February 23, 2010

"We" or "They"?

“How are things going at the church?” a casual acquaintance asked.

This is not a rare question for a pastor’s spouse to hear, of course, especially from a person in the community who knows you only by your affiliation with a given congregation. But I noticed something in my reply that gave me pause.

Throughout my description of the congregation, I consistently used the word “they,” rather than “we.”

The fact that I don’t feel “a part of things” at this congregation was no surprise to me, but the language I unconsciously used put my separateness in stark relief. Though we’ve been at this church for several years, the church is still “they” to me. They do this, and They think that, but I do not. My husband and I do have different theological and stylistic preferences from most of the congregation, but this feeling is about more than a lack of consensus--it's a lack of belonging. I may have sat in that pew most every Sunday, said my vows to become a “member” of that congregation, attended most special events, and even taught a class or two… but they are they, and while they would say I am part of their community, I do not feel it.

I recently read an article on itineracy in the United Methodist Church, which pointed out how the itineracy system and the parsonages that are meant to facilitate that system hinder the clergy family’s integration into the church and its community.

As the writer says:
“Moving often sacrifices the spouse’s career or a child’s final year at a school. Allowing pastors to invest fully in a local community by purchasing a home would be beneficial to church growth as it allows pastors to choose the type and size of home that fits their needs, [and] gives a healthier psychological separation between work and private family time…”

Knowing that we are sent to that church and will soon be sent elsewhere—so temporary that we are not even allowed to select a home of our own—reinforces our status as transients, as visitors in a place where we theoretically hold a central role.

What has been your experience? Do you say “we” or “they”? Do you feel like a real part of your church community? How has the length of your tenures and/or residence in a parsonage affected your sense of belonging?

This writer prefers to remain anonymous.

February 22, 2010

How open is your church?

I had just finished swimming laps. The guy in the lane next to me noted that one of the lanes had just been marked for use by the out-patient physical therapy department, now part of the Y complex. He began, "I get irritated when the lanes are taken over by swim lessons and now this. They never ask the members for suggestions or if it is ok to open lanes for others. They let everybody else in and then there are fewer lanes for lap swimmers. I wish they would ask for opinions before making changes -- it is just like church. No one asks, they make changes all of the time." And off he went continuing his swim.

His comments stayed with me throughout the day. Do members at your church feel that they can express an opinion about potential changes or are they like this man who feels that he has no voice in what happens? What do you think about this man's comments? How are changes in your church presented to the congregation? How free do you free to voice your own opinion?

Jacquie Reed pastor's spouse, Fishers, Indiana.

February 19, 2010

New Poll--Lenten Sacrifice

A new poll is up!

What are you "giving up" for Lent?

Sweets? Coffee? An extra half hour of sleep?
Tell us by responding to the poll (and leaving a comment, if you need to clarify). Don't worry--anonymous blog-poll-taking doesn't count as "disfiguring your face"!

February 17, 2010

Which "type" are you?

I don't know about you, but I love snarky religious humor. My husband does too, even if I'm the only one who laughs when he makes a joke from the pulpit. So, naturally, we love author Jon Acuff's hilarious blog Stuff Christians Like.

Jon explores all the bizarre things that make Christian culture unique, from Thomas Kinkade paintings to The Music Minister that Gives His Wife All the Solos (is that any of us?) to Talking About Sex at Weddings--I can't find the link to that one right now, but it's very funny in a glad-I'm-not-the-bride sort of way, and I bet it's included in his Stuff Christians Like book that is coming out soon.

Since we ministry spouses are quite accustomed to playing a certain "role" in the church, Jon kindly agreed to enlighten us on the three most common "types" of pastor's wives:

#348. Pastor's Wives - The 3 Types

I get up very early each morning to write these posts. Part of the reason is that I want to get them done before work, but it’s also because I am afraid of the P.O.P. What’s that you ask? The Pastors of Power, a secret society of famous pastors that operate in the shadowy underground of most churches. (They have a secret handshake like that winner of the Bachelorette where you bump fists and blow up your hand while mouthing “POP.”) They’re mad at me for telling secrets like that you only ever see a minister in shorts during VBS week or for admitting that there is also a Pastor’s Kid Guild that regulates how PKs live. Who do you think commissioned our theme song, “Son of a Preacher Man?” You think that lady just wrote that for fun? That’s adorable.

