Post Author: Katie Russell

Sometimes being a single woman in ministry is awkward. When a very hospitable mother-of-the-bride stuck by my side for the entire wedding reception because she knew I was there alone, it was a little awkward. When kind parishioners asked what I was doing after Christmas Eve services were over and I had to confess that I was going home to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas alone in my pajamas while making a dinner out of the Christmas cookies they baked for me, it was awkward. When my denomination’s Search and Call paperwork used to include a “Describe Your Present Family” section and I ended up writing a whole paragraph about my cat, it was definitely awkward. When I received an invitation to a community event for “pastors and their wives,” it was super awkward (and super sexist).

Most days I am perfectly happy with my single-rev life. Never have I thought being single made me a less-competent minister than my partnered peers. But occasionally, when I have fumbled my way through one of these moments, I’ve wondered if a spouse would make some of this ministry stuff just a little less…awkward.

One day after a church clean-up event, when all of the flowerbeds had been mulched and all of the pews polished, I was invited out to lunch. As I grabbed my purse from my office, I heard an elderly widow of the congregation ask in the next room, “Is the pastor going?” “I think so,” someone replied. “Okay,” she said, “Then I’ll go, too.”

At first I didn’t think anything of this exchange. I assumed this woman just wanted a few minutes to privately update me on a friend who was in the hospital or ask me a question about Sunday’s sermon. But when we got to the restaurant, she didn’t mention either of those things. In fact, she barely spoke directly to me at all.

That’s when I noticed that we were eating with a group of married couples. And I was pretty sure this woman desired my presence to make the group an even number, to give her someone to sit with so she didn’t feel like the seventh-wheel on a couple’s outing.

It never occurred to me that I, 28-and-never-married, might have so much in common with the 82-and-no-longer-married widows in my church. It never occurred to me that while I think it’s strange that the friends I used to do single things with are now doing couple things without me, the widows in my church are finding it strange that couples they used to do couple things with now do these activities without them. It never occurred to me that while I’m trying to find new peer groups and new hobbies because so many of my friends are now coupled, these members of my church are also trying to find new peer groups and hobbies because they are no longer coupled. It never occurred to me that widows in my congregation might experience some of the same awkwardness I do as a single woman in the church.

But on that day, the space between single rev and widow felt very small. And I discovered one of the hidden assets of being an unmarried pastor: I could fill a chair. I could make a widow feel welcomed at the table.

That didn’t feel awkward at all. It felt like ministry.

Katie Russell is a graduate of Vanderbilt Divinity School and an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). She lives and serves in Iowa with—you guessed it—her cat.

Image by: Ralf Steinberger
Used with permission
2 replies
  1. Kathryn Kelly says:

    As a widowed pastor at 39, I find the same sacred space Rev. Russell has commented on. Often seated at the widows table, im honored to be their +1.

  2. Naima says:

    Very intelligent and interesting Katie. You rock! I’m 34 and understand you! And I’m happy to be single, I’ll never marry a man because this is not how I see my life. I love to travel and be always free, and this can not involve a man. It doesn’t mean I don’t love men, but I don’t want to marry one, that’s it. But your article was very inspiring, and I love to read my clever sisters. I’m not Christian, or Muslim (my parents are), but I deeply believe in God and he is always by my side. And I like the tone of your site, really. You seem to be great women, all of you. Naïma


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