Friday, March 10, 2017

Dating a Priest...revised

I have the nifty ability to see which posts are getting high traffic on the blog statistics site. Most of the  posts with high traffic don't surprise me, but I am a bit surprised on the constant traffic that the post about dating a priest who is a woman gets. I'm impressed there are that many men and women who apparently are interested in asking out a woman of the cloth. 

I also wonder if there are people who have a fair amount of time on their hands and will read anything to make the time pass.

One reader asked me if I'd change some things since I wrote the essay in 2009. Yes and no, which is not surprising. So here they are, my revised guidelines if you're interested in asking a priest who is a woman on a date.

1. Talk with us like we were a normal date. Obviously we are clergy, and we are all too aware of the awkwardness being a clergy person and a woman can bring into the room. Talk with us like you'd talk with any date. We all have favorite foods, music we like (and not exclusively hymnody; I'm a big fan of Kendrick Lamar, for example), and guilty pleasure television viewing (I can't tell you how many clergy women watch The Bachelor and live tweet about it). Your conversation can mention church, but we're also fine if you avoid detailed and ongoing references to Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit, your current view on church issues, which liturgy you prefer, or other theological and/or spiritual talking points. Really. We don't want to spend the evening doing what we do every day and twice on Sundays. 

2. Get over the collar. For those of us in certain traditions, we wear clergy collars. It's essentially a uniform. Nothing more, nothing less. The clergy collar does not make us priests - the Holy Spirit, our ordinations, and our vows do. If you ask a priest who's a woman for coffee during our work week, there's a likelihood she'll be wearing a collar. And people may stare. YOU may stare. We're used to the staring, sort of. But remember, it's essentially a uniform. Be more attentive to the person instead of the clothing and you'll be fine. 

3. Don't talk about the Bible to impress us. Or your thoughts on the filioque in the Nicene Creed or the debate over infant vs adult baptism. Tell us about yourself. We can have these theological debates with any number of people, including congregants. We can't go on dates with them. 

4. We are clergy, not free therapists. I've had a few experiences with men who got our coffee date confused with a therapy session. If you want to talk about pastoral issues, make an appointment and meet me at the church. If you want to engage my company as a woman, ask me to coffee. The two do not blend. 

5. "So what's it like being a woman priest?" is not an original question. You can ask, "What does your job entail" or any other question you'd ask of a male priest.

6. Our schedules are a bit unpredictable. Don't ask us out for a late Saturday night date. Unlike a large percentage of the population, we work on Sundays. We have holy days like Christmas and Easter that demand our time and attention, and we are often not as available for holiday parties and events. And we do have pastoral emergencies from time to time, so if you're on a date with a clergy woman and she takes a call and has to leave, there's a high chance it's not a "hey I'm calling if you need to ditch the date" call and a legit pastoral emergency. 

7. Don't ask us out because YOU are interested in being a priest or because you have issues with the Church and you want to yell at us. Dating a priest and being a priest are not the same thing.  And again, arguing with us is not the same as arguing with God. Take that up with Her. 

8. Yes, clergy women kiss. 

9. If you ask a priest out for lunch and/or dinner, we don't all pray before a meal. Some do. Others don't. You'll just have to figure this one out, awkward as it may be. 

10. Most clergy women I know date women and men outside their faith tradition and even those without a faith tradition. We recognize that God is bigger than anyone can imagine. And love has its reason of which reason knows nothing. Will it be a point of conversation and discussion if the relationship progresses? Probably, but don't get that proverbial cart before the horse just yet. 

11. If you're a member of her congregation, that may be an issue. I do not date members of my congregation. Period. It's a boundary I don't cross. Not all clergy have that same boundary, and it can vary with clergy in charge and those who are assistants. We are priests, pastors, and clergy to our congregations first and foremost. That is the relationship, and any other relationship that could damage that covenantal one must be considered very carefully. If you ask a clergy woman out and you've been attending her congregation, she may explain she can't date members of her congregation. Believe her. It's a very real thing. 

12. If you're not a member of her congregation, don't be surprised if she doesn't want you to attend right away. Here's another point that can result in wounded feelings. Our congregations are precious, holy communities, and we realize the moment we introduce a significant person in our lives to them, many people get excited and attached. Almost every clergy woman I know has waited a significant amount of time before inviting the woman or man she's dating to attend and meet people.  This doesn't mean we don't want people to know you or meet you; it means we recognize the ever-present and often challenging boundary that exists between the personal and public life of clergy.

13. We have the right to say no. I'm working on an upcoming post about the subtle presence of rape culture in the church and how some male parishioners and clergy don't allow women, clergy and laity, the right to say no to personal boundary violations. If you ask her out, she has the right to say no and you have the responsibility to hear her. No is a complete sentence. She doesn't have to give you a reason, although she may. That's her right, too. We don't have to go out on a date with a man or woman who doesn't interest us simply because we are clergy. That's neither honest nor kind nor in our ordination vows. Sisters of the cloth, a reminder: You have the right to say no. Always. 

1 comment:

merci said...

Great reminders! Even for those not interested in dating someone of the cloth, it's important to remember spiritual leaders are people too. And always, always, the right to say NO. Thanks for being a fierce feminist of faith and leadership.