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Archive for Community

I’m Dreaming of Expanded Ministry Opportunities for Celibate Single Christians

The singles ministry is led by a male pastor in his early 30’s who happily married quite young, had three little kids, and thinks everyone else should follow his example. The women’s retreat speaker has been married for 20 years and all of her illustrations refer to being a wife and mother. The high school youth group is run by a still-in-seminary early-20-something man who just got married two years ago, and his newly pregnant wife who helps out. The Women’s and Children’s Ministry Directors are married women with children who home schooled their kids and never had careers outside of the home. The break-out session at the parenting conference for single parents is facilitated by a middle aged married couple who blended their families from previous marriages. The entire paid counseling staff of the large church is made up of married men (a couple of women are available for an hour here or there as unpaid counselors who voluntarily counsel in the little spare time they can offer up). In fact, the entire pastoral staff is made up of married men.

When a single person does appear in paid ministry in these churches, it is usually an annoyingly energetic young man, currently in or freshly out of seminary, being groomed for future leadership in the church with the very strong expectation that they will soon get married and have kids,just like every other man on staff. A single young woman in a similar situation is never even a consideration.

This is the status quo of the churches in which I grew up and continue to be a part of. Every. Single. One of them. There may be an exception here or there in some more open minded churches, but for the vast majority of evangelicals, this is our experience.

In some denominations, most, if not all ministry is performed by single members of the clergy. Monks, priests, and nuns who took vows of service and celibacy led (and still lead) parishes and churches worldwide. They were and are respected, useful members of society and leaders in ministry. Yes, there are some who abused and continue to abuse this position (horribly and with lasting effect on those abused and the church itself), but this isn’t because they are single (married pastors are capable of just as much abuse as unmarried priests). The ability for ministers to marry is allowed in Scripture and has benefits of its own, so I get why the Protestant church pushed for that change in leadership policy. But instead of building a church body that allows married AND single men and women to minister in varied ways that utilize their skills and encourage spiritual growth across the board, the conservative evangelical church has relegated single Christians to the corners of ministry, especially single women.

Single women are encouraged to work in the nursery, or maybe the church office. Single men are encouraged to help out in youth group with the sporty stuff and help pass out the communion trays. Both are encouraged even more strongly to find Christian spouses and start “a family” as their main focus of ministry. And, for almost everything else, married men and maybe women will fill ministry roles.

So why is this? If I offered to speak at the next marriage conference, to married couples, about marriage, I’d be considered a bit nuts. So why is it that married people get to lead everything, even ministries specifically to singles? Why has marriage become a seminal part of the conscious or unconscious criteria for what it means to be a ministry-ready mature Christian? Christ was unmarried, as were Paul and Timothy and many other saints of the early church. It’s time to remember that.

Here’s what I’d like to see:

  • I’d love to see middle aged single men and women encouraged to lead the singles ministry, even hired (gasp!) to do so. If the main goal of the singles pastor is to get his parishioners married off, and to teach them how to be good future husbands and wives, then you’ve hired the wrong person for this job. If they view singleness as a temporary state to be raced through as quickly as possible, then assign them to a different ministry. We do not have singles leading married ministries, so why do we have married pastors leading singles?
  • I’d love to see youth groups invite dedicated, celibate, older-than-20-or-30-something single speakers when they discuss “purity culture” so there can be a balance to the whole “save sex until marriage” and “your virginity is for your husband/wife” message. Wouldn’t it be amazing if our teenagers realized that not everyone is actually going to get married? And that marriage isn’t actually the only way to honor God? And that celibacy is not punishment, but a form of worship? Only a single speaker can convincingly make this argument, not a married one.
  • I’d love for the next women’s retreat or conference to headline a single woman speaker rather than just have one break-out session (if any) for the singles that focuses on not wasting this valuable time until marriage (with eventual marriage assumed, of course). Let’s have sermons by women where being a wife and mother fills 10% of the illustrations instead of 100%, just every once in awhile to remind the other women that probably over 50% of adults in church actually aren’t married. Let’s have single male speakers at men’s conferences too, who can shift the focus from godly man=husband/father to godly man=godly man.
  • I’d love for every church that has a counseling program to hire a full time female counselor on staff, and why not some single ones while we’re at it? See, most of the people who turn to churches for counsel are women. And by most, it’s like 80%. Sadly, due to our culture’s weird view of masculinity, men don’t tend to ask for counseling. It’s tragic, really. But this does mean that more women are coming to churches for counseling, and most churches only have male pastors on staff to help them. They may have a few women who volunteer to counsel in between their jobs and kids and everything else, but our time is always limited, and we rarely get paid for it meaning we can’t offer as much. And, when women are not on staff at churches, the elder board will actually have zero clue what needs the women of the church actually have because they have no voice at the table. Single counselors would be awesome too, as we have a lot to offer!
  • I’d love for the next parenting conference to host a break-out session by a single teacher who can help them speak to their kids about the possibility that Prince Charming or their Disney Princess may not exist. Parents need to know that God may have chosen a path of singleness for their children, that they may not get grandkids, and that this, if it is God’s will, is truly beautiful and fine and good. Parents need to be told that putting undue pressure on their kids to find a spouse and “settle down” (as if all singles are unsettled???) is not showing trust in God. They need to know that it’s okay for them to pray for their kids’ future spouses, as long as they’re also praying for God’s will which may actually not include a spouse at all.
  • I’d love for Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries to hire single male and female professors to teach and mentor and for churches to hire full-time single Christians on staff. The next generation of Christians needs to see there are valuable places in the Christian community for singles. They need mentors who can minister differently. They need a variety of voices and perspectives pointing to the same God, using the same Scripture, loving the same body of Christ. They need to see that singleness can be used for the glory of God, that committed celibate singleness is respected, and that life is not over if you can’t find a spouse.

