Book cover - How to Be a Minister's Wife and Love It!

Ask a Young Clergy Woman: Pastor’s Spouse Edition

Post Author: Askie

Book cover - How to Be a Minister's Wife and Love It!

Lovely sentiment, but not quite right for YCWs’ spouses!

Dear Askie,

My wife graduated seminary last June and has been in the search-and-call process for the last several months. (Or maybe forever? It feels like forever.) She’s getting ready for a candidating weekend with a great church now, and I’m starting to think more seriously about what our life will be like once she is working as a pastor. Both of our churches growing up had male pastors whose wives were very traditional “pastor’s wives”… teaching Sunday school, singing in the choir, organizing social events, that kind of thing. I think the pastor’s wife at my childhood church spent as much time at church as the pastor did! I’d love to be involved at my wife’s church, but I’m not really sure what that looks like. I’ll work at a full time job, and I don’t think they want me organizing the Women’s Fellowship luncheons anyway. Any advice?

The Pastor’s Husband

Dear Pastor’s Husband,

Prayers for you in this time of discernment and transition! You’re right to be thoughtful and cautious as you prepare to step into the role of the clergy spouse. As you figure out how you want to live into that role, it’s possible that the congregation will also be figuring out how to have a pastor whose family configuration is different from that of previous pastors.

Pastors are still trying to shake the idea that we are a “package deal” with our families. Too often, churches assume that the pastor’s spouse will function as a part-time (or full-time) unpaid employee. Hopefully you know this, PH, but just to say it: your wife’s congregation is not entitled to your time, your participation, or your labor. In fact, some pastors’ spouses go to a different church altogether in order to try to avoid these murky waters. That’s a fine choice, although fraught in its own ways. (It’s likely to raise eyebrows and cause confusion, and many pastors appreciate the support their spouse provides by their presence.) Other couples find that they really do want to share a church home, and work out various ways to navigate the pastor-and-spouse roles and expectations.

As you get started, PH, Askie would advise that you wade in gradually. Start out by just attending worship, and perhaps an event here and there. No committees, no volunteering, and don’t show up to every event. It will be much easier for you to take on more later than to cut back if you find you’re doing too much.

If you encounter unrealistic expectations, as most clergy spouses do at some point, feel free to reject them firmly. You don’t have to be pastoral, although it would be good to be as gracious as you can manage. It might be helpful for you to acknowledge that in the past, “the pastor’s wife” was a significant role (in an era when families could typically manage on a single income), and to name that those days are past. Perhaps you could join your fellow congregants in wishing that you had more time to devote to the church, while being clear that you just don’t. Or you could crack a joke about Women’s Fellowship luncheons. Regardless, PH, try not to get sucked into guilt and obligation. You’re not going to be able to satisfy congregants who reminisce about the role of the pastor’s wife—they’re mourning an era, not just wishing you would do more.

As you get acclimated, you may find that you’re drawn to take on more. Hopefully, you can discern around that in the way that any congregant might: thinking about where your interests, skills, and gifts intersect with the church’s needs. Hopefully you will not be excessively pressured to take on squillions of thankless tasks because “you’ll be here anyway.” (If that happens, Askie suggests making yourself a bit less reliable. Alternatively, you could join the choir or some other activity that occupies your time while the thankless tasks are taking place.)

There are a few activities that you would be well-advised to avoid, even if you have the skills and gifts to do them: stay away from the Board/Session/Council, stay away from the personnel committee, and try not to put your hands on money (either actual physical cash or the budget). There are too many conflicts of interest and opportunities for scandal, and it’s just not worth it.

If you find you don’t especially want to get more involved in the church, PH, that’s fine too! Loving and supporting your wife in her ministry is a real and substantial gift to the church, and if all you do is sit in the pew on Sunday, pour your wife a glass of wine at the end of a stressful day, and make sure that she eats a couple of square meals during Holy Week, that would be a meaningful contribution.

Prayers for you and your wife as you start this journey, Pastor’s Husband. May your life in the church be free from unrealistic expectations and full of joy, and may you be a blessing to the church as well.


Image by: Askie
Used with permission
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