December 12, 2009

I Am A Role

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


  1. I can definitely identify with the idea of being not a normal church member. I am not the pastor, but I am not just a member either. I don't know how the congregation views me, really, but I sure don't feel genuinely a part of the congregation. I feel guilty if I don't participate in something, but feel awkward and out-of-place if I do!

  2. The most important thing is how you view and define yourself as someone more than just a role or how the congregation sees you. Part of this of course, begins with how God sees you in Jesus. Many of the younger women are not in the UMW because they are either working outside of the home or busy at home with children. Many of these older women grew up in a day with many relatives around them to help with child care and I think some have forgotten what having children is like. In addition of all the various groups of people with spouses who work outside of the home, pastors' wives are the largest group. I'm not on incapacity/disability leave as a UM clergy and I don't really feel part of where I go to church either nor do I really feel a part of the conference when we have annual conference or clergy gatherings.

  3. When I was new at this clergy spouse thing, I had an older, wiser, experienced spouse say to me, "Just be yourself." Ok I thought. But I think I was a little confused. After several years of growth and maturity, I was able to reflect and share with this wise woman, that first one needs to know one's self before you can, 'Just be yourself.'

    When our children were younger, I attended the UMW meetings and George stayed home with our sons. He got to some things, but didn't feel like he had to be at all. Esp. the District and Conference meetings, he was a great help so I could attend them, meet new women, and see friends.
    I have realized that we as clergy spouses are not clergy, but neither are we 'regular laity' who welcome the new clergy family. It can be an awkward position. Sometiems I have said that I wish there was a book on 'How to be a clergy spouse' then I could pick and choose the parts I wanted to do and ignore the rest. But unfortunately, there are at least as many 'how tos' as there are members of the congregation or parish and many of them do not agree.