When everyone at church thinks you’re single

024“I don’t feel like talking much today,” I said to him as I shut the passenger side door.

He nodded at me over the top of the car. “It’s okay. You don’t have to be anyone but you.”

It was a rare occurrence. Here it was 1pm on a Sunday and the two of us were together. Not only were we together but we were spending our precious lunch hour going to a barbecue at my associate pastor’s house. An associate pastor who just learned my name. And probably didn’t even know I was married until today. Why would he? I worshiped alone most Sundays.

One has a lot of pre-mature ideas about marriage before actually walking a day in her one-flesh-colored shoes. I took my husband’s last name and then gave it back. I was against the division of labor and now I refuse to let him do the laundry. I begged him to move across the country but I’m the one who acts like every day we stay put is a revelation. To be blunt, I don’t always know what I want till I’m tarred thick with the weight of it and breathing my way through a straw.

I wanted to worship wherever I chose.

I waited for Rush to come around the car and timed my gait to fall in line behind his. He knows I do this at social gatherings, pretend like I’ve seen some bird in a branch so I don’t have to be the first to enter a room. Or if I happen to reach the front door first, I open the door for him like any chivalrous wife would, only it’s a ruse, of course, to avoid the spotlight. He knows, but with him, I get to be me and everyone thinks I’m all the more charming for it.

An awkward woman without a husband? Well, she’s just the picture of unfulfilled longing, or so it feels. Is this how my single friends feel, too, when they walk into a church?

I don’t always like to mention right up front that I’m married. Not because I’m hiding anything really, but because I want people to pay attention to my words and not the picture of my life that may or may not be behind them. And besides, I’ve been the victim of one too many men who’ve inserted some off-handed comment about their wives precisely when we’ve started to get chummy. Like I was flirting. And he was worried.

A couple months back, I found myself sitting next to a woman in her forties or fifties at a church gathering. She mentioned two of her kids were adopted, so I leaned in close and smiled. “It’s a possibility that’s been on my heart.” She smiled back, her eyes pooling in sympathy, and said, “Yes, dear. But are you married?” I quickly assured her I was. “And does your husband feel the same way?” she prodded. Now I was sure she was feeling sorry for me, a pious woman with all these hopes and dreams that my louse of a husband just couldn’t share; how could he if I couldn’t even get him off the couch to come to church with me?

Sometimes I am the biggest sexist in the room. I assume that I am being stereotyped, and then I wind myself into a strait-jacket to prove that I am not that, this is not that.

I wanted to worship with my husband.

But there is only one car, and he is in it on Sunday. He is a pastor, after all, a pastor with a twelve-hour day.

I got one of those hours with him at the barbecue. And I didn’t have to talk to everyone in the room and I had someone to ask, “Can I get you another plate of anything?” and I could look at his watch and say, “He has to get back to work.” My associate pastor even pulled up a chair next to him and made a real effort. I wondered if he felt more at ease with me now that I had a man beside me. I wondered if this was that.

When Rush dropped me off at home, our dog was perched in the window wondering why we weren’t both coming in together.

“Do you have your keys?” he asked. “I’ll wait until you get in.”

I looked back at him and whispered, “The world. This meant the world,” before sticking my flesh-colored flats into the drizzle of a rainy Sunday.

6 responses to “When everyone at church thinks you’re single

  1. While it may suck for people to think you’re single, or that you have a louse of a husband, more power to you for worshiping where you choose. My husband is a pastor too, and I, like you, also have a degree in Theology, though mine is an M.Div. When we moved two years ago to follow his call, his church was the only community we knew, and it did seem important to me for us to share a church home (even more so now that we have a 6 m/o son). But I still wrestle every week with going to worship at the church my husband serves, because it’s not a church I would choose to go to if it were just up to me – it just doesn’t feed my soul in the way I know somewhere else could.

    • Katherine,

      Yes! I can so relate. There’s not a perfect solution and I do think having children changes things. I especially wonder what husband and wife pastors do when they have separate congregations. Rush and I have found that having one shared ministry we do together keeps us feeling sane and connected.


  2. Love this. Such an important thing to address.

  3. Mmmm, yes. Love this. Definitely my experience, as my husband serves as associate to a gigantic congregation where I was particularly anonymous. It was especially awkward when I was pregnant and alone sitting in the pews. i could feel some pitying looks. And after some Christmas staff event, some well-meaning church ladies on staff said to my husband, “Oh THAT’S your wife! We were wondering who that expecting woman was.” Yeesh. I’m sure this will all change in a few months when we move to rural Alamance County, live in a small parsonage 30 feet from the church, where Dave will be the solo pastor of a small congregation. No sleeping in on Sundays and no anonymity there. But maybe I look forward to that a little bit? We’ll see. Love your writing, Erin!

    • Heather,

      You raise a good point about the blessing and curse of anonymity. My husband and I lived in a church parsonage our first two years of marriage that was basically in the chapel’s backyard! It was nice to have a feeling of immediate belonging and for the most part I was given the freedom to trail off when I needed to. I trust that there will be many unforeseen blessings for you, too, in your new home!


  4. reluctantpilgrim

    you are such a lovely writer….

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