Dear Single Pastor,
Welcome to my world, and the world of thousands of other men and women who are trying to serve God, church and family while still holding out hope for romance! Or not! It depends! Some of us have given up on romance and are just seeking companionship, or maybe just someone to go see “Hairspray” with. But I digress!
Dating etiquette for the Single Pastor. I can’t believe I’ve never written on this before. Pass the relish! Although I’m tempted to write a tome on the subject, my dear, I’ll spare you and my other readers and try to keep my personal take on the subject reasonably short and in the form of a handy-dandy list.
1. No Making Googly-Eyes At Church
There was once a time when a single pastor would be introduced to every eligible gal in the parish with the thought that she’d be lucky enough to “land” his hand in marriage. Those days are long over— like, say, 100 years over. In my denomination, pastors are advised to keep their amorous eyes way out of the congregation and their mitts off their parishioners. I couldn’t agree more. People come to church seeking spiritual community, not to be romantically pursued by the minister of that community. I don’t need to tell you how much damage that kind of behavior can do: I’m sure you’ve read Marie Fortune and been as thoroughly trained in this mentality as I was. I won’t say much more about it except to say that IF a member of your congregation sends strong “I’m interested” signals and you’re interested in him/her, you should assume that one of you should leave the congregation if there is to be a dating relationship.
I don’t think this point is negotiable in the least. If you serve in a multi-staff situation in a tradition that considers it okay for pastors to date within the flock, I still don’t think it’s a good idea. Does anyone want hundreds of pairs of eyes on their relationship? What if the whole thing goes sour? Bad, bad news all ’round.
All those “romantic” stories (like the one in the novel Gilead) where the woman comes to a church and is immediately spotted by the pastor as the love of their life and they get married are mostly fantasies perpetuated by men who have been free for hundreds of years to objectify women (we’re not even GOING into other kinds of sexual abuse scenarios here, okay everyone?) who showed up at their churches.
Again, those days are over. If a fabulous, dateable lady shows up at your church and you want to date her and vice versa, have the conversation about her (or your) leaving the church pronto.
2. Yente the Matchmaker Does Not Attend Your/My Church
Our churches are not dating services for us. Therefore, there should be no encouragement of introductions to eligible single family members or friends to the single minister. We must keep our dating foibles private. When folks who know of the demise of your relationship get all fluttery about combing their address books for eligible ones for you, reassure them that that’s not their role. It really isn’t, but some folks will think it is.
HOWEVER, if church folk make it discreetly possible for you to meet someone eligible, great! They don’t have to tell you in advance that their single niece will be coming to dinner the night you’re invited. They don’t have to tell you that they gave their single co-worker a tip that their wonderful single pastor would be at the holiday party, and she should meet him.
I live in a parsonage and have a neighbor parishioner who is a big, jovial uncle type with whom I am very close. He likes to tease me whenever there’s a car in the driveway overnight, and I jokingly admonish him to keep his nosey parker self out of my business and we laugh. But once after we had had this exchange and had done wiping our eyes, he said in all seriousness, “But I do hope you’re dating someone. We all want you to be happy.”
I was quite speechless and almost brought to tears (of course, the car in the driveway almost always belongs to visiting friends or family).
The fact is, it benefits the entire congregation when a minister is happy and well-matched. My predecessor in this congregation has an amazing wife who was every bit a partner in his long pastorate and much beloved by everyone. I would dearly love to have a wife who could provide that same kind of presence and support me in the same ways.
So, hey. If our people want to help us find a great hubby or wife, more power to them. But they should not be setting up dates for us, providing us with phone numbers or telling us when we show up at new pastorates that we just “have to meet” their daughters. Discretion is paramount. Single pastors are not deficient beings who need to be “fixed;” they are not a problem to be solved, as I have seen in the more conservative denominations.
3. No “Tales Of Dating” In Sermons Or Anywhere Else
Pastors shouldn’t share much information about their love life with the congregation in the pulpit or anywhere else.
