- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2001

At the end of a pleasant date one evening, Richard Chizever did something shocking.

He kissed his date good night.

She, of course, was astonished.

"Oh my God," she said. "I don't believe I'm kissing a rabbi."

"Yeah, you are," he said. "It's pretty good, isn't it?"

Both Mr. Chizever and his date chuckled at his ready response, but the young rabbi wasn't laughing inside.

"It hurts me that I'm considered 'the other,' " says Mr. Chizever, 32, assistant rabbi at Congregation Etz Chaim in Marietta, Ga. "I'm a normal single guy… . I'm just like everybody else, except I'm a rabbi."

Mr. Chizever's frustration is shared by other members of the clergy across the country; single men and women who enjoy their work but find it difficult to connect socially and romantically with people who find them intimidating and unapproachable. Their feelings are supported by a 1994 study by the Hartford Seminary in Connecticut that reports few clerics think their profession benefits their love life. In fact, most of those surveyed agreed their work as pastors hurts their chances of finding love.

Just ask the Rev. Cynthia Vaughan, associate pastor of Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church in Atlanta, who has watched potential dates freeze when they learn she's a minister.

"I can see them doing a mental checklist," says Miss Vaughan, 49. "They try to reflect on what has been said … since they've met me to see if they've done something that they, in their mind, should not have done."

It was a problem, she says, even with longtime friends who wondered how they should talk to her after she was ordained.

Miss Vaughan had an answer that she still uses today.

"I tell them, 'My name is Cynthia and I take my calling seriously, but it's not for me to judge you.' "

Such candor, however, doesn't help her when dealing with the fragile male ego. She thinks many men aren't secure enough to marry a female minister.

"The man would not be the focal point" in such a relationship, she says. "Society says the man is supposed to be in power and in control."

Miss Vaughan has managed to carve out a successful career as a single pastor. But many clerics aren't as lucky. They often struggle when congregants start to wonder whether they should heed the marital and child-rearing advice of someone who is single and never been a parent.

And the portrayal of clerics in movies and television hasn't helped.

"I don't know of any movies that depict us as regular folks," says the Rev. Zack Martin, pastor of Northwoods United Methodist Church in Doraville. "We're always stereotyped as the doddering old man, either widowed or a pathetic figure, but never as young."

Mr. Martin, 30, says he often feels out of place at gatherings of clergy because he's one of the few people without a spouse at such meetings, and he also has difficulty in the "real" world with some people who can't see past his title.

Factor in the demands of the job most clerics are always on call and often live life in a fishbowl and the chances of meeting a prospective mate grow even dimmer.

And then there are the prospective dating partners who only want to treat single clerics as counselors or theological consultants but not as friends.

"You become their pastor instead of their date," he says.

It only grows worse when such people actually attend Mr. Martin's church. He recalls administering the sacraments at different times to two women he once dated. The relationships all quickly stalled.

"They said they felt weird because I was a religious authority," Mr. Martin says.

All these problem areas often leave some clerics feeling lonely.

Don Saliers, a professor of theology at Emory University, says there are precautions single clergy members can take to reduce feelings of isolation.

He suggests that pastors and other religious leaders cultivate friendships outside their congregations so they won't be consumed by work. He also says clerics need to allow themselves to be human and not become the holier-than-thou symbol that some congregants may prefer.

Mr. Chizever has a similar attitude. Whenever he feels as if he's about to be imprisoned in a clerical cage, he rattles the bars a bit to break free. He's even been known to enjoy the occasional beer.

"Oh my, the rabbi is having a beer," he recalls a congregant chiding him once.

"And you know what?" Mr. Chizever says he told her after taking a swig. "When I'm done with this, I'm going to have another."

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