The beloved Director of Family Ministries (DFM) in a southern New England United Church of Christ congregation retired after 16 years of ministry in that same congregation. The congregation quickly moved to an interim time as they began the search process for a new faith formation staff member. Before she left, Candice, the retired DFM, left meticulous notes, files, and an organized resource closet. She also made sure that she trained the two volunteers from the Family Ministries Committee who were tasked with ensuring that all of the programming the congregation had come to love and expect would continue.
All seemed to be going reasonably well until one family, whose children were particularly fond of Candice, decided that they needed to reach out to her with a specific issue they were experiencing — an issue that they determined only Candice could help them with. And since Candice was a long-time member of the congregation, it was as easy as making a phone call. Candice responded to the family’s request, assuming that this one time wouldn’t be a problem.
However, that first phone call turned into another phone call, and then more phone calls. Word began getting around that Candice was still available to families if they wanted her advice and counsel. The two family ministry volunteers began noticing that families were ignoring their e-mails and texts, and attendance was dwindling at the programs they were offering.
Candice felt she was responding to these families out of her love for them as members of their church together. Yet she did begin to wonder if there was something else she should have considered as a newly retired church staff member.
Unfortunately, this type of scenario is rather common for many congregations. The relationships of lay staff members who are also members of the congregations they serve can become blurred quite easily. The relationship with their pastor also changes when they are hired to serve on the staff. The senior minister becomes their boss and supervisor. Can this supervisor also continue to be the staff person’s pastor in effective ways?
The Southern New England Conference Faith Formation Ministry Team , in partnership with the SNEUCC faith formation staff, are working on gathering resources to help congregations sort through these and other tricky yet common issues with their faith formation and youth ministry leaders. The most important action a congregation can take is to create a covenant with the lay staff person, preferably as a part of the on-boarding process. This should include descriptions of relationship boundaries, supervisory roles, ongoing support, expectations for resignation and departure, and all other interactions and expectations that the congregation wishes to address.
Also helpful are some resources from the Association of United Church Educators such as Marks for Faithful and Effective Faith Formation Practitioners and the UCC Church Educator's Code.
New this year, Faith formation and youth ministry leaders can take advantage of a wonderful opportunity coming soon — our first ever Boundary Awareness for Faith Formation and Youth Ministry Leaders via Zoom. Choose either October 17, 2020 or March 13, 2021. You will find all of the details and the registration link at the SNEUCC website's Events tab. The registration deadline is October 12th and the required pre-work will be sent to you when you register.
Living in covenant together and sharing God’s love as members of the Body of Christ requires us to minister responsibly, observing and maintaining appropriate boundaries. Certainly our people and our God are entitled to expect nothing less of us.
Debbie Gline Allen is the part-time Associate for Faith Formation & Youth Ministries for the Conference.