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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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lonely Christmas stocking

Celebrating Solo

lonely Christmas stockingLike most folks in ministry, I don’t get a lot of holidays off. I’m a hospital chaplain, and the hospital never closes. Someone has to be there to minister to those in crisis even when the crisis happens on Christmas Day. And since my family of origin is several states away, I can’t just pop in for a few hours on Christmas Eve then come back for work. As a single clergywoman, I have had to learn how to do Christmas on my own.

When I first realized that big, “traditional” family holiday celebrations were no longer an option for me, I grieved that loss. But instead of dreading Christmas as a sad, lonely time, I chose to develop my own traditions to prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth. Some of them were carryovers from my childhood. My parents are now retired, and they no longer buy a real tree every year like they did when my brother and I were little. The smell of a Fraser fir is one of the signals for me that Christmas is approaching, so I decided to invest in one every year as part of my holiday celebration. I couldn’t get a tree from the lot to my living room without help, so several of my friends have comical memories of helping me wrestle the tree onto my car and into my home to decorate. I love that we share those stories.

I thought it was a shame that I would be the only one to see my tree in all its final tinseled and lighted glory, so I began the tradition of my annual Christmas party. 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.

Single Mom by Choice: Finally Meeting the Love of My Life

The author and her daughter, on the day they met

The author and her daughter, on the day they met

The call came on an otherwise normal Thursday morning. I was on my way to church for our weekly worship and staff meetings, running late because I had hit the snooze button one too many times. I’d skipped a shower, and was looking forward to my day off on Friday so I could tackle the pile of laundry and housework that I’d been neglecting. And then, the phone call: “There’s a baby girl at the hospital. Would you like to meet her?”

In the space of a short phone call, my life was changed. The next few hours were a whirlwind. Arriving at church and explaining that I would be leaving for the hospital shortly; waiting in the lobby for my social worker to arrive so we could go into the NICU together; finding out that the nurses wanted this baby to go home right away, despite the fact that she still only weighed 3lbs, 11oz; running to Target to buy preemie diapers and wipes and a new car seat while the hospital finished the paperwork. As I rocked the baby in the NICU, I kept telling the nurses, “but I didn’t shower today! But my house is a mess!” And the nurses just said, “She doesn’t care,” as I nuzzled her tiny face and stroked her miniature hands. The initial call had come just before 9 am, and by 3:30 in the afternoon, I was driving home from the hospital with an impossibly tiny baby in the backseat, terrified, exhilarated, unbelieving, and incredibly grateful. Thus began my life as a mother. A single mother. A single mother by choice.

It took about a year to go through the process to be licensed to adopt through the foster care system. I took many hours of classes, had several home studies for safety and preparedness, and multiple interviews full of invasive questions. Lots of paperwork, fingerprints, and even a blood test all led up to the final interview where I told my social worker what kind of child I wanted, and she finalized my license. The process might sound intimidating, but it was really just jumping through hoops, one after another, with lots of help and support from my social workers along the way. It didn’t cost me anything, besides the cost of baby-proofing hardware and the time for classes. The fact that I was a lesbian was a non-issue, and the fact that I was single was also fine. I rented my apartment (no problem), and didn’t make a lot of money (hello, I’m a minister!), but I had a daycare lined up, and lots of experience with children (former nanny). Most importantly, I knew I was called to be a mother. I knew that I wasn’t willing to wait any longer for the “right” partner to come along to start my journey towards motherhood, and I knew that it might take quite a while to have a child placed with me, given my preference for a newborn girl with a good chance of being adoptable. So, I entered into the process with my county, and once I was licensed, I sat back and waited.

I was licensed in May, and I brought my daughter home in November. Everyone agreed that I won the baby lottery. There were court dates and waiting periods, but they were formalities. It was clear from early on that she would be staying with me and I would be able to adopt her. To be frank, this is rare with an infant in foster care. There are often visitation rights for birth parents, and lots of chances for them to change their situations in order to get their children back. I have friends who have cared for infants and hoped to adopt them, only to have them reunited with their birth parents. When you sign up to bring a child into your life in this way, you must prepare yourself for these possibilities. It’s a risk, yes, but adopting privately or internationally or being pregnant all include very similar risks of loss and heartbreak. What is important to remember is that any amount of time you spend nurturing a child and bonding with them is beneficial, even if they don’t end up staying with you forever.

As I said, I won the baby lottery. I took my daughter home when she was ten days old, and we haven’t spent a night apart in almost two and a half years. Our adoption was finalized when she was ten months old, and soon after, we were able to meet her eldest sister and that sister’s adoptive parents. We are family, and speak often, getting together whenever we can so that the sisters have a chance to know and love each other.

