The most important thing to get clear on is that this world has "friends" and it has "facebookfriends", and they are not the same thing at all, even if the share a syllable. Ministers need to be careful about having "friends" in their congregations, that is to say, people the confide in, let their hair down with, giggle and share and travel with and so on. There are so many good reasons for ministers to be careful about having friends in the congregation that many ministers don't have friends in the congregation at all. These reasons include:
- Most people who actively court their ministers as friends don't really want to befriend the person who giggles and shares and travels, they want to befriend the MINISTER and partake, somehow, in the ministerial glitter. (or worse, use the ministerial glitter or the minister's ear to advance their agendas in the church, or, worst of all, what to befriend the minister to assure themselves that scary people like ministers are really just regular joes.) Any sensible minister avoids this like the plague for personal and professional reasons.
- Even when the minister develops relationships more naturally, with healthier persons who actually want to know the minister as a person, giggles and glitches and all, there will be some others, who, seeing this relationship, can become jealous and make the minister's professional life difficult.
- And when things go south politically in a church, among the very painful things for the minister is to lose friendships just when one most needed them or to see one's friends become estranged from their congregation because of their friendship with the congregation's minister.
"Facebookfriendship", however, is a completely different critter from friendship. Facebookfriendship is to real friendship what coffee hour is to an encounter group. Facebook is a way of keeping in touch, briefly and pleasantly, with aspects of people's lives in one sentence, one picture, one "read this that I've linked to" bites.
Does FacebookFriendship have boundary issues for ministers? It depends on what you post, not on who your Facebookfriends are. To my mind, the minister's Facebook life should be conducted the way the minister's semi-public life always is...carefully.
I think of it this way. If I was in a long airport security line and behind me was someone from my church...or even someone from my former church, I would not ignore them out of anxious concerns for boundaries or my privacy. We'd exchange news about the doings of our children, our gardens, our political opinions. We might mention things we were reading, how we are feeling, and talk politely about the people we know. That's the kind of stuff I put on my Facebook update.
So, my policy is I Facebookfriend anybody in my church who asks. Any UU who asks, actually. I set all of my security to "only friends can see this". I don't say anything I wouldn't say in the airport line or post any picture I wouldn't, under the right circumstances, show around at coffee hour. And I doubt that I will unbefirend people when I leave this church, any more than I would refuse to talk to them if I found myself in their company.
I only very occasionally leave comments on congregant's posts, although I do very often click "like" when they are reporting happy news. When I read things on congregant's posts which warrent a pastoral response, I send a private messange, an email, or pick up the phone. I've also used the live chat feature in what seemed to be dire circumstances. The point is that the minister doesn't play favorites or have "special" Facebookfriends, at least not on the public side of Facebook.
Therefore...nobody gets any "ministerglitter" from being my facebookfriend, any more than they get it from watching a video from the church website. It's there for everybody. Nobody gets jealous. There are no political implications. There is connection, but not real friendship. But those connections are interesting and valuable.