May 27, 2010

Do You Know Your Parsonage Standards?

Did you know that every Annual Conference has parsonage standards? These may vary from Conference to Conference, but at least for those of us in the Tennessee Conference, ours are listed in the Conference Journal every year as part of the policies and standing rules. The must-haves include: energy efficient heating and cooling systems; a stove, refrigerator, dish washer, and dryer; some furniture; window coverings; suitable floor coverings; an adequate lawnmower or lawn service (to be negotiated with the pastor); proper installation, storm windows, and storm doors; a garage or carport; and deadbolts on all exterior doors.

There are additional recommendations as well. If you want to check the standards out, they are on pages 270-271 of the 2009 Conference Journal (the most recent journal).

If you are not satisfied or want to change the standards, talk to your spouse. There are special rules about changing the standing rules and policies.

Currently, our parsonage is lovely; but we've lived in all kinds of houses, including our own.

Are you happy with your parsonage standards? How can they be made better?


May 25, 2010

More Moving Tips

Here are a few suggestions that I have found helpful in the weeks preceding a move:

1. Intentionally continue whatever you do to stay connected to God. Even if you have to limit the time usually spent reading the Bible or resting in silence or prayer, the daily grounding you receive will be a reminder that God is present.

2. Keep a routine as much as possible, especially if children are involved. A routine can offer structure and security when there is chaos all around.

3. Recognize that moving involves grief. There are breaks in meaningful attachments that will take place. Anger, sadness, disappointment, fear and other emotions are often present with relocation. Realize that these responses are normal and allow time to work through those that occur.

4. Be patient with yourself. Adjustments take time, particularly if you are moving from a smaller town and church to a larger town and church. Learning how to navigate streets or how to get to church or making connections for yourself and your children, locating a doctor, dentist, a school, a job, the grocery store, the library etc., cannot be accomplished in one day. Take time to celebrate the steps you make each day.

5. Share feelings about the move with your spouse/children so that you can support each other.

6. Allow the new pastor and spouse in the previous church time to get acquainted with the congregation and settled in the community before returning for a visit.

7. Stay in touch with persons in the congregation or community with whom you feel close. Email, Facebook and other ways of electronic communication enable persons to stay connected much better than in the past.

8. Clean the parsonage thoroughly before leaving.

9. Invite friends to your new church, house/parsonage and community. Seeing familiar faces after a move can be uplifting.

10. Recognize that there are stages in life that are more difficult to move than others. Again be patient and invite God to help your adjustment.

11. Do everything you can to take care of yourself. Packing, moving, unpacking, adjusting to a new town/congregation/house/parsonage, finding a job, helping children find friends/school, require a lot of energy - physical, spiritual emotional. Light a candle to remember that God is present in these new surroundings. Ask for God's peace/strength/comfort/patience or whatever you need to dwell in your heart as you make your parsonage/house feel more like home.

12. Exercise regularly. Finding a YMCA or fitness center with various classes can offer fun ways to manage the stress a move often brings as well as a place to meet new people. If finances are limited, talking a walk can be very refreshing.

13. Find ways to connect with other clergy in the area. Over twenty years ago, Mike (my husband) and I decided that we were tired of being lonely and by ourselves on holidays like Memorial Day, Labor Day, and New Year's Day. So, we invited many of the United Methodist clergy/spouses/families who lived fairly close by to a Labor Day picnic. We provided the main dish and drinks and everyone else brought a vegetable or dessert to share. We still have our Labor Day picnic, with others hosting gatherings on Memorial Day and New Year's Day.

The Indiana Conference, where my husband is a pastor, has a confidential Clergy Spouse site accessible through Facebook. Persons often ask questions or share concerns giving others an opportunity to respond through this connection. Each year during annual conference, there is an established time and place where spouses can gather and visit.

Lastly, there is the annual clergy spouse 'refresher' a two night, two and a half day retreat usually held at a state park. There is a speaker, interest groups, and free time during which spouses can hike or participate in other opportunities available at the park. God I pray for all persons who are moving during the next few weeks. Thank you for the call to service in your name that each move represents. Help all remember that you are within and beside each one and that you have gone ahead preparing and blessing the new church/parsonage/home and ministry. Amen.

Jacquie Reed Fishers, Indiana

May 24, 2010

Gone Fishing (new poll!)

Last week's poll revealed that 41% of respondents "always or almost always" go to church when on vacation. It can certainly be nice to worship in a new place where you're not in charge, where you can get a fresh perspective, and maybe gain some new ideas for your own congregation.

