Single Parent Faith

Friday, March 25, 2011

Online Dating Pastor

A couple of yrs ago I met a guy who was a divorced pastor. Strangely enough he recognized me from a photo in an online dating service. I only put 1 photo on the site, as I typically do, to minimize being recognized out in public. Ironically, that was enough for him to pick me out of a sea of people in a very large crowd, one Sunday morning.

As the large slow moving crowd piled out of church, I noticed this good-looking guy standing next to me, smile at me. So, I smiled back of course.

He then said “I know this sounds like a cliché, but you look familiar to me.”

He didn’t look familiar to me. After a very short moment he exclaimed: “Are you on the dating site?”

I was shocked. Out of all photos and people on the site, he would remember me. I of course didn’t recall his face. After further discussion, there was good reason! He didn’t post a picture. He remembered that I didn’t respond to his email. Amazingly, I remembered his email. I can’t remember why now, as I look back on this day, but there was something that made me recall it.

 “Yeah! My policy is no picture, no response,” I said with a mischievous smile.

At this point I’m thinking, Hmm, this must be a God thing. The chances of running into each other in a very crowded city, and in a very large church!

After a short talk, he invited me to coffee and we met later that day. I was so ready to meet a man with God in his heart, and here he shows up, a pastor no less!  I was definitely excited. After so many prayers and years preparing myself, I thought this was it, perhaps this is my answer from above.

Because he was a pastor, I thought he would be more spiritually enlightened and in touch with God’s purpose, than I am. I came to learn that he carried a lot of shame and embarrassment regarding being divorced, some 3 yrs now.  

“People expect more from me, and I expect more from myself.  At the time of my divorce,  I resigned from being pastor of a church in Las Vegas.”

After several conversations with him, the predominant and consistent theme in all his communication was this shame he was burdening himself with.

At one point I leveled with him and said:
“You say you want to move on and remarry one day. I don’t know if you realize this, but you have not forgiven yourself about this divorce. You are still carrying that around your neck like an albatross. Until you can reckon with it, you will probably scare off women who want a healthy relationship.”

“No, I disagree. I have forgiven myself.”

“I’m just sharing what’s clear to me as an outsider looking in. You may not realize it, but you are coming across this way.”

“I have done a lot of work and am now at peace with this. Though it was hardest on my sons when my wife left.”

Okay. Never mind, don’t mind my observation.

He was also consumed with talk about starting another church. He felt God was directing him to get back to it. He talked about his network of pastors and how he was just waiting to be asked to start a church. It was his dream and desire. He  was quick to say it was God calling him to do this. Granted, I just met the guy, but I sensed he was full of himself and what he wanted. I did not sense humility.  And the fact that he ignored my observation began to indicate that he did not have an open heart to growing, despite what his words would say.

He talked about wanting to remarry, but I got the feeling he was looking to check the box. Meaning, it was just something on his checklist of what “he wanted.” I would love to marry again some day. But I don’t pursue it like a goal, which once checked (completed) I move on to the next goal on the list. He was disconnected emotionally, and was focused on one thing: attaining a church to start up. He admitted that the divorce led to an opportunity to get closer to his children, and that his relationship with them was better than ever. Yet, he was ready to leave his kids to move to another state to start a church.

As an outsider looking in, this didn’t seem to me as a “Holy” thing. It seemed more like an “ego” thing.

I’m a firm believer that there are always blessings that sprout from tough and terrible times. I think that his period of being divorced, could be used in a God way.
I shared my thoughts about that.

“My experience as a divorced person having visited many churches, is that I am invisible. Churches rarely address the subject of divorce. When they do, they typically do so from a shame perspective. I still periodically hear pastors refer to “broken” homes in the context of divorce. What’s so broken about the love I have for my daughter and she has for me? I tell you, I have seen more “brokenness” in homes where there are 2 parents, than divorced homes. There’s so much relationship and family dysfunction. Do they get a free pass because they show up wearing a wedding band and are not divorced? ”

I was on a roll….

“Do you want to know why I am not a member of a church? Because I will become a member when I find a church that doesn’t ignore the ever large community of single parents. The church which preaches sermons relevant to us, which are motivating and encouraging, not full of finger wagging.

