Being Single, Being Me

Post Author: Stacey Midge

At the time, I was puzzled by – and occasionally scornful of – my classmates’ partnering inclinations. “Get Married” has never made it to my life to-do list. It still hasn’t. Although I’m sure I’d make it
work if it happened, I can’t imagine doing ministry as a married person. I can’t imagine living as a married person. Still, doing ministry and living as a single person has brought my classmates’ fears
into sharp and sometimes painful clarity.

Of course I had heard the stories about well-meaning congregational matchmakers and the joys of navigating dating relationships while living in a parsonage. I had wondered how a congregation would react to a single female pastor in particular. I had wondered about the willingness of potential partners to date a minister – because, really, what sane person wishes for that?

It wasn’t the rockiness of dating as a young clergy woman that caught me by surprise.  As an extrovert who has lived in many places and developed a wide social network, it never occurred to me that it would
be so hard to simply make friends as a pastor. No one warned me that, without the built-in connections of academia or work colleagues, I’d have to work so much harder just to meet people.  I never anticipated that once I met people, so many of them would instantly react to my vocation with either suspicion or neediness.

All of this is just as true for our married counterparts, who likewise struggle with isolation and loneliness. However, there were times, especially before I did establish friendships in my area, when I envied them having at least one person who was just there with them. There are still times, when I come back to the parsonage with some joy or grief on my heart, and I just wish someone was there to share it.

Like all ministers, if we are to survive this calling, we learn to do what we must. For me, a former bartender and musician, that means that I swallow my fear of disappointing my congregation, and go out into the world I lived in so long before I took on the mantle of ordained ministry. I engage my other passion, the one I thought I’d have to leave behind, by singing and playing with a band. I find deep – if
geographically distant – friendship through online networks. I nurture relationships with ministerial colleagues who can understand, support, and challenge the aspects of my life that are a mystery to my friends outside of the church. I hug my dog, and I let myself cry, and I lean on God – which seems so obvious, but so often gets obscured by the daily ins and outs of this life.

Many of my expectations of myself and ministry have changed with time (even the rather short time I’ve actually been at this). I’ve stopped expecting that there will ever be a time when I am truly “off the
clock.” Different aspects of me come out more in different situations, but I am still a minister, regardless of where I am. Some of the most meaningful ministry happens while I think I’m just being a singer in a
band, or a patron at a bar, or a friend. I’ve also stopped expecting that I’ll be able to bracket myself in order to be a minister. I’m still the musician, the former bartender, the wanderer, the hopeless Bible geek, and all the other things that make me me, while I’m a minister. I’m a better, albeit more controversial, minister for it, because I am the person – the whole person – that God called to this vocation in the first place.

One part of my whole person is that I am single. It is strange to be so defined by a lacking, by being not partnered, but culturally and emotionally, singleness is part of my identity. Then again, singleness is only a lacking if I let it be. We all choose every day what will define us.  In my better moments, I remember to choose not to be defined by absence. I choose to be defined by presence: by my own full presence in the world, by the presence of those who love me, and by the presence of God within and around me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to run. Life is calling!

Rev. Stacey Midge is ordained in the Reformed Church in America, and ministers as a solo pastor in upstate New York.

Image by: Brannon Naito
Used with permission
9 replies
  1. Carolyn
    Carolyn says:

    Your article underscores the prime need for clergy to have friendships outside of the church. Being called to ministry does not mean we are called to leave the world behind. In fact, I think the gospel demands we continue to live in the world so that we can minister to the people who don’t attend our, or any other, church. And, it feeds our own souls to have people to be with who aren’t in our congregation and always demanding of us professionally. By having a personal life, you are a witness to your congregation in how to live a life beyond the shelter of an exclusive Christian world where we assume everyone already believes. While I don’t agree with all of his theology, you might enjoy reading “They Like Jesus But Not the Church” by Dan Kimball for more on why it’s important for pastors to get out of the church. Live on, sister!

  2. Alison
    Alison says:

    “Singleness is only lacking if you let it be.” Thank you for that wisdom. I needed to hear that. I think we all know that we need to get out of the church — and most of us want to. But, rejection whether by neediness or revulsion hurts and can often turn us inward.

  3. Teri
    Teri says:

    Now if only there were not-scary-conservative, single young people (or at least young-ish people without kids!) in my area….alas, I go into the city for my non-church friends. Luckily it’s only 1:23 by train. If it were farther, I don’t think I would be able to maintain any facade of sanity…

  4. MaryAnn
    MaryAnn says:

    “I’m a better, albeit more controversial, minister for it, because I am the person – the whole person – that God called to this vocation in the first place.”
    Amen! May we all be so controversial!
    Great article. Great window into another experience of ministry.

  5. ulrika Jonsson
    ulrika Jonsson says:

    Hello over there… =)
    I understand what you mean. It´s kind of hard to be single in Sweden to, in my age (28), are you than also a minister, well…
    Than some people look at you and I think they wonder, whats wrong?
    And it seams like it´s so very inportant to get marrid sooon!
    I hope to get marrid some day, but love comes when love comes..

  6. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    As a single seminarian contemplating where to go when I graduate in May, I have to admit that I am a bit terrified of being a single female minister, for all of the reasons you name. I’m certainly not going to rush into a relationship for the wrong reasons, but I am thinking of delaying ordination and taking an alternative church-related job in the mean time. Is that a cop-out?

  7. Lauren
    Lauren says:

    This article articulated many of my fears. I am in the middle of my seminary career, a single female working toward entering the ministry and facing the strong likelihood of being appointed to a church in a rural area. In recent years, I have worried about being isolated by both my location and my vocation. Thank you for helping me to see the positive things about being a single woman in ministry, and for the suggestions about how to cope!

  8. Stacey
    Stacey says:

    I don’t think the specific position or location matters as much as the support network you build. Who that is and how it comes about depends on your own personality. For me, it’s been a combination of keeping in touch with seminary friends, participating in a good clergy group locally, and getting to know a lot of people outside of my church who are close enough to see regularly, but not so close as to have much overlap with my parishioners.
    I will say that I was fairly miserable and socially isolated for the first few months that I was here – until I figured out that I’d need to be more proactive. It’s unlikely that people will seek you out for friendship, because there are so many preconceptions about what a minister will be like. We have to get out there and put forth the initiative…which it seems to me is good not only for us, but for the church and the world as well.

  9. Laura
    Laura says:

    It is very hard being a single female pastor. Especially hard is navigating the whole dating world. Half the men I meet assume I’m a nun and they go running because, hey, they want a physical relationship. Some are needy, and hope for some serious counseling sessions, which usually ends up with some sort of a reconciliation or revelation regarding a previous relationship. Others still just don’t know what to do with the fact that I’m a pastor and that paralyzes the conversation.
    I think the problem is that no one knows what a pastor does. To outsiders who aren’t pastors themselves or involved at an administrative level in churches, the whole idea of being a pastor is ambiguous. One guy actually said to me, “I don’t know if that means that you pray all the time, or preach all the time.”
    I’ve learned the essential truth that I must be diligent about making networking connections outside of church. I go to the recreation center and do things I love – water aerobics, spinning classes or I go to the quilt stores and hang out. I’ve met some really great friends – of all kinds of faith at these places.
    This is my 7th year in ministry. Being single is hard (especially at 31). Being a single pastor is even harder. But I choose to live my life too! Great article!


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