And today, both groups are going to be furious. That’s because I’m going to tell you the three most common types of pastor’s wives. These three distinct types are no accident, but are actually carefully sculpted roles that all pastor’s wives learn in a secret lair under a volcano. I’ve said too much already but I can’t stop now, here they are:

1. Sunny Rainbow Happy Lady
My mom, a pastor’s wife, is one of the nicest people on the planet. She is able to find something sweet about anyone. If you are a jerk she will say, “he really knows how to be direct with his emotions.” If you are hideous looking she will say, “he has such a nice personality and is great with animals.” She sees the silver lining in every cloud. And, when my dad said “hey, let’s move a thousand miles from everyone we know, go to a frozen land where the sun goes down at 3:30 in the winter, and start a Baptist Church in a car wash,” she said, “I’m in.” I love her and love her approach to life. I think most Pastor’s Wives are this way. They are just genuinely kind hearted people that God has put on the planet to make all of us a little happier.

2. The grumpiest person on earth
This is the polar opposite of type 1. This person is kind of like an ice queen, able to stare you down with a judgmental stare from a thousand feet away. This is like the pastor’s wife on the Simpsons. She’s mean, gossipy and secretly the one controlling the whole church. She has an inner circle of friends that rule things like the mafia. Want to bring a jello dish with fruit suspended delightfully in the middle? Better check with her. Feel good about your job interview for the youth minister position after talking to the search committee? Ha, better talk to the real search committee, the pastor’s wife. She will break you. I never, ever cross this lady. She’s liable to stab you in the bathroom with a shiv she carved from a church pencil if your family accidentally sits where her family usually does. Seriously, be careful. In her defense, I think she got this way by having hundreds of people criticize and nit pick and berate her husband for years. All too often, I think unhealthy churches turn type number 1 pastor wives into type number 2.

3. The Keyser Soze
In the movie, “The Usual Suspects,” Keyser Soze is the unseen mastermind that no one can figure out. He is a myth, a legend, a ghost that can never be pinned down. Some pastor’s wives are like that too. You just can’t figure them out. It’s not that they are robotic or fake, just that you can’t quite understand who they are. It’s almost like they’re in the witness protection program. They say all the right things. They are polite and friendly but you can’t help thinking to yourself during a slow sermon, “that pastor’s wife probably stabbed a mobster in Reno and is on the run.” You’re like the kids from Scooby Doo, gathering clues, trying to put the whole puzzle together, thinking maybe that the haunted lighthouse was really just old man Jenkins with a sheet. Give it up. Some pastor’s wives are great at establishing really firm boundaries. They know how easy it is to get emotionally drained at a church when hundreds of people want personal relationships.

Now I must admit, it’s fairly common to have a pastor’s wife that is a combination of these types. For instance, the other day my mom told me that someone that hit her car while she was backing out probably didn’t realize it because they were on the phone. That is an incredibly nice way to interpret a hit and run. But then one time, much like my wife, she chased a man down that hit her car, running red lights and jumping a hill like in Starsky and Hutch until she forced him to stop. OK, the hill part didn’t happen but the rest is true. The point is that she can channel her grump when necessary.

And I bet your pastor’s wife can too.

This post originally appeared at StuffChristiansLike.net.
I'm a #3. How about you?

February 16, 2010

Lent: Yellow Mums and Three Sticks of Gum

A couple of weeks ago, right in the middle of a long stretch of gray days, I went to Kroger and purchased a brightly colored bouquet of mums. It had all the colors I wanted--hot pink, bright orange. Sadly, however, the bouquet had no yellow flowers, my favorite color. But I put the flowers on the kitchen table so that I could admire them. After a few days, I saw that the once-clear water was turning orange. The mums, of course, were dyed; and with each passing day, the orange mums released more color and slowly changed to yellow, the color I love. So for me the mums became more beautiful.

Ash Wednesday begins the forty days of self-examination that precede Easter. When I was a child, I gave up something different each week. Usually, it was ice cream or television. Now that I am older, I give up something that enables me to grow deeper into God's presence.

