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Ask a YCW: Dating While Ordained Edition

Dear Askie,

I’m a young clergy woman, starting out in my first call. I’m single, and thinking about jumping back into the dating world now that I’m settled in my new location. I’m worried, though, that it might be a bit weird dating now that I’m a pastor. How will potential dates react when they find out? Should I say I’m a pastor in an online dating profile, or wait to tell people once we’ve actually met? Am I overthinking this?

Signed,
Solo Pastor Seeking to be Less Solo

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rumpled, unmade bed in shadow

Faith in the Flesh

rumpled, unmade bed in shadowThe first time I had sex outside of marriage, I was 35.

I’m honestly not sure how I managed to grow up thinking that I had to save myself for my future husband. My progressive, Episcopalian, east coast upbringing certainly didn’t push any such agenda. But in my teens and early twenties, I clung to the romantic fantasy of the Perfect Wedding Night, and insisted on marrying my college boyfriend when we were both 23 and had never seen each other (or any other unrelated adults of the opposite sex) naked.

There were many reasons for our divorce a decade later, but the fact that our sexual relationship was never more than mediocre was certainly one of them. As I was wrestling, personally and theologically, with the death of my marriage, I realized that my refusal to explore this aspect of our relationship before marriage had actually contributed to its failure. No matter what the nuances of one’s approach to the subject, I think most Christians can agree that divorce is a greater evil than premarital sex.

That was the beginning of a deeply unsettling, but ultimately freeing, revision of my personal sexual ethic. Read more

Giving Online Dating a Try

Online Romance

Online Romance

It’s no secret that dating is hard. As women, we’re still trying to achieve equal pay in the workforce, so dating can often take a back burner to work. For clergywomen, dating seems to be especially difficult.

A few years ago, I began to notice the same dating advice coming up again and again in conversations with friends: “Have you tried online dating?” At first, I was a bit put off by this. Perhaps I read too much into the suggestion. My thought was this: clearly my friends think I cannot possibly meet anyone wearing my Geneva Robes and clerical collar, so an online profile where a man can read all about me and then find out I’m clergy might be the best route. While wearing my collar, I was once told by a congregation member, “You’ll never catch a man in that.” I assumed my friends were thinking the same thing.

With the question of “why online dating?” looming over me, I finally polled the audience, my group of Facebook friends, to see what I could find out. I asked anyone I knew to simply answer a question – why would you suggest online dating to a single person?

One distinct, clear, and concise answer appeared over and over – people meet people online. It’s a thing. It happens. It’s real. The statistics are out there, today over 25% of relationships begin online. Everyone, and I mean everyone, knows someone or is someone who met their special someone online. My assumptions about my friends’ advice were squashed, their suggestion had nothing to do with me being clergy, it was a real, honest, heartfelt suggestion. Try online dating.

For years I’ve thought that being clergy meant I needed to have more faith than the average person. In the dating realm, I needed to have faith that God would bring me the right man. I wasn’t supposed to have doubts or fears about my future as a wife and mother, I must have faith. More than one person has actually said to me that my career is all about faith, so I should have faith, it should be easy. But faith is actually hard, for clergy and laity alike.

Jesus tells us to ask and the question will be answered. He never said the question would be answered right now or that we were even asking the right question, he simply said that God will answer. Because of this I recently posed this question to a group of singles from The Young Clergy Women Project, “Would you like me to pray for you to find a partner and would you pray for me?” The response was wonderful. Dozens of women asked to be prayed for and offered to pray for me.

So after I polled my friends on “Why try online dating?” I prayed about it. It may sound like a silly thing to ask God, or it might seem silly that I didn’t ask God in the first place, but I finally asked. Unfortunately, God isn’t a genie who answers at my beck and call, so I haven’t gotten a clear answer. I’ll let you know if I figure it out. But until then, I’m willing to give it a shot.

Still the Single Rev

5935864125_f8ae383332_bI was 25 when I graduated from seminary and was ordained. My first position was as a chaplain at a small college, where I was routinely mistaken for a student. To me, the four years between my own undergraduate studies and my chaplaincy work represented an enormous gap in both age and experience. But to the students, staff, and faculty around me, the difference was invisible. It rankled when students hit on me, and even more when faculty dismissed me. Realistically, I realize now, the age difference between the students and me was practically non-existent; one of the students in the introductory theology course I taught was older than I was.

During the first several years of my full-time ministry, it seemed like someone was always telling me I was young. Read more

Speaking the Language

3225393556_ac00870158_zAs someone who does ministry amid the Harry Potter generation, I had originally started reading about fan culture a few years ago as a way to feel productive while distracting myself from the pain of my divorce. Somewhere along the way, I became convinced that people who create community around loving a particular narrative property were engaging in an inherently spiritual enterprise. I know the characters and story arcs of far too many of these properties, even without fully viewing or reading a good many of them. I speak the language, know all the abbreviations, and even the best fics. I can identify D.C and Marvel heroes, several varieties of anime, as well as the Hogwart’s House to which the last four actors to star in Dr. Who belong. Don’t even try to play mis-name Benedict Cumberbatch with me because I can go all day.