I don’t think you see the very unique position you are in. Maybe God wants to use you to address his overlooked children. You can speak from an authentic place. I would love to hear someone who’s been there, talk about this. Not a married guy who’s never been divorced, talking about something he has no personal experience with. You have a unique perspective and your words would have credibility. Divorced people are likely to listen to what you have to say.”

I have visited many churches where they miss the great population of divorced or single parents, because it’s a taboo subject that most don’t touch with a 10 ft pole. In churches we are a minority. The silent minority. But in the social spectra, divorced and single parents are a growing majority. Here we are in the 21st century, and we are the unacknowledged. To acknowledge us may mean to them that they condone divorce.

I rarely hear the word “divorced” or “single parents” when in church. Instead,  I hear the word “Singles” bantered about with ease.  Every time I hear “Singles” I ask myself, has he lumped the divorced and single parents into that word? That word sounds like a safe and generic enough word to use. I keep hanging on every word, hopeful that we may be acknowledged, even if it’s a slip of the tongue. The words are very metered and precise, so I can’t imagine it’s a coincidence that an overwhelming number of sermons rarely include “single parents” and even rarer still, “divorced” terms.

“I don’t know about that. I feel called to start up a church.” He said, without acknowledging the relevance of what I shared. Ironically, here he is representative of church clergy, and he doesn’t acknowledge me, nor himself for the status he currently wears.

I continued, “Sometimes I have felt God calling me to do something, and it was my desire that was in the driver’s seat. I’m not proporting to be knowledgeable of what God is directing you to do, but I am suggesting that you consider that maybe God wants to use you in a way that reaches so many who stay away from church because, like me, they don’t feel a sense of “belonging.”

I don’t recall his exact words, but he basically dismissed all I said and was not receptive. I dropped it. What’s the point?

I still think our meeting is a God thing, Sometimes people come in for us to share an observation, share something that may stir them. But ultimately they must think it valuable, because otherwise it falls on death ears.

The next time he called me, it was to say, “I have great news! I received a call from a pastor in Las Vegas, a good friend of mine who wants me to pastor a new church he plans on building.”

“Congratulations, this is what you wanted.”

“Sorry about the timing in all this. We were just starting to get to know each other.”

“No worries. Every thing happens for a reason. But how about your youngest son? The one you said needed you at this time in his life? Are you taking him with you?”

“No. I think it will be better for him to stay here with his grandparents. I already talked about this with him and he wants me to take this position.”

He added, “I’ll email you when I get there.”

For me, I had not emotionally invested myself in this man. He made that very easy. He was emotionally aloof and it was clear that he didn’t respect my views or opinions.

So when he never emailed me, nor stayed in touch, I did not think more about it. Some 10 months later, he called me to say, “I’m back from Las Vegas. Things didn’t work out as planned. The church never got underway as planned and my son had a lot of difficulty while I was gone.”

I searched his heart to see if he was more open hearted, but I saw no change.

He invited me to meet sometime for coffee, but frankly, I didn’t want to go down the dead end road with him. Sometimes all we need to walk is a short path with someone. When we force something more, or lengthen the stay, it’s self-destructive.  I’m not about making him (a stranger who demonstrated his heart was not open or humble to allow me in), more important than taking care of me. 
Ella Venezia


  1. I'm a firm believer in Ecclesiastes 3 - there is a time for everything! And in that, there is a time allotted for each person we meet....some for a lifetime, some for the short term, some only briefly, and some perhaps a passing smile. But, it's what we DO with our time that is important...pass on the love of Christ. My mom gave me a cross stitch picture before she died that she made back in '84. It says "It matters not how long we live, but how!" No truer words!!!

    I have known pastors such as this one you speak. I quit going to a church last fall for this very reason. The pastor ALWAYS talked about what was going on in HIS life & how much HE wanted to do stuff. He's a full time pastor, attending school, THEN signed up to be an Army Chaplain in order to secure benefits for his family that he wasn't getting through the church. And every time I tried to volunteer to help out at the church, I was always put off with "well, we have to check this" or "we have to find that". I basically determined that he is self-absorbed & loved to make himself so grandiose! Can't picture that type of person SERIOUSLY doing God's work.