This may sound funny to you, but this year I am limiting myself to three sticks of gum a day. How does not chewing gum relate to my walk with God? I need to be more disciplined by spending time in silence, reflecting on God's word, and listening to what God is telling me.

By being mindful to the amount of gum I chew, I am hoping to become more mindful of how God is present in silence. I want to be completely open to what God might reveal. I want to create unencumbered space for God to speak. My goal for Lent is to let God open my heart in ways that were not possible before.

I am hoping that whatever needs to drain out of me, like the orange dye from the flower, will do so, and that the true color of my soul will be revealed.

What about you? How can you become more open to God? And have can God help reveal the beauty of your soul?

Jacquie Reed, Fishers, Indiana - jreed46038@hotmail.com

February 15, 2010

And so it begins...

After four years in a rural appointment six miles south of the Kentucky border, but in Tennessee, it looks as though we may be moving this June.

This will be only our third move in nearly 20 years of ministry, though we are second career and had plenty of moves before Mike entered the ministry. I say that we “may move” because, as anyone who has ever been involved with the appointment system knows…it isn’t really over until the bishop reads the appointments out at conference or you see the moving truck in your driveway (whichever comes first.) The UM appointment system is a many-splendored thing—a combination of art, science, and the Holy Spirit. Some appointment cycles go relatively smoothly—some seem designed to make as many clergy and churches unhappy as possible in a single cycle. I think it may be best to know as little as possible about how it really works—sort of like politics and sausage-making.

A life-long United Methodist, I am in the dark about exactly how our cabinet moves through its process but you won’t find me unduly critical of “the itineracy” itself. I am interested here in the experience of the clergy spouse as things unfold—the journey between the beginning of the process and the first Sunday in the new church.
What I intend to do over the next five months or so is to reflect on this pilgrimage from January to June from where I am sitting as a clergy spouse and hope that others will join in and offer some reflections of their own.

So here we are…we don’t really know if we will be moving; we don’t know where we may be going if we do; we don’t know whether we will be moving closer to our work (My job is in Nashville); or further away; we don’t know if that future congregation will be happy that their current clergy person is leaving or sad….the truth is…we all know very little…but it has already begun for us and for our congregation.

Moving through the next months with as much grace and faithfulness as we can while dealing with grief issues, the stress of not knowing, the feelings of those around us (the members of the congregation, our families, our co-workers, etc.) many of whom want answers we will not have for quite awhile—that is what I will be posting about.

You are invited to join in…maybe it will help to keep the “moving crazies” away for as long as possible. I am already beginning to clean out my basement…not in any organized fashion yet, you understand…just setting aside some things that I know need to go to Goodwill (or the dump). It makes me feel as though I am doing something, because, eventually there will be so very much to do and so little time after so much waiting…meanwhile…let us hear from you.

Keep the faith, Becky

February 11, 2010

Path Through Tragic Pain

Check out these resources:


Path Through Tragic Pain

God's solution for crushing tragedy
is not an offer of a miraculous remedy.

God offers not a formula to eliminate or insulate.
Instead God calls us on the path to participate.

God's grace transforming our places of humiliation,
such is the journey of tragic redemption.

Words wise and true are meant as a tool,
but wrongly used are just plain cruel.

'What ifs' only chain us to the past.
Blame games brings healing which does not last

Naive expectations seek for faith to work like magic,
yet, by faith we walk through the tragic,

Various addictions help excuse our real condition.
They block the way for helpful consolation.

Tragic pain easily becomes fused into a sick self-identification.
A calloused soul greatly needing tragic redemption.

Tragic feelings deep and real are not the center of the universe.
'No one knows the trouble I've seen' needs another verse.

Other's tragedies might not be as bad,
While some are far worse than what we had.

Sucking others into our misery,
creates a path to further insanity.

Locked in by self centered rage,
like a wild animal in a cage.

Bitterness creates an illusion of security and control.
Yet, it will not make one whole.

Expecting and demanding perfection creates dark isolation.
The courage to be imperfect brings salvation.

Controlling, rationalizing and intellectualizing spreads darkness in our
souls, while accepting ourselves as flawed returns the dawn of life into
our aching souls.

