Single and Dangerous

Post Author: Heather Godsey

computer“Overly educated, though not overly snobby. Interested in Friday night dates and Saturday adventures to quirky festivals while sharing a funnel cake. Foodie (but not a cook) with opinions on Bluegrass, bourbon, and Big 10 basketball. Easily won over by the perfect Manhattan or a glass of Chandon during cocktail hour, but not a homebody. … Side-show exhibit/Christian preacher chick pastoring college students while drinking lots of coffee. Attempting to narrarate the intersection of pop culture and theology in a way my publisher might think profitable.”

 ~ My OKCupid profile

Earlier this year, I sat with the Pastor Search committee of a congregation in a small but vibrant town in west Tennessee. It was a good conversation, but as our time wound down the committee chair blurted out a final question: “You know this isn’t really a good town for dating. I mean, most people here are already married and raising families.” She stumbled through the words, blushing, clearly not comfortable but feeling the need to say it out loud nonetheless. I wasn’t quite sure how to respond, but I knew what she meant. Would I be alright living there? At 36 and divorced, would the lack of a dating pool, the likelihood of having little to no love life, bother me?

I put on an easy smile, graciously assuring her that I wasn’t really worried about that. I’d compromised a great deal to be with my ex-husband and now I just wanted to do good work and be a good pastor in a community where I felt called and supported.

On the drive home though, I wondered. Was that really what I wanted? And if I did date again, what was I looking for this time around? Five hours across middle Tennessee affords one a great deal of time to meditate on these questions. This is what I decided.

  1. I’m an introvert and an only child who has, by necessity or choice, always spent quite a lot of time alone. I’m perfectly capable of seeing a movie, getting a drink, or having dinner on my own. I have a broad network of friends across the country and a few intimate friends with whom I trust my soul, but sometimes, sometimes I miss holding hands or sharing stories over a cocktail at the end of the day. My dog doesn’t care about politics or the amazing conversation I had with a student. He does, however, kiss on command; although it’s not quite the same.
  2. If I did date, it turns out that what I want this time is fun. I don’t want to spend every night on the couch arguing about what movie to choose from the Netflix queue or sitting in separate rooms with different books. I can do those things by myself. I want date nights out and live music and trips to the fainting goat festival. I want to get in the car on Friday evening and end up in Asheville for the weekend. I want to laugh and play and kiss in dark corners. And if all of this sounds a bit too rom-com, a bit too idealistic; well, it probably is. But here’s the thing — I’m not convinced I want to marry again and in the meantime I am simply not interested in working that hard.

In the spirit of testing the waters, I put a profile up on OKCupid, an online dating service whose basic service is free. I wasn’t really expecting a great deal, anticipating that someone my age and body type might not be a big draw, but curious nonetheless. It turns out that men who leave me messages can only write in text-speak, a habit which limits their ability to construct complex sentences and therefore say anything interesting. There are “nice guys” wondering why women always date the jerks (as if being “nice” entitles you to female romantic companionship.) There’s the creepy 65 year old man who assumes that the church has stunted my sexual development and would be happy to introduce me to all sorts of “intimate play.” And there’s the 22 year-old boy who “likes older women.” I’m sure that there are available quality, interesting, confident men out there, but they sure as heck aren’t on OKCupid.

It occurs to me that ultimately, I’m not all that disappointed in the lack of options. Rather, I keep returning to the question of intentional singleness, with all its Roman Catholic implications, and the ways in which single women have always been suspect in the church. For all that most Protestant congregations don’t seem to mind single clergy men, even the most liberal of mainlines prefer their clergy women married. It speaks to an inherent (maybe even unconscious) discomfort with women whose sexual possibilities aren’t contained by husband and family. We’re dangerous, we single clergywomen. Comfortable in our roles as leaders, in charge of ourselves and our bodies, we represent a cultural shift that the church, so used to being an institution built around family life, instinctively knows it isn’t really equipped for or interested in addressing.

I love the church. It nurtured and sustained me as a child, taught me to lead as a young adult, and continues to be a touchstone in my life. But I wonder if I’m in campus ministry not only because I love students, but because I realize on some level that non-traditional ministry may be the only way to follow my call and remain true to myself. And if I’m going to be perceived as dangerous regardless of reality, I might as well do it on my own terms.

Heather Godsey is ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), currently serving ecumenically as a campus minister with the Wesley Foundation at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She spends a great deal of time lately thinking about Millennials and fandom as an expression of beloved community while trying not to overindulge in Salted Caramel gelato. Henry the Lhasa Apso helps with that.

Photo by Dan Barbus,, May 12, 2013. Used by Creative Common License.

4 replies
  1. Berts
    Berts says:

    At 41 I do not qualify for the Project (so at what point does one stop being young), but certainly have and do experience every aspect of your article. I too am a campus minister, in a small rural area with no prospects…online dating was encouraged and had a broad (romantic is more like it) sense of attraction, but overeducated me seemed to be even pickier. I know women (over 40) who are in the same boat. Hmmmm…so it makes me think, is it really the “church” doing this to us or are we really doing this to ourselves? The dating pool seems to be unavailable to me and unfortunately so does this particular outlet. At what point do we unite (age discarded) and be comfortable as WOMEN, young and not so young? Thanks for the insight.

  2. J. Heckerman
    J. Heckerman says:

    Several years ago, while in seminary, I spent a summer filling in for an older, single, male minister who was having to take time off after surgery. He had grown up in the county where the two churches were located and he proved to be a good guide, mentor and friend. Once we got to know each other I asked him the obvious question: had remaining single limited his ministry? He explained that still being single when he graduated from seminary did seem to limit his consideration for sole pastor positions and that his professors had suggested that he apply instead for staff positions. Several congregations proved to be interested and he was soon called to an associate position in a good-sized church. He stayed there several years and thoroughly enjoyed that ministry. Then the senior pastor retired and was soon replaced by a minister who made it clear that he wanted a hand in choosing his own staff. My friend contacted many churches, both those needing a sole pastor and large ones seeking an experienced person for a staff position, but had few replies. Then the pastor of the rural church in which my friend had grown up, which was now linked with a town church, moved on. He said that lifelong friends had confided that they had to “do some convincing” among the town church’s pulpit committee but they prevailed and he was called to that yoked field. He had been there for over thirty years the summer I came to “fill-in.” He was loved and respected in those churches and in the community and had served the denomination in district, regional and national committees and programs. But he admitted that he had never been aware of larger churches even inquiring as to his interest in “moving up.” I’m sure that women in ministry do still face an unfortunate set of hurdles. However, I suspect that the discrimination against unmarried candidates, specially for positions beyond the “first call” level positions, works against both female and male clergy.

  3. Vicky Brown
    Vicky Brown says:

    As a divorced woman over 55, no one seems to be interested in my demographic and I don’t qualify for the project either. I’ll be graduating from seminary this week, and have found dating to be a nightmare throughout. There have been a few men who said I was “going against the Bible”, and a few have put me on a pedestal and used me for a free counselor. I tried one last site – eHarmony and have found a good match, so far so good. I agree that churches are very uncomfortable with a single woman in the pulpit, and am not sure how to negotiate that territory except to be myself and listen for God’s voice.


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