I admit I’m a rather curious figure in Protestant circles, and doubly so for evangelical Christians in the rural Bible Belt of the South/Appalachia. Before I took a pulpit, a standard question of introduction people posed to me was “So, are you married?” Now that people know me as the minister of that church beside the funeral home, the question has morphed into “How many kids do you have?” Spot the difference? There’s a fundamental assumption being made, an inherent correlation between ordination status and marital status. “You are clergy; ergo, you are married.” One exchange with another local pastor (younger than me) ran something like this:
“So, how many kids do you have?”
“None. Not being married, I didn’t think it a good idea.”
His eyes widen as he literally takes a step back from me. “You’re . . . not married?”
Now looking at me like I had the plague: “But you’re the pastor? The senior minister?”
“Yup. I know I’m a rarity.”
“Well, yeah, but . . . I mean, when I was a youth pastor, I wasn’t married, but before I got my own church, I made sure I got a wife!”
I think I took it calmly, all things considered. Especially since this wasn’t the first time I’d had this conversation with someone. Somehow I don’t think it’ll be my last, either.
After all, my friend’s (and he is a friend) thinking is the common logic of most evangelical churches. Marriage is a qualification, a prerequisite, for ministry. Some churches take the “husband of one wife” criterion to a legalistic extreme along these lines. Many job openings for ministry positions list “married” as a job requirement. I couldn’t even apply to those. Of some I did apply for back in the day, I received emails saying, “Hey, we love your resume, you seem like a great fit, send us a family photo.” I never heard from any of them again after sending them a picture containing only myself. I watched more than a few interviewers find excuses to cut things short after I responded in the negative when asked “Are you married,” a question perfectly legal and acceptable in church hiring practices. (Corporate world, eat your heart out.)
But if finding a church willing to take a risk on a single minister was hard, let me tell you, doing the job while unwed is even harder. Every “president” needs a first lady, so to speak, and the jobs normally assigned to the long-suffering preacher’s wife must still be done — in this case mostly by me. The church is short a guaranteed volunteer, I recruit members and deacons to accompany me on visits, I routinely fail to get things made in time for potlucks, people with marriage problems are wary about speaking with me because I wouldn’t understand since I’m a bachelor . . . the list goes on. Then, after a 70-ish hour workweek, I come home to manage my household by my onesie (savvy?), doing all cooking/cleaning/administrative tasks myself.
It ain’t easy.
Now, let’s be realistic. Marriage isn’t a panacea. I don’t get out of my share of chores because I have someone else to help with them. She may work long hours, too, and let’s avoid the gender roles argument by saying one of us will have to cook but it could still be me. (I enjoy cooking, though, so there’s that, too.) No one can magically fill every need in a church or a home simply by virtue of being the preacher’s wife. It’s also both unfair and rather reprehensible to view a spouse in terms of utility, so let’s abandon that line of thought altogether.
Regardless, things aren’t horrible. I get things done, and my domicile has the reputation of always smelling like Pine-Sol (even if I don’t get to clean as much as I’d like). My church does something every church should do, and that’s make singles feel included (or at least I think we do). No one has ever disparaged my singleness, and I know of several members who have defended it to others. I’m still included socially outside of the church, and I’m friends with couples who don’t mind my third-wheeling (or who are too polite to say otherwise). This is my home, and that doesn’t change just because it’s currently single-occupancy and we can’t talk about Mrs. Preacher’s casseroles.
How about it, fellow unicorns? Is your absent wedding band a help or hindrance in your own ministry contexts?