My intention was to write about race and racism. I am an African American pastor in a predominately white denomination. I serve a multi-racial, actively anti-racist congregation. This is after all an issue dedicated to diversity. I wanted to lament about my denomination, which sometimes opts for tokenism over true diversity. I wanted to talk about how hard it is to get ordained as a black woman even in progressive denominations. And I probably should have written about the general turmoil I’ve faced as a young black radical pastor in a self-professing progressive as it struggles to maintain spaces of true racial diversity.
And one day I will write about those things in more depth and detail. But today, there is something weighing even heavier on my heart. I’m single. I somehow entered into this career without a spouse or partner. I dared to be a clergywoman in her 30’s, whose ordination was not preceded or followed by a wedding, or children.
As an unmarried Protestant pastor, I was not aware of how much of an anomaly I was. The image of the preacher and his wife is still the dominant one (and I use the phrase “his wife” deliberately). Even in the context of the most post-modern and progressive church, the image of the preacher and his/her family still remains strong. The clergy families may consist of two mommies or two daddies or a mommy and a daddy who have thought progressively about marriage. But that structure remains unchanged.
I remember talking to my pastor at the beginning of my first attempt at the ordination process. And he said I was going to struggle as a “single black female.” And beyond the fact that it sounded like a funny movie title, I didn’t take his words very seriously. For me this was a personal issue with no real relevance in my vocational life.
But a year into the pastorate, I’m beginning to see the fullness of his words.
I see it in the assumption I would need less pay and less personal time because I “have no family.” I see it when I find myself in the position of being the single persons’ advocate in a clergy group where single people were being marginalized. And I saw it when I went to a women’s session at a conference for black clergy. And instead of talking about the suppression of women called by God in the Black Church, we broke into groups and prayed about the husbands and children we had or the husband and children we wanted.
Yet in spite of the frustration, there was nothing my pastor’s forewarning could have done to change my reality. My relationship status has been as unchanged as my gender identity and unchangeable as my racial identity. I’ve always been black and female. And I’ve always been single. My singleness is not an attempt to deepen my relationship with God or a protest against the heterosexist structures being imposed on clergy. I wish it were that noble.
The reality is I was the too tall, too poor, too black, dorky kid in my affluent prep school. I was the girl who went to three high schools in four years and didn’t date in college. And I am the woman who got my heart and spirit broken by the seminary player/pothead. Yet by the grace and humor of God, I am pastor. I said I wouldn’t even go to seminary until 2020, when I turned 40, was married and had children. Yet it’s 2011 and I am a pastor. I’m ahead of my vocational schedule. Yet, there is always some part of me that is stuck somewhere in my socially awkward past.
And this is not as attempt to make anyone feel sorry for me (but you can laugh because some of it is funny). My lament is not as an attempt to make pastors with spouses or partners and babies feel bad. Because truth be told, I want a husband who loves me in all of my called-by-a-radical-God glory and I want children too. But I do write because I know I am not the only single pastor. And I am not the only single pastor with an awkward social past. I am in a position to bring comfort to some socially awkward “single lady” preacher. And I want to give an alternative to articles about weddings and being a pregnant pastor during Christmas. I’ve bared my awkward soul to represent a different kind of diversity and to give a little more assurance to those like me to know that they are not alone.
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