    This guy you're talking about definitely sounds the same. SHOCKER that things "didn't work out". God blocked the path. He won't go far because he's not LISTENING to where God is truly calling him, or to someone such as yourself offering him insight. If he were, he would have responded to you something like, "well, thank you for that input. I will definitely have to consider that & give it some serious prayer." He already had his mind made up LONG before he ever talked to you. Truthfully, I'm betting he wasn't even listening & simply day dreamed through your part of the conversation (or was formulating in his mind already what he was going to say in return).

    As far as divorced families being recognized by the church, I agree in part. I don't want to have any attention drawn to me & my situation just because I'm divorced & a single parent. I figure people can figure that out on their own if they bother to get to know me. God will reach out to me in whatever manner He needs to in order to get His message to me. Or He will put people in my path that He wants me to reach out to them with the experiences I've had & what I can share & encourage them. I do that quite a lot on my other blog ( I am who I am & have been blessed through what Christ has done for me. However, I agree completely that there are some seriously dysfunctional families out there where both parents are at home. Mine was like that. It was SO incredibly unhealthy for my kids. Yes, even though it's really tough as a single parent, at least I can do it now with God's peace & grace....where that was incredibly difficult to do when we were all together. There was NO peace then, not for me & certainly not for my kids.

    And to leave his son with the grandparents for some 10 months? Don't even get me started!!

    Ella, I'm so glad God crossed our paths. You bring a smile to my face, or an outright laugh, and encouragement & insight & introspective thought always!

    Blessings ~ Merana

  2. The scenario you described was very similar to one I had, unfortunately I became invested. Now he is on wife#4 and is a youth minister. You had the wisdom to think about what he said and what he did (actions speak louder than words) before emotionally investing yourself. I learned some hard lessons but I know that I'm better for it now.

  3. Merana- I too feel blessed that we have met albeit through a blog. Again, I am moved by your frank open heart. Thank you for your comment.

    Like you, my intent when I listen to a sermon is not to have attention drawn to me. When I expressed my desire, I see now that it would not work well for small churches where there may only be 1 or a handful of single parents. Then I could see the result being one feels singled out. All heads turning to you, if you will.

    I believe it’s a topic that very large churches–the mega churches–could handle. In a church where there are hundreds in attendance, there is a greater audience in attendance that fits the demographic, or has friends/family who do.

    I think when we “don’t” discuss a topic, it brings more attention to it. The absence of addressing it is suspect. It doesn’t sound Christ-like to leave out a demographic. We are still His children. Many fear and shirk away from what they don't understand. If churches don’t discuss this topic, then it feeds this fear. Fear is born of ignorance. It is the church’s job to instruct us to love all. And how to do that in practical terms.
    Simply discussing it is not delivering love. One must do so without judgment, and it must be with the intent to encourage and love those struggling through this life moment, and instructing the non-single parents how to lovingly reach out to single parents in their community.

    There are so many single parents out here with no family within commuting distance, that can use the support and love of our church community. Other than the polite smiles and “Good Morning!” that’s the extent of the “love” …… it’s like the proverbial, “Let’s do lunch.”

    Glad you brought up that God speaks and encourages us through many people he puts in our path. I have experienced that too many times to count. Many times I've been obedient to His urgings and tried to be that for those in my path. A humbling and beautiful experience. Every time I feel God's presence, love and grace, through these experiences. And through these moments I am able to see how precious we are all to Him. That's why I'm perplexed why churches treat this topic as they do.

    Be Blessed!- Ella

  4. Alvarado-
    Welcome to my blog! So happy you are following me. I went to yours and see that you share extremely helpful information for aspiring authors, such as myself. I'm now a "follower" of yours.

    I'd like to claim that I was "soooo smart" in avoiding this one, but truth be told, I only prevented this potential train wreck because of the countless years of train wrecks that I "did not" prevent.

    I applaud you for getting to where you are now. Many Blessings in life and in your authoring career!- Ella


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