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June 05, 2006



Morning Hugo! I feel for you, sounds like this situation really brought you down. This is not in any way a reflection on you or on the good work you and all the other fabulous youth volunteers do, so just keep on doing what you do! __I'm sure you'll have a better work out on Wed. I don't know how anyone can be all that perky at 5:00am anyway. You are such a trooper!


This may seem nitpicky, but they're teenaged girls, not lambs!


Well, I was referring to both the boys and girls I teach and work with. And I was using the terminology from the end of the Johannine Gospel, when Jesus tells Peter, "feed my lambs."

If I weren't using the phrase in that context, it would indeed be odd to call adolescent humans sheep.



My priest at the blog "meditatio" has posted Bp. Swing's letter to the diocese. There are some good points in the letter, and I hope that this can be dealt with in the light of day. What troubles me is his labeling of those who are upset as "adversaries".

I'd be curious as to your thoughts on the letter.

Also, with the help of a fellow parishioner of yours, Caelius, of Monastery of the Remarkable English Martyrs, among others, C and I finally had a union ceremony this weekend. I now see more than ever how important such rites are rather we find ourselves loving another of the opposite or same sex.


This is off the subject, Hugo (apologies), but will you be coming to Columbus?

Peace of Christ,


Alas, Chip, I won't -- but I'll be eagerly following developments on line. Almost as eagerly as I follow the World Cup...


Hugo, fair enough. My apologies.


I've been pondering this overnight. I have a couple, possibly disconnected thoughts.

First, I'm not surprised to see sexually and emotionally unhealthy people drawn to ministry. The attitude toward pastors and sexuality is incredibly unhealthy. As communities of faith, we encourage, by word and both action and inaction, our ordained leaders to engage in a complicated and unhealthy game about their personal sexuality. In some sense, we as communities create an image of ordained persons as asexual. I have seen members of my congregation actively ignore any evidence of our pastors' romantic and personal lives. I've heard stories of the ways in which members treated a previous pastor's divorce as a personal betrayal of the member rather than a difficult event for the pastor and his family. As lay persons, we often have unrealistic expecations about pastors and sexuality. Implicitly as expect our pastors to live up to an unrealistic, unachievable standard of sexual purity. I can see, given that phenomenon, that a sexually unhealthy person would see being ordained as a cure for his/her problems.

We who are responsible, active lay persons have our share of guilt - not just in failing to demand and hold accountable our ordained leaders, but in creating an environment which discourages honesty about pastoral sexuality. By treating our pastors relationships as property of the faith community, we fail to honor their personhood and respect their right to privacy. At the same time, we almost guarantee that our pastors cannot lead successful personal lives. When divorce is treated as a betrayal of the community pastors will feel trapped - in bad relationships and unable to start new ones. We have a duty to care for our pastors - to minister to them as well as be ministered to by them. At some level, we as lay persons have to support our pastors in creating and maintaining healthy personal boundaries. We as faith communities need to change the way in which ordained persons live in our communities so they can live in healthy ways. Sometimes ending a relationship is a healthy choice. Starting a new relationship is tenuous and can be emotionally draining. To have to do so with the eyes of an entire congregation watching and judging is all but impossible.

As someone who works with youth in my congregation, I also resent the result - that I have to prove myself worthy to work with our youth. I have chosen to see it as an opportunity to discuss, publicly and frequently, appropriate ways of showing and living intimacy. I have found that many Americans of a particular social class have disdainful attitudes toward our cultural norms around nudity and sexuality. They dismiss those standards as Puritan and hold up European countries as the standard we should embrace; these persons often transgress American social norms around physical intimacy and proclaim themselves enlightened. Openly and honestly discussing American social norms around touch and intimacy becomes a process of honoring who we are and what we value. In my experience, it creates transparency in intimacy. It also holds adults accountable for their own behavior. It is fraught with dangers, but it allows communities to identify and own their values around these issues.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

In some sense, we as communities create an image of ordained persons as asexual.

Ordained people are in this weird space where they are both in some ways extra sexy to at least some of their congregation and, at the same time, expected to be pure and chaste enough that one doesn't always expect to have to draw the same boundaries with them as everyone else. And, though this is extra true for celibate ordained people, it's actually true of non-celibate ordained people as well.

I'm not sure how you fix this.


Lynn - I wish I knew how to fix it. It's part of a huge cultural change within churches. It requires a change from seeing the pastor as big daddy in the big office to seeing the pastor as our peer and fellow journeyer, as our spiritual leader and teacher but not our spiritual boss. I think ideas about pastoral authority are evolving and changing. The old model of “Herr Pastor” with vast and unquestioned authority doesn’t work anymore and we don’t have a model to replace it yet. As lay persons who care about Christ’s body, we have an obligation to play a role in creating the new model.

I think as lay people we should change the way we see the pastoral office and we should change our role as lay persons. We need to become more active in our spiritual lives rather than being passive participants receiving what is offered and seeking nothing more. We need to become more empowered. Maybe we need to be self-starters at church. We could view our pastor as a consultant within the church, as someone who can guide us to resources and spiritual practices.

