends with whom my relationship is less formal, and with whom I have no obligation to relate in a pastoral role all the time. But that cannot apply to any member of a congregation while serving as a member of that congregation’s clergy leadership.
I have taken four sets of vows as a Christian, and they take the following priority
- Baptismal & Confirmation Vows (BCP pp. 302-305)
- Marriage Vows (BCP p. 427)
- Deacon’s Ordination Vows (BCP pp. 543-544)
- Priest’s Ordination Vows (BCP pp. 531-532)
Beyond that, I have a Letter of Agreement with St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which I’ve signed, as has the Senior Warden of St. Paul’s and the Canon for Ministry of the Diocese of Milwaukee.
My full name is Lane Goodwin Hensley. Lane was my paternal grandfather’s middle name, and Goodwin was my maternal grandfather’s middle name, and his mother’s maiden name. I am pleased to have anyone call me Lane. When a formal reference is appropriate, I prefer Mr. Hensley or Fr. Hensley.
My Term of Appointment
I can’t become the permanent Rector, and don’t want to. My letter of agreement specifies that I am expected to serve as Interim Rector at St. Paul’s until the beginning of the next Rector’s tenure, but no later than June 30, 2023. It is the policy of the Diocese of Milwaukee and a widely-practiced professional boundary of interim clergy that we are ineligible to accept a permanent appointment from a parish we serve in an interim capacity.
I am bound by the policies of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego (because I am a priest of that diocese), and the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee (because I am serving a congregation in that diocese). That includes the Safeguarding God’s People policies of the Diocese of San Diego, and the Safe Church policies of the Diocese of Milwaukee.
Office Hours and Availability
I’m not always “on.” My office hours are from 9–5, Monday–Thursday. In addition, I attend all major public worship services, and major parish events. I am not present for all worship services, or all parish events, and make those decisions on a case-by-case basis. I am out of the office of Fridays and Saturdays, and do not participate in parish events on those days. I rarely accept personal invitations for social events with parishioners on those days. From time to time, I take personal leave for the purpose of physical, mental, and spiritual refreshment. On my days off and during personal leave, I do not accept telephone calls from parishioners or respond to work-related emails. I will, however, respond to voice mail messages regarding urgent pastoral issues.
Urgent Pastoral Care Issues
The best way to reach me for an urgent pastoral issue is at 515-442-5056. I monitor that number when I’m available, but that’s not all the time. If your call rolls to voice mail because I am not able to receive the call, I will return calls for urgent pastoral care requests as soon as possible.
Urgent Use of Electronic Mail
I never use electronic mail for urgent business. If you send me a message by electronic mail, even if it’s flagged as urgent, I only check email outside the office when I happen to run across it. I don’t scan it constantly when I’m away just in case someone has sent something urgent.
- Facebook (lane.hensley.1): I am unlikely to accept a “friend” request from a person I do not know. I will accept most friend requests from members of the parish, but I always add parishioners to the Facebook-defined “Restricted” list because my primary relationship to parishioners is pastoral. I never accept friend requests from people I don’t know in foreign countries. I never attempt to “friend” anyone under the age of 18, but will, in some cases, accept “friend” requests from people under the age of 18 with their parents’ knowledge and consent.
- LinkedIn: I will accept connections from people I know, but rarely initiate them.
- Although I have accounts, I don’t use Twitter or Instagram.
I am eager to know parishioners and visitors better. I almost always accept appointments made at https://meet-with-the-priest.appointlet.com.
Speak for Yourself
I don’t care what “everybody is saying.” Please own your own opinions and tell me what you think, not what you claim everyone else does.
Third Party Intervention
I don’t want to get in the middle of other people’s stuff. If you bring me a problem about another person, I probably will ask you to talk to that person directly. Except for issues that require the discipline of parish staff, reporting canonical offenses of other clergy, or mandated reporting under civil law, I will not act on complaints or grievances regarding third parties when direct communication and reconciliation is possible.
I don’t keep secrets. I pledge to be respectful of your own privacy when you share personal information with me. I will keep confidence about other people when I determine such confidentiality to be in their best interest, but offer no assurance whatsoever that I will keep secrets. I will report the misbehavior of any person who victimizes another. I will honor the absolute secrecy of the Sacrament of Reconciliation of the Penitent when it’s about you, unless you confess your intention to harm yourself or someone else.
Gossip & Slander
I do not intend to participate in gossip or slander. If you catch me doing that, please call it to my attention.
Personal Privacy of Parishioners
The parish clergy are privy to a lot of information about the personal health of parishioners and their families, which is shared with the parish clergy precisely because the clergy are expected to exercise discretion and confidentiality. It is not appropriate for the clergy to discuss those matters with other members of the parish, or to announce publicly the illnesses, hospitalizations, or other personal business of parishioners without their explicit request or permission.
Doing Business with Parishioners
I don’t engage parishioners in my personal business matters. For example, if you’re a car dealer, I won’t buy a car from you. That interferes with our pastoral relationship. And as someone who hires staff for the parish, I have a strong preference not to hire parishioners because it’s difficult to impossible to keep a staff member accountable professionally when they’re members of the congregation. Or, as a former boss of mine once taught me, never hire someone you can’t fire if you have to.
Alcohol and Drugs
I will not consume alcohol with any parishioner or at any church function. I will remove myself from any situation where illegal drugs are being used.
I do not keep confidential documents in my office. Parishioners are welcome to use my office whenever it’s not occupied.
My wife is a member of the parish, and chooses ministries and events for herself. She is not an employee of the parish, and makes her own decision about accepting social invitations. She rarely attends receptions for weddings I officiate. My kids visit us from time to time and visit the church, but only when they want to.
Our permanent home is in Des Moines, Iowa, and we have an apartment in Milwaukee. Normally, we do not invite parishioners to the apartment because the house is not furnished or equipped for permanent occupancy or receiving guests.
My Family’s Health and Appearance
I am responsible for maintaining my own professional appearance during business hours and when I am attending parish events. Comments about the appearance or health of me or my family are not appropriate.
Expressions of personal intimacy between me and a person who is not a member of my family, including hugging, kissing (even on the cheek), flirting, or crude language are not appropriate. I know it’s how things used to be done. But not these days.
If anyone believes that I have committed professional or personal misconduct, report it promptly to the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee or the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego. Both dioceses have authority over me.
If you don’t believe I’ve committed misconduct but you simply disagree with me or believe I’ve made a bad decision or treated you badly, please approach me about that first. You may be right, and you may well get an apology and resolution. If you’re dissatisfied with my answer, speak next with the senior warden. If that doesn’t resolve the situation, your last recourse is to the diocese. But if you’re not alleging misconduct and haven’t already spoken with me and the senior warden directly, the diocese likely will ask you to do that before they’ll get involved.