Post Author: Stephanie Kendell
I swiped left after left. Conflicting political understandings. Anti-religion. Doesn’t like cats. I definitely swiped left more than right. The swipe right list is not long, but it has weight. A message popped up from a mutual match. He quoted Bret Easton Ellis when he found out I was from Los Angeles, which made me both laugh and wonder what he really thinks about being from LA. We decided to meet for a drink at my local bar. I chose this bar because I know the owner and bartender and made a deal with them long ago – as women often do – that if the date was going wrong or I felt unsafe, I could order a specific drink and they would make sure I got away and home safely. The need for this is imperative this day and age, but that is for another article.
He arrived and we ordered drinks. The conversation was fun and breezy. The type of new conversation that is engaging and enjoyable, devoid of any immediate emotional commitment. I knew why. He didn’t know what I did for a living.
I’m not a fan of dating apps. I will admit that I am on a couple to keep myself “out there.” I don’t have anything against them, but I’m an Enneagram 3 and a Gen-Y woman, so the imposter syndrome comes from all angles. I always anxiously ask myself after setting up my profile, “Who will they say that I am?” Some answer with inquiry, support, and kindness, others have been less so. Unfortunately, I’ve boiled it down to this: the men I have met on dating apps have taught me they aren’t ready to date a female pastor. So, I curate the best photos, the wittiest comments, and the most clickable tagline to present my best, most authentic self, all without saying what I do. Which makes me feel phony.
Now this is not all dates, but in my personal experience, when I do put my job on my profile, I often get two types of guys. The first I can deal with. The first is the guy who is religious but very conservative. Which is to say, our theological worldviews do not align, and we would not be a good fit. He often thinks that I am a “helper” in my church, not the “actual pastor.” Or he thinks I’m not an actual pastor. The other type of guy that I have experienced on several occasions, has a sexual obsession with my job and the apparel that comes with it. The first guy is easy for me to thank for a lovely dinner but share that this isn’t going to continue for lack of compatibility. The second reminds me that in many places I am still not valued as a whole person called to this job by God. The number of times I have been asked if I “wear my collar to bed” by a complete stranger is more than I care to count. So, I leave it off my profile.
The guy I am having drinks with at the bar works in sales, and loves his job. I tell him that I am in my second career. My first career as a theatrical marketing producer making movie trailers is an easy sell. But then the question happens: “What do you do now?” I decide to tell him the truth.
When I disclose my vocation and subsequent occupation to a new person, I always do two things. The first is that I take a drink of an alcoholic beverage. It seems like a simple thing, but drinks are all a part of my plan on dates, on how to best share this part of myself. My drink is not for me, it’s for them. Its purpose is to break down the notion of me that they carry in their head that they may not even know they have. So, I take a sip of my drink and tell them, “I’m a pastor.”
Chances are that in the conversation leading up to this moment, I have already used a cuss word. I find swear words holy, cathartic, and honest. They are a part of my everyday vernacular. But once I take my drink, and share my truth, I always cuss right afterwards. Something like, “And I f***ing love it.” Because I do. That is when I can truly breathe…but also hold my breath.
These conversations for single clergy women are happening in clergy circles every day. Not only are we carrying years of social, theological, and institutional expectations in our job, but we face them in our personal lives as well. We have to work at minimum 28% harder to get to the same place in our calls, but then we have to overcome an additional set of expectations in our dating lives. In clergy cohort groups, I find that my male colleagues are often surprised that this is an issue for clergy women.
However, we single women are not surprised at all, and often these conversations lead to learning new ways of being vulnerable… but also safe. What is often unsaid in these conversations is that, I am not sharing my clergy status because it is unsafe for me to do so, not because I am ashamed. I love my job. I am grateful for this call. AND I would like to share this life with someone. But society, specifically single, secular, male culture, isn’t quite there yet. My full existence more often than not shakes a foundation that he didn’t know could ever come loose.
I take that drink and use that swear word, because more often than not, after I have shared that I am an ordained pastor, his next questions are what I like to refer to as “foot holder” questions. Questions that help him regain his footing in a prospective relationship, that just took an unexpected turn. The foot holder questions range in invasiveness from admitting naiveté with a statement such as, “I didn’t know you could drink.” To more invasive and clearly self-concerned questions like, “So can you have sex?” These men are the current options for single women in my context.
So, what do we do? I propose we do what Jesus does, let them answer the question, “Who do you say that I am?” for themselves. If we live our authentic selves, share our stories and passions, and seek love and partnership in ways that are true for us, then we don’t need to hide behind a good picture or witty caption. Our dates will see our truths through our actions. They will learn to love us for more than our calls. They will help us grow in confidence and self-love. And if they answer, “Who do you say that I am?” with anything that is less than supportive, even if it is just inquisitive, then they are not the partner for you.
We need to talk about this. We need to share ourselves fully and support others without reservation. Talking about our faith, especially the women who lead the churches, helps break down the social taboo of pastors who are women. It is the social engagement version of having a cocktail on a date. It slowly breaks down preconceived notions society doesn’t even know it carries with it so that the call God has placed on each of us can flourish… and so that each of us can go on dates confident in the person God has made us to be.
The Rev. Stephanie Kendell is the Executive Minister at Park Avenue Christian Church (The Park). She received her Master of Divinity with an additional certificate in History, Theology, and Ethics from Brite Divinity School. Ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Stephanie is passionate about justice-seeking ministries that aid in the value and understanding of intersectional perspectives.
Stephanie is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area where she continues to be an avid supporter of the San Francisco Giants. In 2005, she graduated with a degree in Musical Theater and Theater Arts from the University of Redlands. Before her call to ordained ministry, Stephanie was a Producer and Operations Manager for an international theatrical marketing agency based in Los Angeles.
Image by: Stephanie Kendell
Used with permission