Carol, Bart, Yoshi-Bart's guide dog, Robert, and me
This is a picture of us with our dear friends, Bart and Carol Pierce. We broke an unwritten ministry rule when we became friends with them. At the time of our initial befriending...hang on, it's pretty scandalous...dare I admit the taboo? Okay, *deep breath*, my husband was a youth minister, their son was in the youth group, and they were mere church members. *GASP!*
I can't tell you how many times I have had other pastors' wives tell me that I should never make friends among the congregation of our church. Thankfully I have never heeded this silly, outdated, and frankly, un-scriptural, advice. I'm a renegade that way. The reasons that some PWs are taught (sometimes in seminary, sometimes by other PW mentors) not to befriend church members (CMs) are many. Here are some of the most common:
*CMs won't look up to you and respect you if they really know you (e.g., if they know that I yell at my kids, question God, miss a quiet time with God, argue with my husband, eat a pint of ice cream by myself, don't dust often, have Twisted Sister on my iPod--good running music, etc.)
*CMs will hurt me. They'll be friends at first, but if I really open myself up to them they will use it against me and I'll be hurt in the process
*CMs are out to get me and my husband. They just want to be friends because they want to get the dirt on us and then have control over us.
*CMs are users. They want to get to know us so they can use us to improve their position in the church and/or say "Look at me! I'm friends with the pastor."
*CMs can't be really good friends, because they can't relate to the stresses and demands of ministry. Best to find someone who can understand.
Isn't that horrible, negative, and depressing? If I can't be friends with CMs, then who can I be friends with? The pre-approved friends list for PWs includes other PWs, friends who live out of town, and maybe some community members. However, the general community must be handled carefully because those people might be friends with some of my CMs and then there could be a sharing of information. Not only do I believe this is hogwash, but I also believe that this is a lie straight from the pit of hell. Satan likes nothing more than the cause division among a group of believers. However, I believe that God smiles when the people in His church truly love one another and share their lives with each other. Generally, most of my best and dearest friends have been regular ol' church members in the churches we have served.
So back to Bart and Carol. There are those handful of friends who will always be among the best and dearest. Bart and Carol are among that select group. I remember learning as a Girl Scout/Brownie a song that we sang in a round: "Make new friends, but keep the old. Some are silver and the others, gold." The Pierces are gold. Pure gold friends. Friendship has been tested now by distance, through disability, and through differing viewpoints of some political and theological issues. However, we have all seen each other when we just wake up in the morning, when we are crying, and when we get the late-night silly giggles. We have weathered some hard storms together. We have seen each others snap at our spouses and lose our cool with our kids. Bart and Carol have not only seen our dirty laundry, both figuratively and literally, but they know all of the skeletons in our closets and I'm pretty sure we know at least most of theirs.
Here's the thing though. To me it's not weird at all that we were friends with church members. They unusual thing about our friendship to me is our age difference...and that's the beautiful thing too. Isn't it bizarre and wonderful the people that God sees fit to place in our lives and knit our souls together with? Our first experience with the Pierces was actually through their son, Matt. We were living in Missouri at the time and they moved to Missouri from Kansas. Robert and I were 27 years old, this was Robert's first full-time position, and he was the youth minister at our church. I was a stay-at-home mom, Adam was a toddler, and Noah was not yet a twinkle in his father's eye. Matt was in my 10th grade Sunday school (what a fun class that was!--and the first time I realized that I wasn't scared of teenagers) and became involved in the youth group. Sarah was only in 6th grade at the time, so she didn't get involved in the youth group until the next year. Bart and Carol started out helping with the youth and that's how we initially got to know them. We had fun with them and really liked them, but they were parents of youth and we were just young pups with a baby and (thought we) had nothing in common with them. We did end up at their house a fair amount because they had an awesome finished basement and hosted a lot of youth events there...or Matt and Sarah just had parties with their friends and invited us too. Then, because neither of us had family in town, we started getting together on Christmas night and having a birthday party for Jesus. By this time, we all realized that we all just enjoyed spending time together and it was no longer taboo for us to simply go out to dinner on a double date sans kids and just have a good time. Here's the kicker though...Bart and Carol are just a very few years younger than our parents.
This is something we don't often discuss because it doesn't matter in the slightest. However, initially, it was very odd to me. I remember going off to college and making friends who were my sister's age. She had always seemed so much older than me because she is 5.5 years older. That was a huge difference when I was a 6th grader and she was a senior, but not so much of a difference by college. However, Bart does have a child from a first marriage who is our age. He and Carol married later and had children a little later than many and their kids keep them young. I don't even ever think about the difference in our ages anymore, but it was strange when they met our parents because they are closer in age to them than to us. However, having friends at a whole different place in life than us has been such a rich and rewarding experience. I taught their daughter Sarah how to drive and when they were here it was bizarre for them to see Adam driving now. Their kids are 30 and 26. Ours are 16 and 13.
Carol and I have been roomies at many conferences over the years and Bart and Robert have gone fishing and also backpacked through Colorado together. We have spent holidays together, including a Christmas when they came down to Baton Rouge. Carol and I used to have slumber parties and she was the person who helped me do the final cleaning when we moved out of our house in Missouri to move to Louisiana. They were defenders of Robert's youth ministry, they were supporters in the church, and they have been friends through it all. Robert has seen Bart and Carol a couple of times over the past few years when he has met them in Chicago to see some of Matt's productions. However, I haven't seen them in probably 3-4 years. I keep up with generally where they are and what they are doing either through their kids on Facebook or Robert talks to Bart occasionally on the phone. I hate to talk on the phone and Carol isn't a big fan either, so we go long stretches without talking to each other. However, they were just here for a week and we picked up where we left off. There was nothing weird or awkward about our time together. We just jumped in and got straight to the hard, vulnerable, emotional subjects and heard one anothers' hearts. We laughed a lot. Matt came up for a couple of days and we got to spend some great quality time with him too. We spent the night at the house they were renting twice, had them over for meals twice and went out to eat. Carol and I took a couple of long walks together and Bart and Robert did a lot of fishing. They got to attend our new church plant. Bart got to share with my counseling class at the university about losing his sight. We just got to hang out and be. Some of the best times were in the morning at their rented lake house with everyone in jammies and bedhair, drinking coffee, and talking.
So being friends with church members? Absolutely! More on why I think that it's not only okay, but is actually advisable in a later post.