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Thursday, July 02, 2009

Ask the Matriarch - Hosting Male Friends

Today's question poses a problem unique to single clergypeople:

I am a young-ish 30-something pastor, serving an established, traditional congregation within a conservative -- although not generally repressive (depending on who you ask) -- denomination. The church is filled with folks my parents' ages and a few newer, younger members.

Here is the issue: I went to seminary in my denomination. As a result, most of my best friends are men -- married and single. I have always thought that I would be able to host them in my home -- no problem -- should they come to visit. Recently a parishoner's comment led me to question that assumption. Although it is not an issue yet, it seems it WOULD be an issue for some members of the congregation if I were to have out-of-town guests of the opposite gender to stay with me.

On the other hand, it is an issue for ME not to have my guests stay with me. It feels like a breach of hospitality, not to mention I feel like a teenager -- having to "avoid the appearance of evil" and, as a result, miss out on the privilege of being a hostess to certain out-of -town guests.


I personally had this same problem in my first parish. I was 25, single, living three hours from all my friends (meaning most visitors would want to stay overnight), and pastoring in a town of 1100, where everyone knew everyone's business. When my boyfriend visited, I went to great lengths to have him hosted by a church member. My church members were very gracious in allowing him to come and go to visit me, rather than feeling like he needed to act as their guest (in other words, he was my guest, he was just bunking at their place). When my best male friend visited though, I simply told parishioners he would be staying with me in my guest room, as my female friends always did. So from the beginning, I drew a line between the guy who was my boyfriend and the one who was just my friend. I was never sure if this was the right thing - I found out much later that someone in the town gossiped about my boyfriend sleeping over - but my parishioners seemed to appreciate both my sensitivity and my open communication with them.

Diane writes:
I think that, though it seems like an aggravation, your writer is probably correct that it would not be a good idea to host her single male colleagues at her home. I'm saying this as a woman in her 50s, and a pastor of an older congregation, with many people in the age range that might have a problem with this. I know it seems hiypocritical to worry about what "people might think", and I have absolutely no doubt about the pastor's intentions.
I don't think there is any way you can get around the provlicity of some people who like to talk, whether it is in judgment, or in curiosity about whether their young pastor has a romantic relationship possibility. When I was interviewing at my first parish, the whole congregation came out. One person in the back piped up with the statement that "The pastor in the next town is single."
That being said, perhaps there is some way you can get your congregation involved when your friends visit. Perhaps you can have your friends stay at a parish member's house, but host them (and the host family as well) for a dinner, or a breakfast, even, at your house.
Your parish members are going to be curious about your life. Of course, you need to be careful about keeping your own boundaries, and your own privacy. This is also an opportunity to think about these questions as well.

Sue offers:
I guess it is far too easy for me to say "Forget the gossip and host your friends as you please" - but I'm not in your situation, nor am I part of your denomination, so instead here are a few possible responses to "concerns" should they be voiced by your parishioners:

1. Tell them a bit about your guest. "It's so lovely to have ________ here for a few days. He and his wife and children are some of my best friends. The whole family was unable to visit, but it's nice to see him just the same."

2. Comment on how lovely it is that the manse is large enough to host some of your favourite friends from seminary and talk about how good it is to catch up and remember that important time in your life.

3. At the next meeting of your Board/Council/Stewards, ask for a few moments to explain the situation. Tell them exactly what you have said here, that these are friends and nothing untoward is happening. Thank them for understanding that keeping in touch with seminary friends is important in ministry for many reasons.

My guess is that once the Board hears it, the gossip will die down because the people who peak through the window shades to see what's happening at your house will be soundly told that it is not worth talking about - that you are only inviting friends for a visit. That may sound a bit polly-anna-ish, but in my experience - once the truth is out there, the suspicion and gossip tends to dissipate.

Sunday's Coming writes:

I think if you can have a discussion about this with the church somewhere (church council / elders’ meeting / leaders’ group – depending on your structures) it can only help.
If people are going to feel negative about you having guests it will only be made worse if they somehow feel it has happened behind their backs.
Of course you are in the right & it shouldn’t be a problem – but the fact that you are thinking about the issue shows that it could be a problem for some people.
If you can have an adult, open, sensible discussion about this where you can calmly explain your position to some church folk, it may set minds at ease.

This would mean that if you did have a guest and there was any comment in the church community there would be people around who could say ‘oh yes, she has guests – we discussed it and it’s fine’.

If on the other hand the church cannot give permission, how much worse would it be if the subject has to be tackled after the event, almost as an accusation?

God grant them the good sense to agree with you!