Clearly, this particular fascination is what makes me worthy to be sitting here. Eating BBQ.  Nodding politely as my date slides into minute 17 of a lecture on the superiority of World of Warcraft. It’s my fault, really. He mentioned that he’d been a professional gamer for awhile and I absolutely needed to know how that worked. How was I to know that this involved intricately detailing every version of the game for the past 10 years?

Apparently, I know just enough about superhero movies, comic books, and video games to be dangerous…if by dangerous you mean sitting in a BBQ joint across from a man who is so excited that I can speak his language, he “doesn’t even care that you’re a pastor.”

Sigh.

And that’s the rub, isn’t it? Being single is hard enough sometimes. Dating – online or in person – can be frustrating. But dating as a pastor makes us a tad special snowflake-y. We expend a great deal of energy worrying about finding someone who will not only get us, but also understand the Call. Someone who, if they can’t speak the language, is at least willing to learn enough to get by.

“S/he doesn’t care that I’m a pastor! Cue the trumpets!”

Except that we’re actually not looking for someone for whom our profession doesn’t matter, but rather for someone for whom it matters positively. Someone who likes that we’re a minister. Someone who sees the value in loving a person with a deep sense of purpose, even when that purpose appears insane to the outside world.

In my mid-twenties I thought I’d achieved that, marrying my ex-husband because he seemed to speak flawless Heather-ese. He knew all the right words for all of my worlds and I believed a shared vocabulary was enough. But like any language student can tell you, speaking the words only gets you so far. To really become fluent, you need to immerse yourself in the culture by learning the history and celebrating the holidays. You need to read the famous novels and sing the folk songs. Above all, you need to be willing to be vulnerable, to love the people enough that the hard work becomes both compelling and rewarding. If you can’t, or won’t, all the pocket dictionaries in the world won’t help. You’ll soon find yourself back home, a touch sad to have left perhaps, but ultimately relieved to be making space for something else.

In the end, I politely declined to see WoW boy again. He is, as far as I know, a good person with honorable intentions. He just wasn’t interested in learning my language on any substantive level; though he did make vague attempts to speak religion-ese, comparing video game dragons to real world evil.

I could have gone out with him a few more times, attempted to become more fluent and therefore more involved, but I’ve done that once and know it doesn’t end well. Besides, I’m getting pretty good at this being single thing; emphasizing the positive aspects while acknowledging the drawbacks. Jesus isn’t my boyfriend, but his call affirms me in my search for someone who wants to be a part of my world enough to turn off Google translate.

Waiting for Cupid

2161693094_9bf2e3179c_z“Sign up for Match!” your friends said. “My friend Beth met someone on there and they’re getting married in June!” your friends said. So you did. You shelled out for the six month period, trusting you’d never need that free additional six months because you’d meet someone special right away.

When the six month subscription ran out, you were still optimistic. That’s why they give another six months free, right? A whole year on Match with hundreds, maybe even thousands of people to meet? Yes, you’d meet someone special for sure.

After the second six months is over, still with no one special, you find yourself on OkCupid. Your single-pastor’s budget doesn’t have room for another subscription service. Your friends have assured you the free one is just fine. “Sign up for OkCupid!” your friends say. “My friend Sarah met someone on there and they’re getting married in July!” your friends say.  So you copy and paste from your Match account into your OkCupid account and wait.

Surely the perfect person is out there, waiting for you. It’s just a matter of time until a message from The One is in your inbox. But what should you do while you wait?

1.  Play Candy Crush Saga. This is the solution during your optimistic stage. If you open one browser window to OKC and play Candy Crush for a bit in another browser window, someone will message you. Five lives. You have five wholes lives. If you take the level slowly, you might even have two messages when you click back over to OKC!

2.  Clean. The optimism is waning, but you’re still certain that if you keep the OKC website open on your computer, someone will message you. Open up OKC. Open up Pandora. Clean! Come back to your computer. Yes! Three messages!

“hey sexy”

“wanna hook up”

“what u up 2”

You’re going to have to wait a while longer.

3.  Be SuperPastor. You’ve been sucked deeper into the OKC vortex, but you’re still hopeful that a message is coming. A real message. A message with correct spelling and grammar. You’re not going to think about it. You’re going to be SuperPastor instead. You call the grouchy lady and pray with her; through the power of the Holy Spirit, she’s happy for a solid ten minutes. You wrangle the youth group. You write a sermon that will make them laugh, make them cry…really, it’s better than Cats. The church calendar for the next three years is all sketched out. Take that, OkCupid message silence! You cannot defeat SuperPastor!