Another part is to refuse to put pastors on pedestals. Give them the space to be fully human, to make mistakes, to have heartache. We could stop seeing pastors as ideal persons, see him/her as a person dedicated to spirituality who struggles like we do. It takes time and lots of conversations about the pastoral role and responsibilities. If lay people stop placing such expectations on pastors, maybe they’d stop doing it to themselves. Being on a pedestal traps the pastor and distances him/her from lay persons.

I think about my relationship with my pastor. I trust her implicitly. She has earned my trust and my respect. I consider her a friend and I hope she considers me a friend, but because of her role as pastor, there must be a healthy distance between us. Where a friend can unburden him/herself to me, my pastor might not feel free to do so. It is not appropriate for me to expect her to do so. But I can also be someone to whom she can unburden herself. It's complex but not one sided. Within the church, as leaders, we are peers who trust one another work together, challenge one another. But we're not conventional friends. That's the challenge. I want my pastor to be happy to have a fulfillng personal life but it's none of my business if she does. It's a complicated relationship but one in which I trust her and she can trust me. But it is not a conventional friendship.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

The business of putting clergy on pedestals is part of it; the other part is the intersection between that and Christian attitudes toward sex. Even when you acknowledge that clergy are "human" and struggle in other ways, it's easy to expect them to be different from other people when it comes to sex.

I feel silly coming back to the "attracted to seminarians" period in my life (since I've blogged about it before), but it's about the only lens I have into this business, so I'm stuck with it. I'll take the non-Catholic, perfectly eligible seminarian, that I probably shouldn't have been pursuing anyway because I met him in his working role as an intern. What made the whole thing not work so well for me, despite the fact that he was a cool guy who handled me as kindly as I could ask for, was that I wound up in a fishbowl with everyone watching, so I couldn't, you know, either date him briefly and have it not work out in a private way, or just get turned down from the start and deal in a private way. It got to where everyone was watching my every move, and I just wanted to hide. (And, given everything I've heard about transparency, I'm not sure the situation where nobody knew would have been any better, maybe even a worse idea, if we'd actually wound up dating.)

But the thing is, if I think about all the ways I remember him, they are, OK, the way I saw him at work, leading a prayer, or a Bible study, or collecting toys so a five-year-old girl could have a good Christmas. But also things like doubts he expressed, times when I thought he didn't do so good a job of explaining something and, competitive soul that I am, I was sure I did better, his getting shamed into quitting smoking, a moment when his mother jumped in and corrected something he was saying, the way mothers do, or just goofing around with him teasing me and me giving him a not so Quakerly pretend punch. Ordinary guy stuff; there's a sense in which, even being attracted to him and all, I didn't have him on a pedestal.

And still I had the sense that, compared to him, I was going to turn out to be a world class slut. A non-virgin. Who had done "everything but" with multiple partners, including some relationships where I really shouldn't have gone so far. Who had made out with other women. Who had fantasies about him that just weren't mentionable to a nice young minister in training. In the end, it didn't matter, since we didn't wind up dating for other reasons. But I have to wonder, if other women think like me, what effect that has on the relationships of young single seminarians and clergy.

And of course, that same thing makes it all the harder when the guy isn't so honorable. If you're thinking he's going to be far more chaste than you, you're not about to be drawing the usual kinds of boundaries yourself.


For clergy, the challenge of dating is more than complex. People are most likely to meet other people at work or in social settings - if you are a pastor of a church, it's a boundary violation to start dating a member of the congregation and your social life is most likely to be events sponsored by church members. And imagine the situation - you're on a date. The person you're dating says, "So what do you do for a living?" You say, "I'm a pastor." Instantly, the persons has these images of a pure, unsexual person.

Alternatively, the idea that a pastor can have a wicked sense of humor is alien to so many people. My pastor has a really off beat sense of humor - that often catches people by surprise.

As I ponder, I find myself realizing the challenge is not just how we see pastors but how we see persons of faith. As if they are somehow an arm's length from the rest of us - always serious, solemn, unworldly (in both the good and bad sense). Not even self-denying they don't have the same urges and quirks as the rest of us. When we apply this to our pastors, we want them to be these pure, untouched creatures - immune from the world rather than persons who live fully in the world with us. It seems to me this dynamic has two primary outcomes - first it allows to be blind to the misdeeds of ordained persons and second is blinds us to the human side of our spiritual leaders.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

if you are a pastor of a church, it's a boundary violation to start dating a member of the congregation and your social life is most likely to be events sponsored by church members

True (as I've now learned). I have to say, though, twenty years ago, where I lived, and from what I saw, nobody - not clergy and not their congregations - seemed to be acting as if this was a serious boundary violation. I suppose it's a good thing people are more sensitized to those issues now.

As I ponder, I find myself realizing the challenge is not just how we see pastors but how we see persons of faith.

I think you're right. The unreasonable expectations that we put on people of faith in general just get magnified with clergy. (I'm reminded of Samuel Butler's remarks, in his novel The Way of All Flesh, about clergy and their families - "A pastor is a kind of human Sunday.")


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