Isolated souls existing around like souls, hurt, kill and destroy each
other. Connected souls living around similar souls, treat each other like
sister and brother.

By John M. Crowe

Happy Valentine's Day!

She walked in wearing industrial shoes, a blue quilted vest, and a Colt's baseball cap. I was waiting for my car to be fixed. Our eyes met.

Finding the TV remote, she said, "Mind? I had surgery last June and lost 163 pounds. When I left the hospital, they told me to walk and drink lots of water. So I walked eight miles and was back in the hospital that day. Then they thought I had liver cancer. I lived with that for two weeks. But I was fine. I've been thrown through two windshields caused by drunk drivers, broke my wrist yesterday, and I am here because my brakes failed on the ice this morning. I supervise 63 men at the water factory, and I know I don't look real feminine. Sorry. What are you making?"

"I'm embroidering hearts on index cards to send for Valentine's day. You sure've had a rough time."

Then I heard someone call my name and say, "Your car is ready." I gathered my thread, needles, and cards, and hesitated. Before I left I wanted to give her a gift, something tangible. So I went through my valentines and chose the one with the most ornate embroidery. As I walked by her chair, I handed her the card and said, "Happy Valentine's Day." As she took it in her bandaged hand, her countenance changed, "Happy Valentine's day to you too."

Giving is a way to honor our God. Jesus said, "Love one another as I have loved you." That day, that woman were gifts of God to me. How could I not respond in kind?

Jacquie Reed, Fishers, Indiana

February 10, 2010

I don't have to be perfect.

When I became a pastor's wife fifty years ago, it was with great admiration for the position. I knew very little about the parsonage life that I thought was suppose to be perfect. And since I thought that marriage would be perfect, as was our touchy/feeling love in the years we dated, my self esteem was no worry at all! I would be smiling and always the happy minister's wife.

I soon discovered we were like most people. Ups and downs were common, but maybe unlike a lot of others, we tried to smooth all things over before we left the parsonage on Sunday. We knew about forgiveness, of course, and tried to make that the center. But my self esteem was tied up in that -- trying to make it work. Who was I anyway? I worked very hard, but it took a toll on my self-esteem. Now, however, I know the importance of healing past hurts that follow us throughout life.

When I became a born-again Christian at 32 years old (12 year after marrying my preacher), I was a new person. My self-esteem was now tied to living a Christ-filled life. That is true freedom. And as Jesus promised, he gave me "abundant life." So today when I fall, I know Who will help me up and guide me to try again. God is utterly dependable. Living in true freedom gives me strength, and I don't have to worry about self-esteem.

Lucy Neeley Adams www.52hymns.com

February 6, 2010

How Much Is Too Much Information?

How much does your spouse tell you about the church?

When we were first married, I really wanted to know about everything--you know, no secrets between husband and wife. Now, I'm really glad my spouse chose to keep some things to himself. But sometimes, after we've been gone from a place, he'll tell me "the rest of the story." Most of the time, I knew it in my heart all along. For example, he told me that at one church certain people would not sing in the choir at the same time. It seems there was a feud between several families over something long forgotten. Frankly, I never noticed, but I always felt unwelcome in this church. And it wasn't just me but other new people as well.

Too often church members think I know things that I don't. And then sometimes, I do know. Because there are times when my spouse has to deal with things too shocking and terrible for any person to keep to himself.

Over time, I think we all learn to separate ourselves and carve out some family sacred space. Otherwise, I promise, the church will consume you. There are too many hurting people who don't know what healthy boundaries are.

So how do you handle the knowing or the not knowing? How much is too much information for you?

Kathy, editor and spouse

February 2, 2010

Tennessee Conference Ministers Mates' Retreat

Dear Spouses of the UM Tennessee Conference,

Please put this on your calendar: Retreat at Beersheba Springs, March 19-21, 2010. Theme this year is "Behind the Parsonage Door." The retreat will be led by Kathy Armistead and Christine Archer, both veteran spouses and counselors. First time attendees are free. For more information contact: Rita Collett at rcollett@gbod.org

If you would like your spouse/family events listed here, please feel free to email the information to spouseconnect@gmail.com and we'll post for you.

We are all in this together.

Grace, Kathy