Single Rev…and a baby?

According to a 2009 article in US News and World Report, the number of unmarried women having babies has risen sharply in the United States according to U.S. Health Officials. This statistic is interesting on the whole because it both represents women in relationships who are not married and women who choose to become pregnant by artificial insemination It does not include those who choose to adopt. The article also points out that these pregnancies are mostly to women in their 20’s, not teenagers. So while this is an interesting statistic to throw out in the world, it made me think about the category of single female clergy who have children.

Throughout seminary, I knew several women who were single mothers and facing the surmounting task of ordination, exams and sermon preparation. Their diligence to their calling and their family always impressed me. They never claimed it was easy. However, the idea of single women choosing to become mothers without a partner was never even discussed. As women have finally gained a place as pastors among us, it is time to discuss the ideas of single clergy and the role of motherhood. Perhaps it is past time.

A recently published book, Reverend Mother, by Eron Henry discusses the emerging topic of single female clergy becoming mothers. In an interview with the Jamaica Gleaner, he said that he was “intrigued by this topic because some years ago I was faced with a similar pastoral question. One of my outstanding young female leaders in her 20s asked if it was okay to have a baby by artificial insemination [while single].”  

The fictional account follows the main character Nora, through childhood, to school, to her experience in the church and eventually to her decision to be ordained. As she moves forward in ministry and attends one of the conferences of her denomination, her decision to have a baby as a single clergywoman is examined in front of a denominational committee.

Nora and the committee go back and forth with arguments over her choice to move forward with having a child. Perhaps one of the most poignant statements is in her initial defense of why having a baby is her personal choice.

Nora turns to the committee after being asked if she wants to say something and shares the following, “The church has been dictating to us for too long without exercising the patience of listening to us. We’re [women] treated as second class citizens by the church whose leaders have overwhelmingly been male. Even in this committee here today, there’s not even one female to express a view as to whether what I’m doing is right or wrong, good or bad.”

What this book and this specific quotation points us to is the continual conversation surrounding women, sexuality and religion. As more and more women and specifically single female clergy are beginning to examine the possibility to having a child or adopting a child, the church must begin to have these conversations. How is the church supportive in a situation like this? What are the conversations that need to be had? Has your denomination or local church issued a statement on this very topic?

As the concept of family continues to be redefined and broadened in way to recognize all of our God-created forms of love, this is another aspect of family, which will need attention. How do you think the church can respond?


12 replies
  1. Beth B.
    Beth B. says:

    I am an “expectant” adoptive mother, anticipating placement of a school-age child sometime this summer. I’m single, and an associate pastor. I feel lucky to have a wildly supportive congregation. Sure, there have been a few “does she really know what she’s doing?!?” comments, but otherwise I’ve felt completely affirmed in my decision. To be honest, I’m not sure it would be quite the same if I had gone the insemination route (or decide to in the future), particularly because I run the youth programs. Thank you for bringing this topic to light; I think the wider Church could do a lot to make us feel included, welcome, and affirmed.

  2. Susan O
    Susan O says:

    No longer a young clergy woman, but a single mom/minister, I have noticed how important it seems to church folks to call me a single *adoptive* mom. That word adoptive is thrown around in church circles and not anywhere else!

  3. E
    E says:

    Thank you for this article! Not that long ago I was faced with the possibility that I might be pregnant – it would have been one of those unplanned surprises in life, but a blessing all the same. Turns out, it was a false alarm, but as I waited, I wrestled for many long hours with how such news of the young, single rev having a baby would be received, especially since it was neither by adoption nor by artificial insemination nor a surprise within a relationship. Interestingly, I think that more difficult than the way in which the baby would have been conceived, and more difficult than the concept of a single minister having a baby; would be the change in availability of my time, and the fact that I would take the year’s mat leave I’m entitled to, and they would need to learn to respect that – and that would be the same regardless if I was single or partnered. Someday I’m sure I’ll find out if my conjectures are correct, as I know I’m called to be a mom… but not just yet.

    • Tiffany Craig
      Tiffany Craig says:

      It is disturbing to me that congregations believe they have a right to know the circumstances around a pastor’s or associate pastor’s pregnancy. I do understand that pastors are (SUPPOSED) to demonstrate character that is above reproach, but how are we defining that? Who is determining where the lines go? Lying is a sin. Disrespecting others is a sin. Are pastors not allowed to demonstrate being human? Would a congregation have a “right” to know if their pastor was raped?

      “Oh my goodness! Youre pregnant! Congratulations! Who’s the father?”
      “Aw thanks for your enthusiasm. I’m excited.”
      “So whos the father?”
      “Thanks for your enthusiasm.” Smiling.

      Congregants demands, as you all well know, are not always sane and healthy. Lets not enable their bad behavior by indulging rudeness.

  4. Rebecca Littlejohn
    Rebecca Littlejohn says:

    I know one colleague who has already gone through this and another who is seriously planning to. It is something congregations are going to have to get used to. But it’s not that different from all the other shifts in our definitions and expectations about family, so I think there is tremendous possibility there for clergywomen to lead by example and be in solidarity with others doing brave things.

  5. Sarah - from the UK
    Sarah - from the UK says:

    I think this is a serious debate that needs to be entered into openly and with honesty and I thank you Leah for opening up this subject for Fidelia’s Sisters.
    The matter of women having children outside of marriage is becoming increasingly common and in the course of my own ministry I have probably conducted as many baptisms and thanksgivings for children where the parents are not married than those who are. It is interesting to observe that congregations rarely bat an eyelid.
    Like so many of these kind of issues, it all comes back to our attitude towards sexual relations, biblical interpretation and how we choose to ‘read’ culture and social history. If we are to take a more liberal view of sexual relations than the Christian tradition has done in recent history as many denominations in Europe and North America are tending to, then this is perhaps a natural outcome.
    I also think a re-evaluation of what constitutes marriage from both Christian and secular perspectives is well overdue. The rise of legally recognised same sex partnerships adds to this as does the number of couples living together as if they are married.

  6. Jesse
    Jesse says:

    Thank you for bringing up this topic. I am a young female single minister and I am trying to become a mother by insemination. My family and friends support me – my congregation does NOT know. I don´t want to take this discussion now, while I am struggling and most vulnerable. But I have to admit I am nervous about their reaction in case I do get pregnant. On the other hand I know at least one colleague here in Sweden who walked the same way, who was really scared to tell and got the most wonderful positive reactions from her congregation.

  7. Emma
    Emma says:

    I understand the adoptive parent and the inseminated parent, but how does a congregation get over a promiscuous reverend? How do we come together, as Christians, and tell our children to wait until marriage, but then have a member of clergy so eagerly practicing something against that notion? I think it’s wonderful that some revs are adopting and if you want a child and are inseminated, then all the best to you — to me, that is a far cry from someone making poor choices that go against The Bible’s preachings.

    • Tiffany Craig
      Tiffany Craig says:

      I believe you mean choices that in YOUR view are poor, and YOUR interpretation of Scripture constitute promiscuity.

  8. Leah
    Leah says:

    Emma, does a woman who becomes pregnant outside of marriage automatically mean that she is promiscuous? Perhaps we need to redfine what sexuality and partnership means.


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