For a two-part series in February and March we interviewed single revs from across the country. They serve in various denominations and settings and their answers are varied and complex. February’s questions focus on “Life as the Single Rev” and March’s questions will focus on “Sex and the Single Rev.”
1. What is your calling as a minister? What does it mean for you to live that out and be single?
Single Rev 1: I am grateful to live in a time in human history when there are people of all walks of life who are carrying out the calling of minister. To live in such a time is to be able to hear God’s message of hope through a variety of filters and lenses that makes its depth and beauty more rich and three-dimensional than it has ever been before. To have different sets of eyes, with different experiences and backgrounds, setting their hand to the plow to read and interpret and help people to apply God’s scriptures is to breathe fresh life into how we live them out. For me, this means that my voice not only as a minister, but as a single minister is vital. My voice is essential to the choir.
Single Rev #2: When I decided to pursue a career in ministry, I didn’t even consider that being different for any reason because I was single. Just like I pursued my education, I pursued ministry jobs along the way. Of course my life is different in many ways from those ministers who have families, I’m sure. I don’t have to consider or worry about children, or the calendar or schedule of a spouse, which makes my schedule more free and open. I guess I just see it as I’m a youth pastor who happens to be single, not a big deal honestly. I don’t have to ask anyone if the teenagers can meet at my house on a Friday night, or check with someone else to see if a certain weekend is available on the calendar for a retreat. On the other hand, I also don’t have anyone to fully share the experience with, someone who can understand how important and invested I am in this job- that it’s not just a job.
Single Rev #3: In many ways my calling is still being formed, but what remains at the core is helping others (particularly children and families) come to and grow in faith in Christ both as an individual and in community. For me to live out my calling is to walk through life with others in fellowship, times of crisis and celebration and everything in between. I appreciate Lauren Winner's view of singleness (in Real Sex) as "a radical dependence on God."
2. How does your congregation react to you as a single rev? Do they make comments or cross boundaries?
Single Rev #1: My congregation struggles with my singleness. I think that of all the factors that they struggle with, the fact that I am very young or that I am a woman is actually overshadowed by the fact that I am single. I think they have a harder time with that factor than anything else. I sense that they struggle to know what to say to me. They cannot ask how the wife and kids or doing as they have always been accustomed to asking pastors, or even how the husband and kids are doing. They have a hard time imagining what my life outside of the church looks like, and as a result, they have a difficult time respecting my need to have one.
For the past couple years, comments or boundaries crossings have been very rare for me, but that is a result of a practiced demeanor. When I was not just very young, but extremely young entering ministry I did not have the confidence to assert myself and my boundaries appropriately. I was uncomfortable with how men would give me big bear hugs after I preached, but had not yet learned how to slant my body at the door to make it difficult. I assumed that if a man was at least a decade older than me, he was “safe;” as a result of this it would take me a little too long to figure out that a man was fixated on me beyond what was safe. It has been a learning process, and as sad as I feel sometimes that I have to prioritize safety and appropriate boundaries over people’s desire to feel close to me, that is the reality of my life.
Single Rev #3: When I first arrived, I'm not sure my church knew exactly what to do with me. I was the first female full-time staff person they'd ever had and a mid-20s, single one at that. In those early days and from time to time now, there were/are some who are curious about how I live as a single minister. I've been asked questions such as how/where do you meet single guys in town (how I wish I knew!), do I want to eventually be married (thankfully never asked in a condescending way) or is it tough to date as a minister? All good questions that seemed to be magnified in their minds because of my role in the church. Most congregants are respectful of my personal life but there's always a few (almost exclusively older women) who offer up grandsons, nephews, and UPS delivery men.
3. What are the most difficult parts of maintaining a balance of work and personal life? What parts are neglected? What do you celebrate?
