“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.