I keep reading in well-meaning articles about how the Church relies so much on singles, because it was built on it–especially single women. After all, single women are servants to the church, and the most reliable of servants. Churches teach us to have Mary’s heart, but expected to work like Martha. Which brings me to my objection…single women are servants to the church, not slaves to it., and it creates a situation where we have to learn about creating boundaries in church.
So why this Mary-Martha conundrum? It’s a bit of a twisted thinking, really. First, when most churches say that singles built the church, they really want to say that they believe single MEN built the church. If you read through the New Testament, women don’t really have prominent roles after Jesus’ ascension. I get it. Men assembled the Bible and wrote the epistles. For centuries, patriarchal societies allowed only men to tell the stories from pulpits. We can analyze that one all day and for years…so let’s no go down that rabbit hole right now, because we’ve got enough to deal with.
The resulting consequence of the erasure of women from these prominent roles in Biblical stories (and from history as a whole, let’s be honest), is that men start to get this idea that THEY are the ones who did all the work. Never mind the good old saying, “teamwork makes the dream work,” eh? However, there were plenty of women involved in building the church, and building the churches we know and love. We may not know all their names and faces, but they were there.
Therein lies one of the problems in this patriarchal and outdated viewpoint. Too many single women are expected to do the work that keeps the church moving, but they must do so in an invisible manner. Sure, we are all called to servanthood. That’s just an expectation of our faith. No one should be expecting gold medals or call-outs from the pulpit.
However, we cannot keep going to churches were we are expected to do work, work, and more work to keep the church operating while we are not being spoken to from the pulpit. Again, single women are servants to the church, not slaves to it.
The excuses for this over emphasis on single women giving all of themselves to the church has its roots in so many fallacies. The biggest one? No family obligations. Oh, really? Some of us are single moms or have older parents that we care for at home. There are those of us with pets (and they do take work). Many single women are the only breadwinners in our household, and we have to work full time hours.
Another excuse is that it gives us a chance to meet single men. Oh really? Because so many single men our age are volunteering in the nursery where you’ve placed us? Or cooking in the kitchen for the church barbecue? Oh, wait…they’re also volunteering to send out invitations for the church auction? Nope. Women are much much more involved in these activities. Plus, there are far more women attending church than men anyhow. After a certain age, men really aren’t doing these things, either.
I’ve also heard horribly rude excuses, too. Sometimes we’re asked to do this background work for the church because it will keep us away from the married men. Oh yes, I said it. We’re just too much of a temptation for those married men, and the wives are fearful of us Jezebel-like single women. If you can’t hear my eyes rolling, they are. As if we’ve just been holding out our whole lives for a married man.
Boundaries in Church Mean Asks Not Expectations
Sometimes the work is just expected of us. No one even asks if it’s okay. This is where the harsh reality sets in, and we have to really learn about creating boundaries in church. If we say no to volunteering, suddenly we’re made to feel so guilty. Like our singleness means we have no life outside of the church, so why can’t we do the work? As if we are nuns who took a vow to live our lives for the church itself.
I’m tired of reading articles that tell me how important I am to keeping the church running because my singleness is a gift to the church. It’s not a gift to the church. It is a gift God gave me. My story behind my singleness is mine, but it doesn’t belong to any church. It belongs to me and God. No church owns my singleness or my time. It doesn’t own yours either. Boundaries!
Now, I don’t want to discourage anyone from getting in some Martha time. I loved my time in youth ministry, and I wouldn’t have given it up for the world. I just want everyone to know they can say no. They don’t have to be slaves to their church, because the church doesn’t own them. There is a difference between faith and the church, and a difference between giving yourself to Jesus and giving yourself to the church.
We are busy single women. We have jobs. Our single lives are just as full and fulfilling as our married churchgoers have. Just because we want to help doesn’t mean we have to help, which is what creating boundaries in church is all about. It’s about us setting the rules that we have set with God, not rules that the church arbitrarily sets. Single women are servants to the church, not slaves to it. We need to remind people of that.