It can also be nice (like the 25% who say they don't go to church on vacation) to enjoy a different Sunday routine from the usual, and to rest and recharge in ways that don't involve organized communal worship.

Either way, it's a given that we all need time to relax. For many people, that time comes around every week--it's called a weekend. But for our pastor-spouses spending at least part of Saturday and Sunday "on duty," they may not get even one full day "off" except when they go on vacation. I've heard of some churches that close their offices on Friday and Saturday, replicating somewhat of a "normal" weekend, just a day early. Other pastors take Monday off, much like a restaurant recuperating from a busy weekend of working so that others can "play." Some may not have any official "off-duty" time, seizing moments for relaxation wherever they fit in the schedule that week (or not).

How does your spouse do it? Two official days? One? None?
Answer the poll question in the right sidebar to let everyone know!

And in the comments, how do you feel about that? Is it enough time?

Disclaimer: I apologize to pastors' husbands out there for using "he" in the poll. Sometimes it can be cumbersome to say "he or she" or "s/he" and I opted to keep it simple!

Moving Helps

A counselor who specializes in missionary re-entry told her summarizing a way to leave an appointment and prepare for the new pastorate: RAFT.

The acronym, RAFT, stands for

Reconciliation--Make every effort to reconcile with anyone who has hurt you or your husband. Reconciliation does not necessarily mean confronting the individual, but can be completed between you and God.

Affirmation--Thank those individuals who have helped you and your family.

Farewell to people and places -- Take time to visit one more time and photograph individuals and places that have meaning to you and your family.

Thinking Ahead --What can be done ahead of time to make the move easier? For example, when the children and I went with my husband to meet the staff/parish committee for one of our moves, I spent some time looking for preschools, places to swim, library summer programs etc.

Jacquie Reed is a pastor's spouse in Fishers, Indiana.

May 19, 2010

Girl Scout Cookies, Wrapping Paper, and More

Every week, we are asked by members of the church for donations to various causes. All of the needs are very worthwhile. The problem is we do not have resources to give to every fundraiser.

We tithe, we support a young woman in school in Africa through Operation Classroom, and we have a child through Compassion International. It is hard to say no to children soliciting funds for his/her school, Girl Scouts, Race for the Cure, Relay for Life, band trips to college football bowl games, etc.

I would like to know how other clergy and spouses handle such requests. How do you choose?

Jacquie Reed is a pastor's spouse in Fishers, Indiana.

May 17, 2010

Vacation Time! (new poll)

Last week's poll revealed that 52% of respondents do in fact sit alone during worship. (36% said they sit up front, which may explain why no one has joined them!) Joking aside, this does reflect the lonely state of some pastors' spouses as they are known by everyone and yet by no one.

My husband and I cherish the times when we have a guest preacher and he can come sit with me in the pew. We hold hands and share a whispered comment or two (inconspicuous, since I sit in the back!) and enjoy that rare opportunity to sit together in worship. We also cherish the even-rarer occasions when we go on vacation and Sunday can really be a sabbath to us, rather than a work-day.

Which brings me to today's poll, fitting as the weather gets warmer, schools let out for the summer, and the beach or mountains call to us...

Do you go to church when on vacation?

Jessica Miller Kelley is an editor in Nashville and blogs regularly at The Parsonage Family.

The New Face of Ministry, Part 1

Every year our bishop, Mike Coyner, has a two-day event for pastors and spouses who are moving. Bishop Mike gives each pastor a copy of his book Making A Good Move: Opening the Door to a Successful Pastorate (published by Abingdon Press, 2000), and goes through the chapters, discussing each topic.

Yesterday afternoon, Marsha Coyner (Mike's wife) and I had the opportunity to meet with the spouses. We wanted to provide a space for them to share concerns and joys as they approached moving day. There was one young spouse whose husband just graduated from seminary, but all of the other spouses were married to pastors who were in ministry as a second career. Most of these spouses were moving for the second time.

Our two-hour session went by quickly. We began with introductions. I learned that five of the spouses will stay in the current town because of jobs that they do not want to leave. The shortest commute with this group will be thirty minutes and the longest over a hundred miles. Some of the spouses will spend three to five days living in one town, and join his/her spouse on the weekend. Three other spouses had husbands who graduated from seminary in December. These three spouses were alone all week with children, and jobs, while their husbands lived in an apartment where the seminary was located. These three husbands were student-pastors who cared for their church on the weekend. However, during the week if there was a problem at the church, the spouse was called to deal with the situation.