4.  Start the Master Cleanse. You know you need to take better care of yourself. You’ve been saying that for a while. Instead of waiting for someone else to message you, you’re going to take charge so that when that person finally messages you, you will be a strong, independent woman in awesome shape. Google “master cleanse.” Realize this involves several days of drinking only water laced with maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and lemon juice. Decide to take a trip to Whole Foods* instead. Crack almonds it is. And some other healthy stuff while you’re there.

*Realize you’re a pastor in a small, rural town, perhaps thousands of miles away from Whole Foods. Collapse in despair.

5.  Decide to take things into your own hands. You will ferret out and message The One all on your own. Put on Orange is the New Black in the background. Plug in your laptop. You’ve got this. Start scrolling through your matches. Cute. Cute. No way. Kids? Hmmm. Click. What does that even mean. Google it. Click on another profile as quickly as possible. See another single pastor, one you know in real life, in your matches. Internally freak out. Can you click on their profile? Of course you want to know what they wrote. But what if OkCupid sends them a “She’s an exceptionally good match” email? Or “She’s checking you out right now!” Ignore the urge to click. Consider signing up for A-list so you can browse anonymously. Curse your budget limitations. Keep clicking.

6.  Reconsider your expectations. How long ago did you sign up for OkCupid? Take a long walk while pondering your list of requirements. Is the correct use of you’re/your really that important? Is a college degree necessary? You could totally get involved with a Tea Partier since opposites attract, right? Is it really about the gender or just the person? That person in Mozambique actually seemed nice; long-distance isn’t that big a problem, is it?

7.  Find single girlfriends. Yes, all your BFFs are happily partnered, but that’s why Meetup exists. Single girlfriends mean alcohol and group bemoaning of singleness. Their OkCupid horror stories will surely soothe your pain. The internet is once again your friend as you use it to locate other single ladies.

8.  Ponder scripture. Paul wrote about the gift of celibacy for a reason, right? Did God give you that gift and you’ve just missed it until now? Surely there’s a reason Roman Catholic clergy are celibate… maybe a call to ministry and a call to celibacy go hand in hand. Tear up a little at that possibility.

9.  Give real life a shot. Hang out in coffee shops. Google singles bars then hastily click away in terror. Go the places you love because The One will surely be there, too. Every single romcom says that’s true. Go to Meetups. Go to professional networking events. Yes! Forget OkCupid. You will encounter the perfect partner by a pre-digital age method. Millennia of humanity can’t be wrong! Stay out late and see who you meet!

10.  Just live. The truth is, you have an awesome life. You are an intelligent, gifted, beautiful woman. God called you to ministry and gave you people with whom to live out that call. It’s amazing and wonderful and life-giving and a rollercoaster ride. Yes, you want a partner, but the truth is, you’re fabulous all by yourself. OKCupid’s message silence be damned.

Difference: Stone Walls or Open Doors?

Follow the LightWhen my partner Steve and I met, we learned quickly that our family cultures would collide. I was studying in seminary; he studied science in college and worked in sales.  I spoke the spooky Minnesota “oh’s”; he spoke a southern drawl.  I devoted my life to the church; he was not a churchgoer and frankly didn’t care to be a churchgoer.  We often found ourselves caught in the middle of his family’s Southern gentility and my family’s Northern brusqueness.

Two months after we started dating, we went out for dinner. He drove me home and left. In my solitude, I launched my computer to start a search on WebMD. I had felt pain behind my knee for about four weeks, and I started thinking that it wasn’t merely a strained muscle. I called my doctor and was advised to go to the emergency room.  ASAP.  Sure enough, it was a blood clot.  It was urgent.  I didn’t leave the hospital that night.  I also didn’t call Steve.  He had led me to believe that he had one of the most important meetings of the year that next morning.  It was midnight – too late to call anybody.  I didn’t call my family.  They lived eight hours away from me, and I didn’t want them to wake and drive in the middle of the night. I was safe, I wasn’t going anywhere, and I didn’t want to risk their safety.  I called them early the next morning.  I called Steve during his lunch hour, after his important meeting.

Steve was outraged that I didn’t call him. Certainly a blood clot trumped a business meeting! He burned to question me upon entering the hospital room, but my parents were already there. Yes – my future husband and my parents met over my hospital bed! It was awkward, and the culture clash made it more so. Our relationship was new and we were still adapting to that while simultaneously my parents were forced to deal with my illness and this stranger in their midst. Soon the conversation fell silent between the four of us. I was in and out of queasiness from the pain meds.  We were fishing for things to do. My parents and I tried to show Steve the card game euchre. We failed miserably. Not because Steve didn’t show any interest or want to learn, but because we were too good at playing cards and too bad at teaching. Then I puked.

