Boundaries at morning tea

Whoever thought that morning tea after church could be so problematic that I would bother to blog about it! Surely we are just all gasping for a cuppa/hit of caffeine by that time of the morning?  Yet at a recent talk I gave on boundaries at a local church, there was considerable discussion about what was the “right” thing to do at morning tea time.

I have heard numerous announcements about the nowadays inevitable refreshments after church: the warm invitation to newcomers to join us and get to know other members of the church, the exhortation to “continue your fellowship” over morning tea, or to share personally with some fellow imbibers about how the preaching affected you.

When discussing how to set “boundaries” around what we do in various settings, one person shared the possible scenario of being at morning tea and seeking to join a group of two who seemed to be in conversation. On politely asking “may I join you”, one of the pair replies “sorry, we’re having a rather private conversation here”.  According to some ideas about how to “set boundaries”, this would seem to be a reasonable response: the joiner suggested that they would be hurt by such an answer.

Is the joining person being rather sensitive? Is it the right thing for the pair to be having such a conversation in the open space of the morning tea room when church members are supposedly meant to be “having fellowship” at this time?

Acts 2:42 tells us that the new converts “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship“.  The root word of “fellowship” seems to have two aspects: sharing in an activity (taking part in something together which has both the horizontal aspects of relating to one another in the Body of Christ and the vertical aspects of sharing in our Lord God through Christ in the power of the spirit) , and the sharing with fellow believers.  

This would seem to suggest that in the above scenario both sets of people could be “right” – the pair in discussion could be ministering to one another (or one was doing the ministering) and so would be doing fellowship as one shared the other’s burden, and maybe shared a scripture with them or prayed for them. Yet the outsider has felt rejected and maybe they too needed the companionship of the two on conversation.

Whoever thought that just going to morning tea could throw up such ethical dilemmas? Will I ever simply enjoy my longed for caffeine hit again without stressing about how to be?

Nicky Lock, BSc(hons) Grad Dip EFT PACFA reg., Senior Counsellor and Clinical Consultant, and a lecturer and author of counselling courses.

Comments (7)

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  • Stephen Davis
    November 7, 11 - 12:45pm
    Whatever you discuss, just enjoy the moment!
  • Robert James Elliott
    November 9, 11 - 5:25pm
    I think that if you are a Christian, even if engaged in the deepest of morning tea discussions, you should welcome the joining person. Fellowship has priority over privacy in these situations. Churches have to avoid any sense of cliques or "in crowds" in a Church, as these perceptions are fatal to the growth of true Christian friendship. How hard is it, on a Sunday morning, to be welcoming to an outsider? Especially if you are a professing Christian? I say fellowship must come first. If a matter between two people is so important, then they can meet at another time or call each other on the telephone! Sorry but have been to too many cliqueish churches! RJE
  • Andrew Dircks
    November 14, 11 - 5:01pm
    Thanks, Nicky, for a useful and relevant question.
    As your discussion suggests, there are lots of factors in life's little dilemmas like this one.
    As in the rest of our lives, we should seek to be deliberate, strategic and loving in how we conduct ourselves at morning tea after church, seeking to build one another up to maturity in Christ. Thinking of our morning teas as part of our gatherings, it is relevant to consider such texts as Acts 2:42. However it may be unrealistic to expect that an analysis of 'the root word of 'fellowship" ' can answer the question, and I'm not sure that all that you stated can be found just in that word itself. It seems clear from a number of other passages (e.g. Ephesians 4:15-16 and 1 Corinthians 13:4-5) that, ideally, whether "in church" or "at morning tea after church" we'll still be seeking to build up one another in love. But at the particular point when I'm having one conversation, seeking to build up someone in love, and someone else comes along, I'm called upon to make a choice, and hopefully I'll make that choice on the basis of mature love, and what I know of the two people, rather than out of self-interest.
  • Dave Lankshear
    November 14, 11 - 10:32pm
    @ Robert James Elliot:

    even if engaged in the deepest of morning tea discussions, you should welcome the joining person

    The person you're sharing intimately with says "I'm close to killing myself. I just can't stand waking up each day... I've messed up so bad, and I'm such a failure, that I'm really, really thinking about taking a whole bottle of sleeping pills. I got nothing out of the sermon today; I could hardly listen without being reminded of what a loser I am. I'm probably just going to do it tonight".

    (Casual acquaintance approaches with a big, beaming, Sunday morning smile).

    "Hi guys, what do you think of these Lamingtons hey?"

    What's the Christian thing to do in this situation?
  • Robert James Elliott
    November 15, 11 - 8:43am
    Dave: I think most comments are in the general, not the specific. You must have incredible morning teas in your parish if this is a regular discussion topic.
  • Nicky Lock
    November 15, 11 - 10:31am
    @Dave - I think these sort of clashes do happen in church and not as infrequently as Robert might be suggesting. Or maybe it's because I'm a counsellor that I get people sharing like that at morning tea even when they don't know that I am - I must give something away in my facial expressions! As Andrew comments,of course we must be guided by at least the principle of seeking to build up in love, but we also need to exercise judgement and sometimes someone will be hurt by such a rebuff. We could always go back to the person we exclude in these extreme events and explain apologetically why we needed to focus on the person who was in such desparate need - I find most folk are pretty reasonable when they understand what was going on.
  • Dave Lankshear
    November 15, 11 - 7:52pm
    I find most folk are pretty reasonable when they understand what was going on.

    Agreed! I think that as conversations head into such an area, maybe the couple should move into a more private area of the church or grounds (taking into account safe-ministry guidelines etc.)

    However, given that we should be trying to minister to each other, shouldn't this sort of 'deep' conversation be just a little bit more regular than such things might come up at the average Aussie BBQ? My example above was only hypothetical, but why doesn't Robert expect intense stuff to come up in a Christian context? Isn't it the truly loving thing to be aiming for? Over the years and in various church contexts I've met Christian adults struggling with unbelievably painful marriages, incredibly nasty teenagers, parental psychological abuse, bone-crunching exhausting, soul-destroying depression, addiction to alcohol or pornography or computer games to escape, or facing a child that could be dying of cancer.

    Incredible morning teas? No, this is not the level of conversation I've experienced at church; not even once a year.

    Doesn't that force us to ask the obvious? Why aren't we, when these issues are so real and overwhelming in so many of our brothers and sisters lives, or even our own lives?