I am in my first year of full-time parish ministry after graduating from seminary last May. I am a relative youngin', and I have used Facebook for years to connect with friends from college and, more recently, seminary. I am friends also with a lot of clergy. I did some work with college chaplaincies and became Facebook friends with students my age from that ministry.
In the last few weeks, parishioners at my current church have begun to "friend" me on Facebook. I didn't want to be rude, so I confirmed the friend requests (but set some limits on what they could see on my profile). One person in particular began to leave snarky comments on my status updates -- when I posted about working hard on a sermon, for example, he "teased" me about how I only have to present one thing a week, and he has to do several sales presentations.
I've played around some more with the privacy settings, but I am wondering -- How do we negotiate boundaries and relationships with new forms of technology? People know I only answer urgent phone calls or emails on my time off, but what about social networks that bridge different communities and relationships? Is it better to not be friends on FB with people that I have a current pastoral relationship?
This is one of those my-life-is-not-my-own-anymore questions. And with Facebook, our lives all belong to or are exposed to anyone we allow into our digital social network.
The up side: people want to connect with you. They want to know you and see what you do with your life.
The down side: they also want to spy on you. Or at least some do. There are definitely a couple church friends who obviously read my posts with an eye towards criticism. They ask "What do you mean by ___?" or "Why were you with ___?" The merciful part of me would like to believe such people have my best interest in mind or the best interest of the church in mind. My less merciful side is not so merciful.
I believe you have to let church people "friend" you. But be careful. Don't put Michael Phelpsian pictures of yourself smoking from a pipe on your profile page. Don't drop the F-bomb in your casual comments.
And if your BS (before seminary) friends - or your seminary friends for that matter - choose to include photos and comments that are scandalous, remind your people that Jesus ate with prostitutes and tax collectors. Hand them a Bible.
Blessings, Jan Edmiston
Stacey speaks about her experiences with Facebook and Twitter:
This is SUCH a tricky issue. I decided to be public on Facebook and have allowed any and all church members who are on there to friend me. But I am careful about what I post there (on my own wall or anyone else's). On the one hand, I feel free to share things I would never share from the pulpit, like my political affiliation and opinions. On the other hand, I feel like I have to be careful about status updates. If I update too often, it may look like I'm not getting any work done, for instance! The comment you got from your parishioner would have bothered me, but I probably would have either not responded or made some light flip response.
A few months ago, I joined Twitter, which is sort of like Facebook status updates, but at a much quicker pace. At first I linked my Twitter and Facebook accounts, so that my Twitter updates were automatically pushed to Facebook. But within 24 hours, I unlinked them and locked all my Twitter updates (so that only people I approve can see them). It was just too much. I decided that Facebook can be my very public place, where I don't mind what parishioners or high school friends read. But I needed a more private place, too, totally free of church members. It's tricky, but if a church member tries to friend me in that forum, I will simply let them know that my profile is locked and why.
It is hard to find any middle ground. If you're going to have an online presence at all, you have to be prepared to be as careful online as you are in public about what you say. If you need a space that's just for you and your friends, then you may need to draw some firm lines that you do not breach for any church members at all.
NJ Soprano comments on the risks:
I have a Youth Minister at my church who is 30-something and into all of the technology - iPhone, iPod, Bluetooth, TIVO, you name it, he's got it. He was under a fair amount of pressure to be on Facebook. He refused. His concern is that he might say something, or someone would respond to him that would be misunderstood and place his relationship with the kids in jeopardy. As his rector, I stood firmly behind him.
I think there is an enormous risk to any 'social networking' or any Blog. Even if you limited your 'friends' on FB, someone somewhere will find you and even an innocent statement about sermon prep can be misconstrued. You have to understand that if you are going to go 'public' with your thoughts.
You can't put the toothpaste back into the tube, so, going forward, you just may want to carefully consider what it is you post on FB. In fact, that may take all the fun out of things like FB and Twitter, but it's a reality of life in the 'fast lane' of parish ministry.
Godly Play Gramma also votes for "friending:"
My gut reaction is that you should be friends with people in the congregation - social networking is one of the ways people of all ages connect these days. There is something about saying, even on Facebook, "I won't be your friend," that hurts.
I am a public employee with a fairly sensitive position. I like Facebook, but I am very careful about what I share there. I seldom mention work, and when I do, it's pretty generic stuff like "woohoo - long weekend". I try to avoid posting status updates during work hours. I post links about issues that concern me, but I don't wax eloquent about my opinion. I don't post pictures of my grandkids even - and I don't talk about them by name.
So maybe you use Facebook to post personal updates, and opinion updates, but not to talk about your sermon. You can just not respond to snarky comments - the way things move on Facebook, the snarky comment will be buried sooner or later.
Or could socialize with church on a Ning (ning.com) and leave FB for friends. Ning would be good for collaborative work - each team could maintain their own part. However, I still can't see saying I have 420 FB friends and I won't be your friend because you attend my church.
Rector in Hawai’i offers some more ideas:
Boy. This is a tough one. It's hard to not accept invitations from parish "friends." It's one of the reason I don't have a general blog -- I don't want them to see everything I think and write.
This is what I'd suggest: start a new Facebook page under a different name.... Like your name with your middle initial, or your name without your middle initial, or any other variation of using your name. Then go back to your initial friends list and send all non-parishioners an invite. Don't advertise it in the parish or make a public announcement about the 'new' site. If someone discovers it, just say that it's only for family and close friends; your public list is the one they've been accessing and they can continue to do that.
You can still check and use your current FB for parishioners and anyone else who asks. But you can also control who sees what by having that second FB site. You absolutely do not need to take the snarky crap for the parishioner who seems to think it's okay to rudely and disrespectfully comment on your status updates.
A second site is a bit of a hassle but you do need to set some boundaries and the first site has given you reason to do so.
FWIW - I have a land line that is unlisted and blocked because there were a few parishioners for whom every little incident was an 'urgency.' That number is given to someone only with my permission; there might be 5 parishioners who have it because I know they will absolutely not share it.
Wise layperson advises fair policies whatever you choose to do or not do:
I am not a priest, but here are my two cents:
I suggest that you restrict your Facebook/LiveJournal/ Personal blog use to your trusted friends and family and that you use fairly strong privacy settings for personal content.
I think that having a place set apart, either in real or virtual life, where you can be yourself and not have to be 'the priest/pastor' is important.
One reason not to friend congregants on Facebook is that not everyone has the same access to computers and so not everyone can reach you that way.
The other, as you have noticed, is that really congregants are not your friends-- if anything they are more like your employer. If you worked in a business setting would you want your boss to read what you had for breakfast and make decisions about you based on the personal information you reveal about yourself on Facebook?
What ever you decide to do, be consistent and fair. If you let some congregants in but exclude others it will create the impression of a clique or in-group and that can lead to trouble.
Also, be conservative in you posts, even to your more private blogs. Think before you post. Do not post when very tired, impaired, or upset/angry. Once something is on the internet is can spread far beyond its intended audience very easily.