Juggling Roles – Priest at a Moment’s Notice

This month is Pride Month, which means I’ve spent a lot of time at various Pride events. This is my first year where I’ve really felt deeply embedded into the community.

I joined the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus (which is open to anyone who can sing in the TTBB range). I realized that my whole D&D group that I DM for is queer of some flavor. In fact, when thinking more deeply about my friend group generally, I realized that can probably count on 1 hand the number of folks I typically hang out with who are cis-het. Outside of community involvement, I’ve also been more open and comfortable in my own queer identity. I’ve been reading and watching queer media with wholesome and heartwarming representation.

Unsurprisingly, folks who are marginalized in some way, like in the queer community, often have more than their fair share of trauma. And while I’ve been intentionally trying to make friends and join communities that are outside of my religious community, it seems my priest hat sometimes follows me. I’ve been trying to consciously diversify my friend groups so that I can have places where I don’t have to worry about the subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) wall that exists between me and my congregants, my Folk. But, like has happened to me throughout my life even before ordination, I am often a person that folks turn to in times of need. Since I’ve been starting to broaden my friend group and community, that means I’ve been caught off guard a couple of times by the sudden shift to wearing my priest hat.

Recently I was at a party just chatting with friends, when suddenly the conversation shifted to a sharing of a pretty awful life event. It wasn’t even really a conscious decision for me, but I felt my whole demeanor change, my priest hat appearing, and that slight wall coming up that allows me to remain supportive but not enmeshed into that person’s feelings. I was able to actively listen and engage my supportive presence skills for the duration of the conversation. Then, when the conversation shifted again, I was jolted back into non-priest mode. It felt a bit like whiplash. To be clear, I’m not at all upset that it happened, particularly because it does feed my vocation to be there for people in that way, but it was quite unexpected for that role to happen outside of its normal location and community.

I suspect this type of code-switching isn’t uncommon for people who are in helping professions. What made this a little bit more unusual is that this person didn’t know that my day job is clergy. Normally when the role switch happens it’s because someone knows that’s what I do and asks me to switch into it. “Hey, can I ask you a serious question?” is not unusual for me to hear. I’m sure people are nurses are used to this kind of thing too. “Can you look at a picture of this rash on my kid and tell me if I should cal, the doctor?” It wouldn’t surprise me as I get more involved in the chaplaincy work for this to happen more often simply because it will broaden the communities that I spend time in. Which just means I’ll have to keep an eye on my own flame, to make sure it stays lit and I’m able to keep fulfilling this role without detriment to myself. It’s a boundary I’ve been getting much better with over the years.

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