It’s fine to refer to “someone I’m seeing” in conversation and to drop hints that you’re dating someone special (it helps sensitize folks to your need for private time away from church) –and my staff always knows the basic ups and downs of my dating life (they hear when I meet someone terrific, and then they hear that there’s been a break-up) –but I don’t think that congregants should hear very much about or meet boyfriends or girlfriends until the relationship has become very serious. Some folks I’ve dated have wanted to come to church to check me out in ‘action’. Two words: NO. WAY. Not unless it’s something like Christmas Eve and the place is packed full of newcomers and they can slip in unnoticed.
4. You’re Not Meeting Your Future Spouse At Home In Front of the T.V.
Make time to nurture your social life.
Single life, as I’ve written, is particularly hard in one key way — the time and effort it takes to coordinate get-togethers with friends outside the church. Single parents in ministry can very easily get into a rut where their entire circle of relationships is church or children. Meeting someone for a dating relationship can’t happen if we don’t get out there and interact with other adults. This isn’t to say that you should be hitting the bars or any such thing, but it does mean that you should make time to do things that interest you: see live music, go to parties, explore museums or sporting events or go hiking or join the local political organizations and make it a point to go where dateable women (men where applicable) are.
5. On-Line Dating For the Pastor Crowd
Ministers are ordinary folk with ordinary needs, and single ministers who don’t want to be single forever may choose to set up on-line dating profiles. This is NO ONE’S BUSINESS BUT YOUR OWN. There is nothing illegal or immoral about putting a profile on Match.com or EHarmony or wherever, and it’s NOT YOUR PROBLEM if someone from your church or religious community sees it up there. You obviously don’t want to post photos of yourself in super-sexy outfits or say sleazy things or in any way to compromise yourself, but there’s no shame in trying to meet single people. Design your profile knowing that it may be seen by those who know you in ministry and hold your head high. You ain’t got nothing to be ashamed of.
If someone should happen to come upon your profile and comment on it, you can just say, “Oh, dating is so hard nowadays. I’m not sure how I feel about all that online stuff, but it’s really challenging finding appropriate person to date.” My mother and two of my best friends in ministry met their spouses through the personal ads and online dating. If it could happen for them, it might happen for me.
True story: a married Unitarian Universalist I saw at a denominational conference sneeringly mentioned to me in conversation that he thought my Nerve.com personal ad was “cute.” It was obvious that he really thought he had something on me. I responded, “And what were YOU doing on the Nerve.com personals?” He dropped away from of his congregation almost immediately after that. His minister has no idea why, but I have a good inkling.
6. Don’t/Do Tell Your Dates That You’re a Minister
This is a tough call. When I tell my dates/potential dates that I’m a minister, it changes everything about our interaction. Either they freak out and assume I’m a prudish Jesus-freak or they bend over backwards assuring me that “that’s cool” (causing me to defensively think, “Thanks, pal, but I actually don’t need your approval”). Some guys get an icky thrill out of it, like, “Oooh, I’m having drinks with the preacher.” Oooh, how fast can I pay my bill and get away from those creeps?
For me, the best response is “Oh really? My best friend/brother/college roommate is a minister/married a minister. What church are you with?”
Then we can proceed with the date in a normal fashion as though I’m just a normal person, which I am, and there’s often a second date after that.
7. “Separated” Is Not Single
Need I say more? We are ministers, in the business of officiating at and solemnizing marriages. I regret the times that I have dated folks who were separated and not yet divorced; I have come to the conclusion that to do so lacked integrity and made me a hypocrite in terms of my religious commitment to the sanctity of the marriage covenant. In this day and age when legal divorce can take a long time and many adults choose to enter into adulterous relationships and think nothing of flirting and giving the impression that they are truly unattached when they are quite attached, we have to draw careful boundaries for ourselves. One boundary that I have drawn is that I don’t date folks before they’re officially divorced, and I stay away from those who claim to be in “open marriages.” Marriage for me is partially defined by monogamy. If someone else wants to define it another way, they’re free to do so. But I don’t have to date them, and I won’t.
So, Minister, I hope this list is helpful to you and answers some of the questions you may have about dating. I wish you all the best in your adventures and remember: keep your friends close by in this and all things. They are the ones who know and love you and will help you return to equilibrium after the vicissitudes of the dating scene do a number on your heart and soul.
Adapted from : http://www.peacebang.com/2007/08/25/dating-etiquette-for-pastors
(edited to suit my belief)