Inclusion of mature, dedicated, celibate single Christians is even more important in a time when we demand that same-sex attracted Christians remain celibate for life, closing themselves off to the possibility of any kind of traditional family, or marry someone they are not attracted to. We expect a woman who has never been sought after as a wife to remain faithful to God alone and find her fulfillment in Him instead of being a wife and mother, even when we preach that a woman’s highest calling is to be just that. We look at older single men in the church with suspicion. We demand a difficult commitment to purity and service, yet relegate singles to second-class status with few opportunities for Christian vocation, little respect, no possibility of paid ministry, no voice in church leadership, and ultimately a life on the fringes of the community that is meant to be our family.

The church is meant to be made up of all image bearers of God; this includes both men and women, people of every tongue and race, all socioeconomic backgrounds,  and it should also include singles as well as married Christians. If any of these are lacking, then the church is bound to not even realize the gaps in who they are not able to serve. The blind spots will be insurmountable because they won’t even know they exist. It’s time for singles to be involved in every aspect of church life, including leadership.

When an Awkward Blogger Gets Writer’s Block

I’m going to be completely transparent here – I’ve been having a difficult time coming up with ideas for The Awkward Spinster for a few months now. You may have noticed, dear readers, that my every-Monday-posting that was pretty regular for the past couple of years (with a couple of breaks here and there) has become every other week, or even once a month since the holidays. Sigh. Perhaps I’ve been embracing my inner sloth.

It’s not that I’ve been more busy than usual, or can blame the cold I had or being out of town, because that stuff has always happened. It’s mostly because I can’t come up with things to write. I don’t want to NOT write, it just keeps happening. I even have a list of ideas, but none of them seem interesting to me, and if they’re not interesting to me, I doubt I can write on them well enough to be interesting to you. I haven’t been brave enough to post if I think it’s not going to be “good enough.”

Perhaps that’s part of the problem? I know blogs are a place where writers can be more casual, where we can journal and brainstorm and freestyle, but I’ve always struggled with that side of things. My first experience in blogging was a 3 year stint writing posts for my church. My pieces had to be thoughtful, well-designed, biblically grounded, and complete. I was responsible to not only my pastors, but my church body. The other main writing I did in my life was for the school at which I taught – lessons, curriculum, chapel talks, etc. Always with an audience to whom and for whom I was responsible, always from a position of teaching.

Other than intermittent journaling throughout my entire life – mostly when I travel or am more depressed than usual – I haven’t ever just written for myself.

I’m not sure what that would even look like, not sure what my style would be if I wasn’t constantly thinking of my audience and my responsibility to them, my responsibility to my boss, school, or church, and ultimately, God.

The irony of this is that I’ve never been that important. What I’ve written has never been big or groundbreaking, it’s never had a huge audience or a publishing deal relying on it. The pressure I’ve felt is at least 70% just from me, not from these outside entities. Call it perfectionism, pride, fear of disappointing others, high standards, whatever. It’s mostly me. Isn’t that usually how these things go?

So, this year, brace yourselves; the Awkward Spinster is going to get, well, even more AWKWARD. I’m going to try to get back to my usual weekly posts, but in order to do so, they may kind of suck. Yep. Sometimes I have it in me to research, write multiple drafts, ponder an idea for days and weeks first, and put something together of which I can be proud. But other days, days like today, my blog is going to contain some “verbal vomit.” This is, after all, my blog, not a book or sermon or lesson plan. Perhaps I’ll lose some readers, and I won’t feel as important or helpful, but I think it’s better than me feeling so much pressure from myself that I just stop writing all together.