Mompriest adds:

Oh where to begin? On the one hand I really think we clergy must have a private life that is unrelated to the congregation - they do not need to know every detail of our lives. On the other hand we do stand for and are expected to model appropriate, acceptable moral behavior - and that means even the appearance - or not - of such acceptable behavior. So a decision like this depends on a number of factors based on what acceptable behavior means to your flock.
I really think you have to listen carefully and assess your congregation. I would even suggest you speak to the leadership and get a feel from them. If they are willing and able to support you then you might be ok, otherwise I suggest your guests stay in a hotel.


What a tricky situation, eh? It's something that previous generations (male, mostly married) never had to wrestle with. Some of you have probably had to grapple with this one as well. What are your thoughts?

We have many great questions lined up in our queue for the coming weeks. If you have something you want the matriarchs to discuss, please send your question our way at


  1. I thank God every few days that I got married before moving to the church I am serving. Because I don't even want to have to think about what the congregation might think.

    Being married (unfairly) gives you a pass in this category. Before I even began serving my congregation I had moved into the parsonage with my husband and we had several friends (all guys) over for New Years Eve. They all spent the night, and they all frequently spend the night, because it's fun to stay up until the wee hours of the morning watching movies together, and they don't live close.

    The only reason it's not an issue is because I'm married. But my relationship would not be any different with them if I were single. I have so many friends who are unmarried and the advice given has been wonderful! Thanks for bringing up the question!!!

  2. I think you will save yourself all kinds of headaches if you don't do it.

    I'm a widow and when we host youth teams and such I only have the young women stay at the parsonage.

    I don't even allow men from the congregation to be in the HOUSE at ANYTIME alone with me.

    When I had a gentleman friend I kept his visits (never overnight needless to say) very very discreet.

  3. I think it depends entirely on your congregation. If the people you suspect may have a problem with it are the type of people who will use it to create a problem, then it's not worth the risk. But if they're not, I'm not sure I'd worry about it.
    I was in a long-distance relationship when I started at my church, and one regional minister told me I'd "better have a reservation on the books at the Super 8". But when I asked the regional minister here, he said in some congregations he'd tell me the same thing, but with mine he didn't see it being an issue.
    I did make very sure to that people knew when I moved here that my house has a guest room.
    I got engaged within a month of starting and there was never an issue with my fiance staying with me. Part of it is the financial reality, honestly. When he finally moved here, a month before the wedding, it wasn't even an issue.

    And this is with someone I was romantically involved with. With platonic friends, I think as long as you get certain important people on board, as others have suggested, to get your back if it comes up, it should be fine. But it depends on your people.
    Good luck! It's so lame that it's even an issue; it makes me mad.

  4. I think bringing it to the council/elders/leadership is a good idea. Maybe ask for their opinion: "I have a male friend coming to town and would like to host him in my guest room; what do you think?" Maybe it's not an issue for them. If it is, you'll know up front.

    Personally, I would not be comfortable having a guest stay with parishioners; that feels weird to me. I can see that being even murkier than having a guest at your own home, because you're inviting those folks to be an intimate part of the visit, which may not be a good thing. If it doesn't work to stay at your house, I'd go with a hotel.

    I was single for the first 5 years of my parish ministry and, sadly, this stuff is just out there for single pastors. Especially women. Frustrating but true.

  5. I agree with Katie too -- married clergy never have to deal with this.

    It occurs to me that my first parish was in a town so small that there were no hotels. not even in the next town over. I never had the opportunity to have a single male friend stay, but I don't think I would have done it in any case. As in Pastor Joelle's case, I would not have been comfortable.

  6. Having any GUEST stay outside of the parsonage is an affront to the Hospitality of the Episcopal Church. Unless the parsonage is a 3 room apt. But then I was born in 1963, and may be tainted with Liberal Blood.

  7. Thanks for all the interesting thoughts, y'all. Shalom makes a good point about the weirdness of having your own guests stay over in someone else's house. In my current town (Ann Arbor, Michigan), where there are plenty of hotels and my congregants live all over the city (and in other cities), I would definitely have chosen the hotel route over having guests stay in people's homes. Then again, I probably would've felt freer to have guests stay in my home as well, because fewer people would've been likely to even know I had company.

    But my first call was similar to Diane's - a tiny town, with no hotels. And like hers, even the next town over didn't have a hotel. My guests would've had to drive to a different county to find lodging. As it was all my parishioners lived within walking distance of the parsonage - which is why everyone would've known if I'd had company too!

    It is really an unfair situation, esp. (I think) for women. Here's hoping the person who asked the question has a congregation who is open-minded and supportive!


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