A few months ago a parishioner cut out a Dear Abby column and handed it to me. I forgot about it until I recently unearthed it from a pile on my desk. Here's the letter said parishioner thought I'd get a kick out of:
I'm a member of the clergy who enjoys studying for my ministry and doctoral work at a local coffee shop. Three men who go there every day each want to talk with me while I'm there.
I have invited them to visit my worship services as well as call the office and set up an appointment. I have also tried to diplomatically explain that I go to the coffee shop to study. One of them ignores it, another appears hurt and the third one gets offended.
Because of where I live, finding another coffee shop is not a viable option. How can I set a boundary?
Since I have a lot of experience working in coffee shops, I decided to pull Abby aside and tell her "Relax. I got this."-- Reverend Ken in New York
First of all, if you work in a coffee shop there's always going to be some interaction with the public. If you don't want this, build a padded cell in your parsonage and work there. Or go to the public library where speaking is frowned upon and your three amigos will get shushed to death by the children's librarian. Or become a cloistered monk.
If you, like me, have a pavlovian response to writing and drinking coffee and you can't do one without the other, you have several options. First, there's this new technology called a home coffee maker. You can, from the comfort of your own home, brew your own coffee.
You can also work in your church office -- I'm sure your secretary would be delighted to greet you every morning with a steaming mug of coffee as you walk through the door and in return not spell your name wrong in the bulletin every week. In order to minimize distractions, go into your office, turn off the ringer on the phone, and put out the "Do Not Disturb" sign. Make sure not to reverse it or the maid will come in to fluff your pillows at a most inconvenient time. If the Three Kings of which you spoke still try to interrupt you, hide under your desk and pretend you're out at the coffee shop.
If you insist on working at the coffee shop, there are several strategies that will be sure to ward off your Trinity of interrupters. You could wear a disguise -- the funny glasses and nose get-up should suffice. Or a hairy gorilla mask. You could wear huge headphones so you look like a wide receiver getting off the team bus and just ignore everyone and everything around you especially fans and reporters. You could start loudly hee hawing every time anyone approaches so they think you're insane (this also works if you don't want to engage with others while riding public transportation.
Finally, if nothing else works you can go to the secret clergy weapon. You can stare earnestly into their eyes and say, "Friend, I'd like to talk to you about Jesus." That should make them run far, far away.
-- Father TimI'm not sure what's so difficult about telling people you're busy and that you'll be available to talk later. But unless "Reverend Ken" develops some backbone soon, he's going to be in for a lot of pain and anguish over the years. You can't take care of others if you're not taking care of yourself.