Single Rev #2: Because of my job, I don’t really a have a weekend, which is one of the things that bothers me the most about having this kind of job. I meet with my teenagers on Friday nights, and of course have church and meetings on Sundays, and often there are church activities of some sort on Saturdays, so that makes it difficult to make weekend plans. And by weekend plans, I mean going places with friends or planning dates, or staying out late on a Saturday night with friends and/or date person, so this greatly limits my availability. I certainly have more freedom during the week, but that’s when most everyone else is working. I have a flexible work schedule during the week for the most part and I feel that I have a good balance of “my time” and “work time.”
Single Rev #3: Often too much of my time and attention are spent at the church simply because it can be spent there. And if I'm being incredibly honest with myself, I can also easily allow myself to hide in my work. This is a deep tension I feel within myself to not only balance work and personal life, but to actually have a personal life. Just because I don't often have a dinner date to run to or my child's t-ball game to attend, doesn't mean that every waking minute of my time belongs with church. There is always something left unfinished, some person not visited and I often have to remind myself that it's okay to leave things undone to make time for myself. Recently, I've been intentionally focusing on carving out space for myself here free of church connections to fully embrace myself holistically and not just as a minister.
4. What conversation do you wish the church would embrace regarding single revs? What do you want people to know?
Single Rev #1: I wish that the church would have a more intentional dialogue about celibacy as a viable option for people. I am committed to celibacy in singleness as the covenant I have made with my church, but I also sincerely believe that celibacy can be a lifelong calling and a beautiful one. It bothers me that the dominant Christian culture sees single people as somehow not quite complete; as if there is one more step that they must achieve to reach optimum potential. As we get older people begin to think that either we are hiding something, whether that is our sexual activity or our sexual orientation, or that there is something wrong with us that keeps us from having a lasting relationship. The tendency to view singleness as an evil, and as an inherently temporary state is not a responsible attitude either socially or theologically.
I do not take it as a compliment when I tell people that I may remain single, and they reply that that just isn’t possible because I am just too pretty for that. I take offense at that because it assumes that singleness is like a disease that needs a cure and that I must take that cure if it is presented to me; and because it once again subtly promotes the attitude that there is something wrong with people who are single. Serving a savior who chose singleness as an aspect of his life’s vocation, I find this deeply problematic.
Single Rev #2: I don’t have as much of a problem with this at my current church, but I would say I wish the church would embrace that a single minister’s time is just as valuable as someone who is married. Just because my time isn’t filled with family responsibilities doesn’t mean it isn’t busy with other things like spending time with friends (both locally and visiting them in other places), dating (or pursuing this possibility), running personal errands and doing personal tasks. Sometimes I want to go home or be home just because I want that time to myself, not because I have some obligation and they should respect that.
5. What advice do you have for other single revs as far as having people who know you and support you?
Single Rev #1: Learn to be yourself. I think we can lose that sometimes; especially if we have especially difficult or busy seasons for one reason or another, and all of our time has been spent interacting with people as Pastor such and such. I Let yourself laugh whenever you get a chance. When you are not at work, don’t be at work; that does not mean that you throw all your moral convictions and lifestyle commitments out the window; it just means, you don’t always have to be the responsible one in the room and you don’t always have to be the one in charge. And it may seem obvious, but I’ll say it to make sure – make friends outside of your work and outside of your colleagues.
Single Rev #2: For one thing, you need a good support group of friends outside of your church. That’s what’s been vital for me just in life. Some of these friends are friends from seminary or other parts of life and we maintain our relationship through long-distance- e-mail, phone calls, that kind of thing. Some of those friends are ones that you share life with where you live, and honestly, most of mine are single and in similar phases of life as far as career goes so we can relate easily for the most part.
Single Rev #3: Have relationships outside of the church. It is invaluable to have friends and family who have deep connections with me beyond my ministry. These people are able to give to you when you've given so much of yourself to others in your congregation. And it's nice to have people who simply know you at the deepest level. Being known is one of the greatest gifts.
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