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Candles lit for Advent

Lighting the Candles without Fitting the Mold

Candles lit for Advent

Candles lit for Advent

A few years ago, I inherited the task of assigning Advent candle lighters for our church. For as long as anyone could remember, nuclear family units had been assigned each week’s readings and scriptures. Parents would help children to light the matches and teenagers would read the apocalyptic texts with gusto.

But there had been a pastoral transition, and the Advent wreath liturgy suddenly fell to me. I remembered my own small hurt the year before when I realized with a certain start that I, a single woman in my thirties, wouldn’t qualify for this particular liturgical responsibility in our community. Then I started thinking about all the other people in our congregation who might be feeling that particular sting of being left out.

I thought about the handful of elderly widowers, so desperate for human touch that they doled out bone-crushing hugs to anyone who’d let them. I thought about the divorced man with partial custody of his young son, a schedule that made committing to anything at church together nearly impossible. I thought of the recently retired school teacher, never married, and the ways her depths of wit and wisdom filled a dozen important roles and relationships but who was never asked to light a candle in anticipation of Christ’s coming.

And then, after I thought about these particular people who might be sharing the twinges of alienation like I was, I started thinking about all the people in scripture that we’d be leaving out of our Advent liturgy if they happened to show up here in church some twenty-first-century Sunday morning.

The list of single people who get enlisted for world-shaking roles in scripture is long and fascinating: Read more

Flying Solo

single rev august (1)

The author on one of her solo adventures

During my mid- to late-twenties, I went through a phase: Everywhere I went, I met Scottish people. I even found some in Mexico at an all-inclusive resort where my mom and I were vacationing. Every time I met Scots, I thought, “These are my people.” And they all assured me that I was right, and that I really should come over and see the place that produced all these fantastic folk. I absolutely believed them.

But whenever I tried to plan a trip, none of my friends had the money to travel internationally, or no one could get the time off work. I had done my fair share of solo domestic travel, including lots of long-haul driving across broad swaths of the U.S., but my international travel had always been a group thing.

At the end of my twenties, however, I had become restless. On my thirtieth birthday, I decided to do a bunch of things that would just make me really happy, so I got a new tattoo, played a gig with my band, and sat in with some musician friends at their later show. Then I came home, summoned up the horrible dial-up internet in my parsonage, and booked a flight to Glasgow. That trip ended up being a transition for me in more ways than one, as I soon accepted a new call and used my journey as the break between the old church and the new. Read more

Still the Single Rev

5935864125_f8ae383332_bI was 25 when I graduated from seminary and was ordained. My first position was as a chaplain at a small college, where I was routinely mistaken for a student. To me, the four years between my own undergraduate studies and my chaplaincy work represented an enormous gap in both age and experience. But to the students, staff, and faculty around me, the difference was invisible. It rankled when students hit on me, and even more when faculty dismissed me. Realistically, I realize now, the age difference between the students and me was practically non-existent; one of the students in the introductory theology course I taught was older than I was.

During the first several years of my full-time ministry, it seemed like someone was always telling me I was young. Read more

Failing the Bechdel Test

We were driving to my parents’ house when my sister, Lindsey, mentioned the Bechdel Test. I had never heard of it, so I had to ask what it was.

“It’s like a baseline test for women in movies. You ask three questions: Does the movie have at least two named, female characters; do two female characters talk to each other; and do they have a conversation about something other than a man? It helps ascertain if women are portrayed as anything other than sex objects and background players. Go ahead, test some movies,” she said.

We had fun naming movies and thinking about whether they could pass the Bechdel Test. It was surprisingly difficult—even movies that were marketed to women often failed to pass. I was still thinking of the test and mentally shaming Hollywood for its poor portrayals of women when I started to feel uneasy. What if I Bechdel-tested my own life? What would be the result?

I’m a not-quite-thirty-year-old divorcee, a single mom, and a pastor. You’d think that if anyone could pass the Bechdel Test in her personal life, it would be me. But in reviewing my adult history I realized that my uneasiness was not unfounded.

At twenty-two, I got married the weekend after my college graduation. The marriage was miserable and quickly devolved into codependency. After five years of trying to keep up with my husband’s demands and doing near-constant damage control for our public image, he left me and our young son. I might have risen from the ashes like some kind of phoenix, but instead I rushed into something comfortable, dating a man who put very little into our relationship, while I poured more and more of myself into it, trying to make up the difference. When he left, I felt empty and hollow. Without a relationship to take up my time and energy, there seemed to be very little in my life. Read more

A Home of Her Own

Yip – pee.

Oh, the joys of homeownership.

At least I live in a condominium, which means instead of stressing over roof repairs all by myself, I can call the front office, tell them of my newly acquired in-home water feature, then stress until it gets fixed. I became a home owner about a year ago, when I accepted a new call. My accountant, my parents, and my own common sense told me that I could afford to buy.