Thanks to those of you who have stuck with me along the way. Seriously, dear readers, you are much appreciated. And I hope that at least some of you will come along for the ride as I try to find my voice once I figure out how to mute some of the more judgmental ones in my head.

The Loneliness of Not Being A Priority

As the holiday season bursts into life around us, making plans becomes more and more difficult. Thanksgiving is barely over, and I’m scrambling to text, call, and email everyone to get solid dates and times for our usual December activities. Some of my frustration with this may be more about my personality than my singleness. I am, after all, a Planner with a capital P. I’ve found that not planning doesn’t work for me. I have friends in different cities to visit, ministries I’ve committed to, family where one of us always seems to be sick at any given time, and miles to drive in traffic to see everyone.

Being single, however, means that I am constantly battling all the other commitments and priorities in my loved ones’ lives. I know married people have this battle too, but they should appear toward the top of the list for their spouses, children, maybe even grandparents and in-laws. As a single person, I’m not really the top of anyone’s list. Well, maybe my mom’s, which is nice. But I’m rarely, if ever, the person other people are going to plan around. I’m the one who has to plan around them. Which is fine. Until I get tired.

The exhaustion of trying to hold all my relationships together, trying to maintain them over time and distance and through busyness, hit me like a ton of bricks today. And then my head spiraled into the melodramatic exaggerated cry of “Why doesn’t anyone prioritize me? Why don’t they commit to time with me? Why do I have to ALWAYS be the one to text, call, message, plan, and drive? Why am I the one who has to figure this all out? 

Like I said, exaggerated. Because I know I’m not the only one. Heck, my friends and family just threw me the biggest most beautiful surprise Harry Potter birthday party this summer for which I did zero planning. So, obviously, my brain is spiraling into not-quite-reality. Which happens when I’m tired and sad.

There is, however, a trend in my life of being the planner. Like I said, more of a personality thing. But my singleness seems to exacerbate this, especially during the holidays. I’m usually (not always) the person who has to text first to keep up with friends. I’m the one who has to call and say I’ll be coming to town on these dates, so can you meet up? I end up booking 4 dates a day for a 3 day period – breakfast, lunch, coffee, dinner – in order to see as many people as I can. But the thing is, I wouldn’t have to exhaust myself in doing this if others would reach out to me as well. Perhaps actually invite me over for dinner one night. I’d drive down to LA for dinner on a weeknight if anyone actually invited me. No one ever has. Not once since I moved, not without me initiating it. People in the city in which I live don’t even do this very often. Most people just don’t invite others over. Ever. 

So, it’s back to me having to squish everyone I possibly can into a hectic 2-3 day period. And then of course I can’t fit everyone. Which makes me sad. So I end up seeing the people who have responded a bit more to my reaching out and have to leave off the ones I haven’t heard from in awhile.

And it’s exhausting. I am pretty sure that if I stopped texting people first that 90% of my friendships and even some family relationships would devolve quickly into nothing but the occasional “like” or comment on social media. And not because they don’t love me, but just because I’m not a priority. Which is natural and necessary. They have spouses and children, roommates and parents, work commitments and church friends, cousins and grandparents. I actually can’t be a priority. They don’t have enough mental and emotional space for that.

I get it. It makes sense. I’m not bitter or angry. But I am tired. Tired of hearing nothing from the vast majority of those I love until I make first contact. Tired of having to invite myself over because others rarely invite me. Tired of only ever having super last minute invitations that I can’t say yes to because I made other plans, and to which I’m obviously just an afterthought. 

I try pretty hard in this blog to be the best version of myself, but today you just get a rather selfish ramble, a glimpse into the reality of the mind of this single lady. Again, I know how busy life gets. And my friends should, indeed, put their husbands and wives and children in front of me, even their jobs (we’ve all gotta pay our bills, right?); I get it. I think most single people get it. We understand. So we try to accommodate your schedules and your commitments, as well as ours. And we try to be patient. And we try to reach out so others don’t have to. We try to take things off your plates to make it easier for you to spend time with us. We try to squeeze into your lives where we can. We try to be unobtrusive and helpful.

But today, I’m tired of squeezing into others’ lives. Today, I’d just like to say no, I won’t reach out. I won’t drive hours. I won’t bend my schedule. I won’t keep texting. Today, I’d like to become a hermit, like the kind you have to climb a mountain to reach. Like if you value me, you have to come find me because I can’t come to you. I’m tired of putting in the effort.