Slowly I realized that the face of ministry in May, 2010, is surely different than in 1976, when my husband began in the then South Indiana Conference. Then, the majority of new pastors went to seminary right after college. When a pastor was appointed, the spouse (back then usually the wife) was also expected to be a 'partner in ministry' which meant playing the piano or singing in the choir or having a key to the church so that someone could get into the church if the pastor was gone or having an annual open house or . . . the list could go on and on. The spouses I met yesterday (there were two men and twenty women) are able to have much greater freedom in their own occupation and mission than what I experienced thirty-four years ago.

Jacquie Reed is a pastor's spouse in Fishers, Indiana.

May 12, 2010

Sitting Alone (New Poll!)

In last week's poll, we asked whether or not you have close friends in the church. While my own answer was fairly depressing, I was surprised and saddened to see how many ministry spouses (or pastors themselves, since this poll was not limited to spouses only) feel lonely and isolated.

Here were the results:
Do you have close friends in the church you serve?
20%     Yes!
25%     Yes, in previous churches, but not currently.
20%     No, our close friends have never been part of our churches.
35%     No, and as a result we have few close friends.

That means that 80% do not currently get to enjoy the experience of worshiping, studying, and serving with their close friends. 55% have never had that experience in ministry, and 35% have few close friends period.

There are many possible reasons for this--the transiency of pastorates, the demographics of the church, the authority issues (either congregants being intimidated by the pastor's family or the church feeling the pastor is their employee)--who knows?

An issue that a couple people commented on just happens to be an issue that has bothered me too--the issue of sitting alone in church. I haven't thought about it too much since my daughter was born, but when I was a childless woman whose husband was--of course--sitting up on the platform, I used to long every week for someone to invite me to sit with their family. Or to come sit with me if I had already sat down alone. Neither ever happened. Occasionally I took the initiative to sit with someone else (often a visitor) but I was often alone because the members never noticed--or realized the loneliness of--sitting alone in church.

What about you?
Who do you sit with in worship each week? Where do you sit? How do you decide where to sit?

This poll is "mark all that apply," so check multiple boxes to describe your plan of action when you walk through those sanctuary doors!

May 6, 2010

Do you have close friends in the church? (New Poll)

You've read lately about clergy widow Faith and her experience following the death of her husband while serving a church. (Part 1 and Part 2) After her husband's death, Faith was surrounded and supported by many friends--some of whom she had grown close to while serving a previous church--but NO ONE from the church her husband served at the time of his death reached out to her at all. No meals, no notes, no help moving out of the parsonage. In that last ministry context, Faith was utterly alone.

Faith's story raises a serious issue faced by many clergy families: making friends with people in the congregation they serve, and not just being on friendly terms, but developing real relationships in which the pastor and spouse can be themselves, share thoughts openly and honestly, and find support for the struggles faced in ministry. How does one form close friendships with congregants when your spouse is in a unique position of authority, when everyone knows you will probably only be around a few years, etc?

I'll be honest--I do not have close friends in the church. My husband and I are young, and there are few young adults in the church. Our appointment is in a very different social context than what we are used to, and it required us to move an hour away from our friends, making it difficult to see one another regularly. It takes me years to develop close friends (both my best friend from college and from high school, I knew for three years before really considering us close friends), and it is difficult for me to invest emotionally in a temporary, transient context. My husband and I are each others' best friends (something I really treasure) but we do feel the absence of other support systems.

Take this week's poll and share about the close friendships you have developed in church. If you have (or had) close friends in the church, leave a comment sharing tips for developing such relationships. If not, this is safe space to share the hurt and reach out to others. I feel your pain and pray God will send a friend.

Jessica Miller Kelley blogs about her cute toddler and working motherhood at The Parsonage Family.

The rest of the story...

Dear Friends, Here is the rest of Faith's story.

I have experienced the other side of the death of a pastor. Suddenly and unexpectedly, my husband was preaching one Sunday; the next Sunday he was dying; and by the next Sunday, he had been laid to rest. What followed was beyond belief... in or out of the church!

Here are some of the events: I felt led to speak that next Sunday due to speculation, rumors, and misinformation about his death. I just wanted everyone to know what really happened. I was told through my husband's secretary that the D.S. said unless I had completed a Lay Speaking Class, I could NOT speak. Although my husband had had me speak and I often helped with Mother's Day, Children's Sabbath, graduation, and other special services. I had also been his unpaid assistant for many years and had done all his computer communication. I had been a partner in his ministry and spent many hours with him in his church offices.