One of the benefits for doing fost-adopt for a single parent is that there is financial help to offset the costs of raising your child. Free health insurance, WIC, childcare reimbursement, and a monthly stipend to help with expenses were all essential parts of making it work for us. The myth of shady foster parents who “do it for the money” is laughable when you calculate the cost of raising a child versus what the county gives you, but it certainly helps, especially for a single Rev.

It would be an understatement to say that my daughter had a rough start in life: a toxic experience in the womb, a traumatic birth, and her first ten days spent in the hospital connected to tubes and wires with no one to love her but the (amazing, but very busy) nurses. She was so small that many people couldn’t believe they had allowed me to take her home, and she required many hours of occupational therapy and exercises, as well as intense bonding to heal her brain. She didn’t roll over until she was eight months old. But by the time she was eighteen months old, she was tested as advanced in every area of development. Many people were nervous for me, worried that I would have to give her back, or that she would be “damaged” in some way. But I had faith that she was my daughter, and she would be fine, and she is both.

Being a single mother by choice is not what I’d call easy, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I don’t have a partner to help watch the baby while I’m at meetings or in the shower, and that’s hard. However, I also don’t have to make compromises about my parenting style or choices with another parent. There have been many times that I’ve witnessed disagreements between friends about their children that I’ve quietly thanked God I am single. I’m the Mama. Period. And it may not be easy, but it is wonderful.

Discerning whether or not you are called to be a mother is difficult for some people. For me, it was a call I was sure of long before I felt a call to ministry, and when I was ready to begin the process, I was single. We’ve all been sold the fairytale of marriage, house, career, and baby, but it doesn’t always come in that order, and it doesn’t have to. There are children who need homes, and a structure in place to help you parent them, if that is your calling. As for me, I’ve found the Love of My Life, and her name is Beatrix.

The Break-Up Flowers

They got delivered on Sunday by mistake. The florist had a backlog of funeral arrangements to deliver and the bouquet to commemorate my loss got pushed back until Sunday. I told the florist to deliver them to the parsonage “first thing” but the florist version of “first thing” Sunday morning deviated by at least an hour from the pastor version.

A zealous usher saw the florist knocking at the parsonage next door and waved her over to the church. So there they were, on my desk, a half hour before game time, a beautiful reminder of what I was trying to forget.

A week earlier –

before the church retreat

and before the excessive sermon preparation that doubled as pain killers

(who doesn’t drown their sorrows in Greek conjugations?)

and before the pastoral visits I made with the shards of a broken heart

clattering around inside me

before I could marvel at my ability to soldier through

before I could despair that no one could tell any difference…

…A week earlier, my boyfriend and I broke up. And, let me tell you, this was not one of those amicable and mature unicorns of a break-up. I called my friends and cried, then I picked myself up and carried on. The heartbreak felt so personal. It was mine to carry so I did the thing I was never sure I’d be able to do in the midst of a break up. I did my job. Not well. Not completely, but enough, and the Holy Spirit filled in the gaps, as she always and so graciously does.

But now there were flowers on my desk. And a note that read “You are not alone,” which–despite the whirring copier in the office and the deacons counting a special collection next door and the tech team setting up nearby and my colleague standing in my study running through our last minute preparations – was exactly how I felt.

A well-meaning church member stopped in the doorway, complimented my flowers and politely inquired, “May I ask the occasion?”

“They’re from friends.”

“Do you think we could use them on the altar this morning?”

“No.” I said.

We blinked at each other, both a little uncomprehending. Her offer was innocent enough but it met, in me, a feisty conviction that there was already enough of me on that altar.

So much of our lives, as pastors, belongs to the church: our prayers, our contemplations of Scripture, our time, our compassion. They belong to the church. And we are blessed that, in our giving, we often land in the right place to receive.

But what I learned that Sunday morning from the accidental flowers on my desk is that, sometimes, the grace gets to be just for you.

“No,” I told her. My break up flowers don’t belong to the church. This break-up will never be a sermon illustration. It won’t make me a better chair-person. I won’t discover a secret love of nursing home visitation once the pain has worn off. This break up won’t make me a better pastor. And maybe that’s okay because it wasn’t meant to. There’s already enough of me on that altar.

If the heartbreak is mine to carry then the break-up flowers are mine too. Because I’m human and I took a risk and, at least for now, it didn’t pay off. Because I get to be vulnerable and courageous as a person, not just as your pastor. Because I have friends in my corner. And because, sometimes, the grace gets to be just for me.