But that’s what relationships are: effort. So I’ll keep doing it. And every few months it’ll hit me again and I’ll be sick and tired of it. But I won’t give up. It’s not in me to give up on friends. Still, I can’t deny that it would be nice to be someone else’s priority for once. To be, if not #1, at least in the top 5. Or maybe even 10. To be the person other plans get set around, instead of the person expected to bend and change for everyone else.

Just a little reminder to those of you who are married and someone else’s priority: during this holiday season, reach out to someone who doesn’t have that. Text first. Call first. Invite them over. Go to coffee. Don’t schedule them around all of your other plans, but commit to them first and plan other things around that. Please don’t forget there are many of us who could really use being made a priority, even if it’s just for an hour or two.

Paper Cuts, Singleness, and Politics

Since school started up again a few weeks ago, my hands are covered in little paper cuts. As a book-wielding librarian, these little slices are the inevitable collateral damage. In the midst of a busy class, I often don’t even notice when a page I’m turning or a plastic book cover has broken the skin until after the kids file out of the library and I glance down to see yet another angry red slash on my fingers. In that moment, when noticed, the pain finally hits and can take days to heal enough to no longer irritate me.

Similarly, these past couple of years, I feel like I’m walking around with little barely-there slices and dices out of my heart, my soul, myself.

A much beloved former student reposts a meme about how untrustworthy all single people are, how married folks need to avoid us lest we seduce them away from their spouses. Supportive comments follow, mostly by men, all affirming the truth of this ridiculous cliché. And it cuts.

Kavanaugh lies and dissembles before the senate and is defended and even praised by people I know, people who claim to love God and love others. He would never assault a woman because he’s such a “good” guy. And why didn’t she report it? And if he did . . . it was just a youthful indiscretion. And if we start holding all men accountable for the dumb things they do as teenage boys, where would we be? These slices hurt more than you initially think possible, endlessly causing pain and discomfort. Even when I’m not thinking about it directly, the pain lingers.

The mother waiting for her child to finish his AR test after school strikes up small talk by asking me how old my kids are. I flinch, awkwardly not knowing how to respond, confused by this out-of-nowhere assumption. When I reply that I don’t have any kids, she looks at me with confusion, then surprise, then pity. One more slash.

Alums from my graduate school days post unwavering support for a divisive, unnecessary, and incredibly problematic statement made by many modern American evangelical pastors and leaders against social justice. Another furrow gashes my heart.

I know many people who would just call me a Snowflake and tell me to suck it up. They’d look at my sliced up self and scoff, thinking I must be weak and overly sensitive, a SJW who just needs to lighten up. But the minute I question the church’s idolatrous views of marriage, the GOP’s continued support of irrational, abusive, but powerful men, or the shirking of the church’s mandate to love its neighbor, I am faced with people questioning my faith, my character, and my intellect in shocked, offended tones.

What’s so wrong about being sensitive to others? I’m a Christian forgiven and beloved by God, a school librarian who works with little children, and a counselor who helps those in the darkest of times – shouldn’t sensitivity be a requirement in my life? Can’t that sensitivity strengthen my resolve to fight for what is right and good and just? Shouldn’t I be a warrior for all kinds of justice?

I am an educated, middle class, employed, white woman living in a first world country with a supportive family. If I walk through each day like the walking wounded, bracing myself for the next injury, flinching at each attack, I cannot imagine what life must be like right now for those with less privilege.

So each day, I walk through life with tiny open wounds – not enough to kill or cause permanent damage, but enough that even tiny movements are felt, every flex of my fingers may make me wince. Each turn of the page reminds me that my skin is breakable, that I’m at risk. I used to be tougher, better able to ignore all the incisions, but now I’m just tired and sore.

So each day, I apply bandages to these injuries, to protect myself. I fortify myself with prayer and Scripture. I deleted Twitter. I stopped going to small group at church. I give myself permission to block or mute people on social media so they cannot continue to wound me or my readers. I read fewer news articles. I seek out podcasts and sermons that lift my eyes to the Lord. I cling to my family and friends. I check to make sure I’m registered to vote. I co-facilitate GriefShare each week, and grieve deep losses with those who suffer deeper wounds than mine. I listen to music that lifts up my soul. Little things that help me heal. Band-aids and plasters to cover up the cruelty of this world. I know these paper cuts are part of our broken world, inevitable and unstoppable, but I still pray for a day when fewer of them are caused by those of us who claim faith in Christ.

