Over the past weeks, I've gotten several emails from single female clergy wondering about the life of dating and living single as a priest. Some were referred by friends, some are friends newly-single, and others found me through the blog. The only expertise I have in this area is that I am single and dating and a priest who is a woman. Given the number of books I've read on clergy who write about how to be the parish church in the modern age who have never actually pastored a church, I figure I'm one-up on the standard of whatever the publishing world deems an expert. I do live it.
And, since Tim Schenck's blog style has shown the power of lists (and they're also easier to read), here are my thoughts on being single and being ordained.
1. Being single or being married as an ordained person isn't easier or harder. Both bring gifts and challenges. As a single priest, no, I don't have to come home to make dinner for the family or help with the kids' homework. On the other hand, since Evie the Wonderdog hasn't learned how to grocery shop, there's no one to pick up milk on the way home after I've had the longest day ever. So no, the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence. There are flowers and weeds in both gardens.
2. Single clergy diligently have to create a support system. We don't innately have it by marriage (and yes, I realize married/partnered clergy have to create support systems, as well). While we can be tempted to find our support systems through our parishioners, that is never a good idea. The priest - parishioner relationship is sacred; don't muck it up by trying to find your friends there, too. This is where a hobby can be helpful if not necessary.
3. Clergy, don't date parishioners. Again, that priest-parishioner relationship is holy and does not need to be mucked up by all that is messy and crazy about dating. If you're a member of a church and you are crushing on your priest, either get over your crush or go to another church, attend there for a while, then ask her/him for coffee.
4. Clergy will be the recipient of all sorts of romantic projections. Be aware. Be hyper-aware, actually. Somewhere in some people's psyches is the logic that if s/he is married, I can't act a certain way, but because s/he isn't married, I can be inappropriately flirty or hands-y or vomit my emotional issues of intimacy all over my pastor. I say this more to women clergy, although I know plenty of men priests who have the same issues - you do not have to hug anyone whose attentions make you uncomfortable; you do not have to provide pastoral care to someone whose attentions make you uncomfortable; and you certainly do not have to go to lunch/coffee with someone whose attentions make you uncomfortable.
5. Don't wear your clergy collar on the first few dates. You are a woman/man first, not a priest first. And hopefully your date is interested in the person first and not looking to work out his/her issues about God and the church by dating you.
6. You do not need to introduce your new relationship to your church community until you both are ready. My dating life is not the business of my congregation. Period. I think that boundary is very healthy. I've seen (and personally experienced) the mess that occurs when a new relationship is introduced too soon to a congregation without realizing the family dynamic that occurs between clergy and congregation. The closest similarity would be a regular person dating a celebrity (not that I've ever dated a celebrity, but I read People magazine, so there) and on the second date, going to the Oscars. And if you're going out with a priest/pastor, understand if s/he doesn't immediately introduce you to her/his congregants.
7. Saturday nights are school nights for clergy. We may really, really like you, but late night Saturdays don't work well with our all-day Sundays.
8. We do have more interests than the Bible and religion (or should). Most of us watch trashy television, go to movies that are not another sad Hollywood attempt to cash in on the Bible, and have favorite sports teams. While clergy enjoy talking about faith and Jesus, we do it quite often. So if you go out with a pastor, it's perfectly okay, even welcomed, to talk about how every movie could be better with Jason Statham.
9. No, there is nothing in the Bible that says all relationships between clergy and a date must end with unicorns and rainbows. We are human. We have all the same (maybe even more, given what we do) emotional baggage and hang-ups as everyone else. Some first dates are also last dates. Some are short-lived relationships. Some are relationships that never should have happened. Some are wonderful gifts in our lives. And somewhere, God is in the midst of all of them.