I would appreciate the break on the irrationally high clergy income tax, and I would not end up like many of the clergy I knew who were retiring in their mid-60’s with no place to live because they’d spent their life in church-owned rectories. So I did the most sensible thing a first-time home buyer could do – I came to my new city and allowed two days to buy a home. Sure, I did some research, and I did pre-qualify for a mortgage. But I decided that I’d have faith in the help of a new parishioner who, thanks be to God, was also a realtor.

Sometimes I push this faith in God a bit.  Read more

When a Single Rev Opts to Adopt

When did you know you wanted to adopt? Was it an easy decision? Difficult?

I’ve always wanted to adopt, at least it was already in my mind when I was in high school. In my mind there were so many children already in the world in need of a family that I didn’t feel the need to have a child naturally. In the end that option [of pregnancy] was taken away from me as medical issues resulted in my needing a hysterectomy in my early thirties. The only question for me was when I would adopt, not if.

What was the process of adopting like? Did your being clergy affect the process in any way?

I always imagined that I would be married when I adopted. God, however, had not provided me with a spouse and I was not getting any younger, so I started the process of adoption believing it would take several years. The story of my daughter’s adoption is a miracle story because it happened in two weeks – which is unheard of. The adoption agencies where I live in Michigan either had a waiting list or would not take a single parent. Because I am a Canadian living in the US, I could not adopt internationally. Someone suggested I look at adoption agencies outside of my community.

Early one Sunday morning I could not sleep so I got up and “surfed” the net looking for adoption agencies. I ran across a site in California that listed a soon to be born baby girl who was not yet matched. Having nothing better to do I wrote an email indicating my interest believing that it was an old posting (who wouldn’t want a baby girl!). I sent that email about 3:30, went back to bed and didn’t give it another thought. I returned from church later that day to a message that said if I was truly interested in this child they needed to hear back from me that day. Read more

Living and Loving in Limbo

Seminary did a very good job at teaching me that it would be really hard—nay, impossible—to date anybody as a young clergywoman. “Don’t even get your hopes up,” should have been printed on my diploma. I, like many others, saw the flood of seminary classmates rushing down the aisle before heading off on internship or to their first church. It was not difficult to conclude that my chances of finding a rewarding relationship would plummet with the laying on of hands at ordination.

Now, fortunately I wasn’t very good at the dating thing and didn’t mind living alone, so it didn’t seem like a huge deal. I’d just experienced the ending of a relationship gone sour, so was feeling particularly
inept at that kind of partnership. I also happen not to be a person who has always craved children or a husband. So, it was kind of a bum deal, but I had accepted and come to terms with the likelihood that I
would be a lifelong singleton.

Two years later, attending my first regional conference as an ordained minister, I met someone who changed everything. I won’t say he’s my soul mate, because this isn’t an eHarmony commercial. But we (more or less) instantly connected, and suddenly we had to figure out how to date as pastors living 300 miles away from each other. How do you navigate those murky waters of being not-quite-single but definitely not being married? How do you draw the line between keeping your private life private and being open and honest with your people? How do you balance your need to be with this person with your call to be with your congregation? Read more

woman covering mouth with wide, excited eyes

Rumor Me This, Rumor Me That

He had been there over a week, visited the church, and met many of my parishioners before the rumors got back to me, of course. I had only been ministering there a couple of months, and no one wanted to actually ask me about my “mysterious” guest. I probably should’ve expected that there would be talk, but it just didn’t occur to me that my life was considered so scandal-worthy! I’m a member of the coed dorm generation. I also forgot that certain key factors wouldn’t be as obvious to everyone as they were to me. “I don’t know if this will make it any better,” I sighed, when I finally caught wind of the gossip, “but he’s gay.”

I was telling the truth about that, and I think it assuaged some fears (although it may well have heightened others). One might wonder, however: what if he hadn’t been gay? Would that have negated my freedom to host a friend in my home? Would a female guest have been less suspect? Probably, but since no one has ever asked about my orientation, why would that be so? It’s been suggested to me many times, in a variety of ways, that I ought to get married. How on earth would I ever get to that point if I’m not supposed to have prospective partners (or those assumed to be such) in my house?

The conundrum is not lessened by the fact that most people simply have no idea how awkward and difficult the fish bowl syndrome makes life for their single clergy. I’ve heard it said that pandas rarely mate in captivity and, similarly, we’re not as fruitful (ahem) personally or professionally when we’re constantly dealing with invasion of our privacy and resulting attacks on our character.

The average person doesn’t think of it as an attack, though. Some people think of it as concern for the integrity of the pastoral office. Others think of it as genuine care for their minister. Many of them don’t really think of it at all; maybe they were just bored that day and needed something to discuss to occupy their time. Most people aren’t actually trying to be malicious or suspicious; the human thing to do, it seems, is to talk about other humans.

I know, that doesn’t make it easier if you’re the one who can’t have an unidentified car in your driveway for two hours without hearing about it for the next two weeks. If you’re anything like me, you still want to post a parsonage-sized “MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS” sign in your front yard. That approach being not entirely practical, there are a few alternative possibilities that can ease some of the frustration of finding your life subject to so much scrutiny. Read more

Being Single, Being Me

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. Read more