I spent five nights in the hospital.  Two days later, it was Christmas.  Our Christmas was a mish-mashed mess of mixed family traditions. It was filled with uncomfortable introductions and last-minute gift purchasing.  There were many quiet moments because I needed to rest while everyone else hung out, almost twiddling their thumbs at one another.

These days were exasperating.  New people and situations, uncertainties, insecurities, and misunderstandings seemed to be a whirlwind that lasted two weeks.  When everyone went home, I finally had the chance to process the craziness that had transpired.  I realized the differences that I found so challenging in Steve and his family were exactly the reasons that I knew I would be with him forever.

We’ve made many interesting memories since that hospital Advent in our relationship.  Our Southern family is astounded at the ambiguous gender roles we exhibit.  Our Northern family sometimes shrugs their shoulders.  Some people see our relationship as challenge.  We see it as opportunity.

What would our world be like if we saw differences as opportunity?  Jesus loved Samaritans; Paul welcomed Gentiles.  Could the church be so bold?  We build stone walls between one another in so many ways.  These walls often birth the ugliest parts of humanity: sexism, racism, ethnocentrism, classism, ageism, etc.  I easily see my family differences as opportunity; it’s harder to see when looking at my congregation, my community, or at the larger context of today’s world.

I try – sometimes well, most times wretchedly – to express difference as opportunity.  I often feel as though I am the one behind a stone wall, desperately trying to find a door to open. It took me nine years to get through a four-year process for ministry candidacy and ordination.  I am one of the youngest adult members in my congregation and my rural community. God has called me to be the first female (sometimes pregnant) pastor of my congregation.

I bring an unusual liveliness to ministerial meetings simply because of who I am. For example, when a conservative pastor shares a generalizing opinion about Christianity or what “we” believe, I tactfully remind him that there are Christian people outside of his ideology.  That’s not generally popular.  Some believe this may give people more fervor to say that women shouldn’t be pastors.  Many pastors loathe participating in this kind of conversation. I feel strongly that we need to plant conversational seeds that ask, “Who is this Jesus that we follow?  How do we faithfully follow together? How do we stop building stone walls? In our differences, how is God opening doors for new life?”

Eight years into our marriage, Steve still does not define himself as a churchgoer. He comes to church because it’s important for me and our family. He made the promise at our children’s baptisms that he would.  It’s not easy to be a single parent in the pews.  He supports me wholeheartedly; and when not wrestling with a toddler, he can listen to my sermons.  Steve gives excellent feedback.  He’ll say, “This didn’t make any sense; too much jargon.  Real people sit in the pews, not theologians. Talk to us in real language.”  Every once and awhile, we dig deeper in conversation.  He asks me why I believe the “silly myth” that I believe.  I challenge him to think anew about life lived in Christian community. We have conversation that helps us understand one another and our differences and binds us together as we discover new similarities.  People struggle opening themselves to those who are different.  I struggle with it too.  But living with someone who is so different from me opens all kinds of doors for us to learn more about ourselves and one another.

Steve and I have learned together that we can build doors into those walls our society puts between us.  This helps make our relationship authentic.

We keep hearing from the blogosphere that people in the postmodern, post-Christendom church want a reformed, authentic church. We lose authenticity when we ignore the truth that everyone is fundamentally the same. Differences can overwhelm the similarities; they keep us from seeing that we have the same basic goals: love, security, dignity, legacy, wholeness. When you tear down those fractious walls, our diversity becomes beautiful and we can actualize our common humanity.

I crave that people in our church dig deep into uncharted horizons where we love, honor, and invite different people to join our table. I want to see conversation that is tender yet challenging and visionary.  I hope to find doors built into our defensive walls so that “different” is no longer taboo heresy.  I long for the day when, rather than blaming someone for being offensively different, we embrace one another for our common humanity.  I yearn that one Christian learn from another’s human experience as if it was her own.  I pray to God with Jesus, “that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11b, NIV)  My dream for Christ’s church is that it’s an open door, as bright as a skylight in the dark, thick walls, connecting two divided sides.  It’s an illuminating place where all God’s saints can peaceably abide together.

Rev. Brenda Lovick is the pastor at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in the rural village of Manlius in northern Illinois.  She graduated from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary with an MDiv and an MAMFT in 2006 and completed coursework at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in 2009.  She leads a hobby-less life as she loves church people by day and chases small children by night.

Photo by Victor Bayon, http://www.flickr.com/photos/formalfallacy/2367382622/, August 13, 2013.  Used by Creative Commons License.

Diary of an Online Dater

Day 1

11:42PM Having procrastinated until the eleventh hour on this week’s sermon, the only thing that makes sense at this point, less than nine hours before said sermon will be preached, is to join an online dating site. Dating site X is selected, and I begin to fill out the form that will, with the help of a few algorithms, a little luck, and the movement of the Holy Spirit, find my true love for me.

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