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Today’s question is born of a happy turn of events in the life of a RevGal. She has some questions about how her personal life might will affect her congregation.

Dear Matriarchs

I came to my current parish a few years ago as a single woman without any “significant other” or romantic relationship. Recently, I have begun seeing someone in a casual way. We want to continue enjoying our time together and seeing what the future may hold.

He is clergy and serves the wider church and lives a few hours away. Our [conference minister, bishop, district superintendent] is aware and supportive.

Things are going well in the congregation I serve.

Have any of you ever been in this situation?

What suggestions do you have for dealing with parish dynamics when the pastor has an important new one in their life?

I look forward to your wisdom about navigating this new territory.

Rev. Cautiously Joyful

* * * * * * *

Our Matriarchs offer you many wise ways to enjoy this time, Rev. C. J.:

Dear CJ,

I’m so glad you’ve found someone to spend time with.  Ministry can be lonely on it’s best day and we all know that isolation is part of our daily lives. Bless you.

 I was single in my first parish and was advised – before I started – to tell the church this:

 Because I am single, I will probably travel on my day off to visit friends in other towns.  Or maybe they will visit me in the manse.  Sometimes they will be men and sometimes they will be women.  Sometimes they will be family.  I just want you to know that I will need to have a life apart from my work in order to be a healthy person.

 It was the best advice I was ever given in ministry.  Indeed all kinds of people visited me and I never heard a word of gossip about it because I’d set it up before it happened.

 If you didn’t do this at the get go, you can do it now without mentioning that you have a particular significant other.  Maybe you could tell your leaders something like this:

 After serving you for ___ it occurs to me that I need some balance in my life and I wanted to share that – on my day off – I am going to try to visit friends or have them visit me.  This will be healthy for the whole congregation, in that I’m always wanting to model balance for the church.”

 For what it’s worth, my predecessor did not introduce the congregation to his future wife until the day they announced their engagement.  Nobody met my future husband (who was also a pastor so never in worship on Sundays with me) until after I announced that we were engaged.  In other words, I would not introduce your current companion to church members until you know this is something special – unless you are prepared to have them be privy to your personal life from here on out.

 Your church will want to know what your personal life is like because people are curious.  Be prepared – if this relationship continues – that your people will want to get to know this person.  But that’s in your future, not for right now, in my opinion.

 Happy for you – Jan

Dear C.J.:

Long ago, in a galaxy far away, my beloved (also clergy) and I began a relationship that was long-distance.

A long-standing friendship blossomed into love, and—fast forward–  we’ve been married for almost twenty nine years.

Both of us served congregations, one in a small town and one in a suburb of a larger city.

We were pretty circumspect, and when we visited one another, did not stay in the other’s home.

We shared our happiness at having a special relationship only with a couple of people in our congregations who would honor our privacy, because only God knew where it all might lead, and only shared widely when we became engaged.

It felt right to us professionally and personally to keep things pretty quiet.

Both congregations were very, very supportive.

 In my experience it’s been a good practice to maintain a good boundary with the congregation regarding personal matters. It proved to be wise in this matter, and there was only joy and merriment when we shared our plans to marry… and when we did, we invited both congregations. Happy to provide suggestions for clergy weddings where two congregations show up, if asked. J

Best to you,

Jennifer
www.anorientationofheart.blogspot.com

Dear Joyfully Cautious or what about Cautiously Joyful?

I found that when I was a single dating pastor I could readily adopt either identity.

My first bit of advice, which may seem odd, is that it might be better to do the majority of your dating in your friend’s town for the time being.  Since as you indicated, he doesn’t have a parish call, there will probably be less chatter if you’re going out for dinner in his neighborhood rather than yours. I’m not suggesting that you hide your relationship, but if you are hoping for some space and time, a certain degree of anonymity will help. If you aren’t ready to talk about “that fellow we saw you having dinner with last Friday,” try to date a little further from home. 

One of the oddities of being a pastor who dates is that the congregation will have a certain investment in wanting things to go well for you.  It’s a little like having a bunch of extra great-aunts who mean well but sometimes say or do things that are a bit awkward. It’s probably best to take it slow when introducing your friend to your congregation. Even then, nothing is foolproof.  I had been dating my future husband for 9 months or more.  He had visited my small town parish and had come to a few social events.  On Christmas Eve when he gave me a peck on his way through the receiving line, there was more than one person who wanted to know who was that who kissed Pastor Heidi!?

For some reason, I think congregations have a harder time adjusting to a woman pastor dating than a man. Folks just don’t quite know what to do with the information sometimes.  Will Pastor go to part-time if they get married? Will she still be available when we need her? What if they have children!!  How will this impact us? If your relationship becomes more serious, pay attention to the things people say. Sometimes there are some fears underneath the good wishes. Will she still be there for us?

I commend you for sharing the news of your relationship with your denominational leaders. It will help you both with boundaries and commitments.  

Best wishes for the future!

Heidi Rodrick-Schnaath, sometimes known as RevHRod

Dear Rev. Cautiously Joyful,

I am happy for you. Blessings on your new found relationship and new found joy!

My simple advice is to keep things relatively quiet if you are the type who values your privacy and are not sure where the relationship will end up. 

But if you are the type who likes to be very open with your congregants, then share little pieces of your relationship as you feel led and as appropriate.

It is hard to know how to advise you because everybody is different about how private they are with their church family.

I do know a little about this because over twenty years ago, I met my soon-to-be husband while I was single and serving a church.

We chose to keep our relationship quiet until we had something definite to announce to my congregation. And my Head-of-Staff knew about my dating relationship.

I don’t necessarily believe that you have to tell your Bishop/Head-of-Staff/Minister about your personal relationships but I had a good relationship with my Head-of-Staff and chose to tell him.

Blessings to you,

Rev. Kelley Wehmeyer Shin
Centerville, Ohio

* * * * * * *
How about you, dear Reader? Have you (or someone you know) handled this well? What pitfalls might there be? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Are you facing a great new thing — or a challenging new thing — that might affect your ministry? We would love to offer you support and encouragement. Send your scenario to askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com


Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor serving in Nashville TN.  She is a contributor to the RevGals book, “There’s a Woman in the Pulpit” and blogs erratically at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.


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2 thoughts on “Ask the Matriarch: The Single Pastor and Her New Relationship

  1. I thought that the advice offered was spot on. When I was wrestling with how to introduce the person I was dating a wise mentor told me to wait, because “I’m dating someone special and I’m really excited about it, but don’t ask me any questions about it because I want to keep that to myself” just doesn’t work.

    Ironically, the greatest pushback I got wasn’t from my church, it was from my family- several of them (none of them church professionals) thought I was being duplicitous in not introducing him to the congregation and were quite negative about my decision about how to handle the situation. That’s where I had to be really strong, hold my ground, and trust that I knew more about my world that they did- even if they were quick to employ my guilt triggers.

    The only thing I would add was that when we did decide to marry we did our pre-marital counseling and wedding planning before becoming officially engaged, so that the plans were set when I did announce to the congregation. We weren’t getting married in the church I was serving (I got married in the church where I grew up), and having that plan ready to share made the engagement announcement more joyous.

    Like

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