Rev. Canon Dan Webster (@RevWeb), a Episcopal priest in Baltimore, MD is a big advocate of ministers connecting with parishioners in social media and tweeted:
Friend as many parishioners as possible. Use it to inform/enlighten/build community.
The conversation progress to discussing what a minister should do when leaving a congregation. In that case Rev. Webster tweeted:
If a pastor/employee leaves parish, unfriend former parishioners. When you leave; u leave. I did 2 yrs ago when I left my parish.
Why unfriend them? Are some of them not true friends?
To which Rev. Webster replied:
Only reason I met my parishioners was as their pastor; not their friend. Heard their confessions on fb. I WAS their priest.
I believe our difference of opinion about what to do when a minister leaves a church stems from different understandings concerning the relationship between ministers and laypersons.
Rev. Webster seems to view his role as priest as being purely professional. He’s not there to be anyone’s friend, but rather to perform services for them. In that context, when the professional relationship is over, the relationship is over.
My view of minister/layperson relationships comes from observing the way Jesus related to his disciples. Jesus did not separate himself from disciples. Not only did he teach them, but he also lived with them, ate with them and did everything else with them. This was not merely a professional relationship. He loved them and they loved him.
Shortly before his death, Jesus said to his disciples:
I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. –John 15:15
If Jesus was a friend to his disciples, shouldn’t today’s ministers be a friend to their disciples as well?
I do think that when a minister leaves a congregation, the relationship with people in the congregation will change. He or she also needs to be careful not to undermine the leadership of the new minister. But a mass unfriending on Facebook?
What do you think?
If you’re a minister and have been through a transition in the Facebook era, what did you do and what did you learn from the experience?