When I was a youth, I was very involved in church, and I have a vague memory of people appreciating my eagerness to grow spiritually. Then I went to college, and I got really involved in campus ministries. And again, everyone was enthusiastic about my participation. Next I went to seminary, where I met my husband. When we went to church, people were just tickled that we, so young, were around and actively involved.
Then my husband started being appointed at churches as pastor. And one of the most striking things to me about becoming a pastor's wife was the difference in how our presence was perceived. I remember walking into the first PPR meeting with my husband to meet the first church, and a man looked my husband over with an expression on his face like, "This kid is going to be our pastor?" That man turned into a very dear friend, and things went very well at that church. But it struck me right away how very, very, very different it is to be received into a church as a pastor's family as opposed to being anyone else.
At the church we are at right now, there is, of course, a United Methodist Women's group. I would very much love to be involved in the UMW, but it is difficult with a clingy new baby and an active three year old and no family in the area to leave the kids with. And so I have not been a regular attender. Now, if I were merely myself and not the pastor's wife, the UMW at this church would be thrilled that a young adult woman such as myself shows up sometimes at all. The ladies regularly lament that younger women have not gotten involved.
But I do not count as a young woman. I am the pastor's wife, and it is my absence, not my presence, that is most acutely notice. The very first time I went, I heard one lady whisper to another, "The pastor's wife is here!" And I noted that I am not just myself to them. I am a role. A role with preconceived expectations and conditions. Everything I do and say, it is for them "the pastor's wife" that is doing and saying those things, and it is by the role that these things are measured.
All things considered, I am okay with filling the role. My husband is called to be a pastor, and, just as God brought us together into the covenant of marriage, I learn more and more every year that God also equipped me to handle all that goes with this. But I do wish that there was a way for people in the church to become aware of just how different the experience of church is for a pastor's spouse than it is for any of them.
Kristin is a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton Seminary and a pastor's wife in New Jersey