But I DID speak at both our churches that next Sunday. I felt it would help with the grieving process if they knew the truth. I tried to reach out to members of our congregations and offered to have small group meetings to share memories and loss. I am so appreciative to the 8 people from one of our churches that were kind and caring to me and his children. However, we did NOT have one meal offered or brought to the parsonage. I DID NOT receive condolence cards from them.

Thankfully, we received tons from past members, family, and friends. Although I attended church there for several months, I was basically ignored. I called the Trustees and offered to do a walk-through with them before moving from the parsonage. I cleaned the whole place , so it was spotless; and I donated beautiful furniture that was needed to furnish the parsonage and home office. I made notes of any small repairs. I added those to the same list my husband had given them during the annual walk-through that had not yet been addressed.

Then the interim pastor came. He emptied the church office of all my husband's belongings. He did not ask me if that would be helpful or if I wanted him to. The next week, I found the boxes in a Sunday School room. There was nothing in the bulletin. There was nothing said on Sunday morning. It was as if my husband had never been there. The new pastor never called us or visited me. He did not acknowledge our existence or our grief. He even opened my husband's personal mail. I finally had a meeting with him and his wife. He admitted he had never followed a death like this in his 40+years of ministry. Lord knows, I could certainly tell that. But to this day I don't understand it. I wouldn't be treated like that in the "world."

Kathy adds: Many churches do not realize how much pastors and their families depend on them for support. While we are there, we are part of the church family. As Faith said, you love them, weep with them, celebrate with them--you bond. If you don't bond with the congregation, ministry doesn't really work. Many churches don't realize that we may feel simply cast-off after we leave and those bonds are broken; and it's hard to understand how on one day you are an essential part of the family and the next day you're not. It's hard to understand that some of your friends were only friends of the pastor's spouse and not really yours at all.

When we started out in ministry, more experienced spouses told me that you can't really have friends in the congregation. While that may be a bit of an overstatement, it is largely and sadly true. That is one reason for this blog. Through it, we hope that you will feel heard, understood, and a part of the Church family.


May 4, 2010

When the Church Fails to be the Body of Christ

I have lots of friends. REAL friends. Christlike friends. Friends in the "world." But how did our church treat us...Christlike? Don't think so. Certainly didn't feel like it.

After my husband died, the children felt their Dad had given his heart and life to ministry and for what? Why didn't we have a pastor when we needed one? We had certainly shared ours when he was needed. We had tried to be there for others at their most difficult times. We had ached when they ached. Now, we were totally devastated. Where were the members of his/our congregation? NOWHERE TO BE FOUND.

Well... I packed and moved with no help from any of them. Not a word. NO offer to pay for my move although it would be required if we were BOTH moving. Thankfully, I was only moving about 10 miles to my own home. Thankfully, I had loving members from a previous appointment that helped me move. They were happy to help. They knew how much I loved my husband. How much he loved me. How devastating it was. They loved him and they loved me, too. I will never forget them and their kindnesses. They called me every month on the anniversary of his death. They let me cry. They listened. They cried with me. Now... they were able to be Christlike.

Thank you, God for sending them, for using them to be your heart, your hands, your ears.

GOD HAS REVEALED SO MUCH TO ME DURING THIS EXPERIENCE: We can't give what we don't have to give. We can't accurately judge another. Don't try! Do not repay like with like. Allow God to be God. Let nothing about this be wasted.



May 3, 2010

Growing through the Ministry of Moving

Twice in Mike's (my husband) ministry, we were assigned to a church where the pastor died. One church, the pastor had battled cancer for two years. The other church, the pastor died suddenly on a Sunday morning.

Both places had unique challenges because of these events. Neither church had people coming by our parsonage/house to greet us on moving day. No meals were available during those first few days. We did not understand why persons in both congregations were distant and seemingly uninterested in welcoming us to the church and community. (Perhaps we were really spoiled by our previous moves where people stopped by the parsonage offering to help move boxes etc. and provide a couple of meals until I could get to the store.) We realized that at both places, the congregation was drained emotionally, physically and spiritually as they had cared for the surviving spouse and children for many, many months. They weren't ready to extend friendship and greeting to a new pastor and family as they were still dealing with grief.

Mike and I decided to wait patiently, once we realized the dynamics of our move, until the people were ready to befriend us. We respected their grief. Eventually, in both places, we felt more of a kinship with the congregation as time went on. We tell others that grief has no timetable, and remembering that each person was in a different place with his/her grief helped us relax and realize that the indifference we were feeling was not related to us. We grew from that first experience, and were able to apply that learning, when again, we followed a pastor who had died.

To be continued.

Jacquie Reed, Fishers, Indiana