Assumptions Make an Ass out of . . . Well . . . Me

As I sat down at the table with 4 other women at my new(ish) place of employment, all the socially awkward nerves fluttered in my belly, making my I’m-trying-to-leave-enough-for-everyone-else tiny scoops of salad and apparently-one-more-than-everyone-else tiny pieces of cheese bread no longer seem appetizing. They all seemed to know each other well, and quickly proceeded to dive into a conversation across the table about the various sports in which their children are involved. Neither having children nor interest in sports, I tried to look approachable and pleasant as I sat there with little to contribute. Until the moment one of the women turned to me, recognized my first name from elementary school (Fawn tends to stick in people’s minds), and proceeded to ask one of the more awkward questions I’ve gotten:

“Fawn . . . Fawn . . . hmmm . . . and what was your maiden name again?”

Flustered by a question I’ve literally never been asked before, I sputtered something along the lines of “um, Kemble? I mean, it’s the same. Kemble. I mean I don’t/didn’t have a maiden name?” And I may have vaguely pointed to the prominent work nametag I had on my shirt proudly proclaiming “Miss Kemble” in a room full of Mrs.

Returning to work at a school I attended as a child, in a city I’ve been away from for over a decade has been an interesting experience. And while I’ve been met with nothing but kindness, an adorable library to make my own, and excited students, I’ve also been met with an endless pit of awkward questions.

I get it. I’m vaguely recognizable to many people here. My mom taught here for a bit. My dad was beloved in one of the local churches, and a couple local businesses. And I attended church and school there until, well, until I didn’t. So the assumptions make sense. In this world where our city likes to pretend it’s a small town, and this protective local white evangelical bubble many never left, assumptions hold a certain logic.

“And what grade are your kids in?” Most of the people who work for this school have or once had children (plural, almost always plural) who go or went to this school. Makes sense. You get a discount if you’re on staff. So my “oh, I don’t have kids” often leads to looks of surprise and even confusion.

“What year did you graduate from here, again?” leads to my awkward grimace and the “um . . . well . . . I didn’t graduate from here. I graduated from one of the local public schools. I left here in the middle of my freshman year.” This one either entirely shuts down the conversation, or requires further explanation on my part which I usually answer partially, relying on my family’s poverty and inability to pay for private education once my mother no longer worked there. I don’t go into the rest of it, as I just met these people (or re-met them after 15+ year) and am pretty sure they wouldn’t like my full answer.

There are also the well-meaning yet slightly painful references to my parents, and how much they were loved back in the day, and by the way, how are they? Which requires my stuttered reply along the lines of, “ah, well, yes, um, my dad died? When I was 24? It’ll be 16 years ago this month. But mom’s good, she’s retired and loving being a grandma . . . “

There’s the “and what does your husband do?” question. And the surprised “you look a lot younger than you are!” when my reply to their “don’t worry, there’s still time to get married and have kids” is “I’m 40 and pretty sure it’s not going to happen, and am pretty content with that.”

And, since I’m now a librarian instead of a teacher, there’s the inevitable teacher-splaining from other educators who expect all non-teaching staff to be less educated/experienced and are therefore shocked when I say “when I was a classroom teacher for 8 years . . . “ or “when I was getting my Master’s degree . . . “ or “actually, the latest research in early childhood education says . . . “ And I know I shouldn’t do that, that I’ve got nothing to prove or whatever. But I kind of do have something to prove, don’t I? Prove that I’m worthy of the job I’ve been given. That I know what I’m talking about when it comes to their kids. Prove that there is thought and research and experience behind my decisions in the library.

That’s the thing about assumptions. When they’re made about me because I am in a conservative Christian environment in a “small” (not small at all) “town” (actually a city), I end up having to awkwardly defend myself for not aligning with them. I didn’t adore each and every moment as a student here, graduate from the high school, go on to Christian college, get married young, have babies, slap an NRA sticker on the back of my SUV or truck, vote republican, buy a MAGA hat, remodel my house from Hobby Lobby in the style of Chip and Joanna Gaines, and invest in a month’s supply of capri pants.

Okay, so I guess I have some assumptions about others to break through myself.

I guess we all have to deal with assumptions made about us by others. Married, or single, parents or childless, old or young, liberal or conservative, men or women, we are all viewed through other people’s expectations. I’m working on trying to remove the cultural lens through which I view people, and replace with the love and grace of Christ. For each person is Christ’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10) and bears the image of God (Genesis 1:27). The only assumption I should make is that every person I come across is the beloved child of my heavenly father. Cheesy, yes, but wouldn’t that be an amazing way to see the world?

What are some of the assumptions you’ve had made about you, and how did you respond?