I am a single rev. At least I think am. At least for now. And for a while to come. I think.
I am falling into that “liminal space” (thank you seminary vocabulary) that comes between single-but-dating and single-but-engaged. For some couples, this space is short, maybe only a minute or two, but for my significant other and me, this space is turning out to be extremely long. We have known for two years that we want to marry each other, that it's okay to talk about “when” rather than “if,” but right now there is no end in sight.
We are choosing to do it this way because neither one of us is ready to leave our call to a congregation, and while it's certainly not ideal, there's no one way to negotiate this part of a relationship. Every couple has to figure it out for themselves. It seems to be working for us so far. But I have a feeling it won't work forever.
Being a single young clergy woman is certainly difficult. Most of you reading know this all too well and could share many stories of how difficult it is. But I am discovering that being in limbo like this is also difficult, that congregations are far more comfortable when they can put you in one category or the other. Being between categories, people really have no idea what to do. At least half have already slotted us into the “engaged” category, even to the point of congratulating us effusively in public gatherings (which tends to cause confusion!).
To some degree I think this is a generational issue. Most of my parishioners come from a time when you didn't have long engagements. If a couple knew they wanted to get married, they went and got a license and took the plunge. But nowadays, longer engagements are the norm, for a variety of reasons. We are living in the model of our generation (minus the cohabitation), but finding ourselves in the world of our parents and grandparents.
I also wonder if this is one way congregations express their desire for their pastor to have clear boundaries. Engaged is one step closer to married, and a married young clergy woman is somehow considered “safer,” less threatening to the established order, more trustworthy. Young single clergywomen are less tied down, less domesticated, less settled in the eyes of many churchgoers, although of course it's not that simple.
When I accepted a new call, I was very open with the congregation that one of the reasons I had considered this call was because it was much closer to my boyfriend/fiance/whatever he is. It was such a relief to be in an emotional place where I didn't feel I needed to hide his existence or our relationship in order to protect myself or the congregation. The other side of this: now people want to know who he is. Who we are together. Why they don't see him more often. They want to get to know him, just as they would if he were already my husband, which is lovely and hospitable but also edges towards that need to put us in a category.
I hope you don't think I'm complaining. We were fortunate to find each other. But I have to say that being stuck in the middle of these two categories as a young clergy woman is truly a surreal experience, one that many of us navigate, but one that nobody seems to have mapped before. Maybe we are joining in the cartographical process right now.