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.


  1. This is our first appointment, a 3 point charge. So my husband has three congregations. Wow. Yes that's the normal expressions from most. I have found it very difficult to make friends, or even find people willing to get to know me, or allow me to know them. So, I decided to try and figure out why people didn't come near me even if they had a 10ft pole.

    With each church being made of small 40 member congregations, all the people sit on one side of the church. Leaving the complete other side empty. Well if one side is filled up with very little space, for anyone, let alone the pw and her three little ducklings...where do you think I sat?

    Yes, on the other side...the empty side...which is where I remain a year and half later. No one has ever sat next to us. Even with my lovely husband asking them to consider leveling out each side...nope!
    The children and I have adjusted...after all God doesn't care where I sit..

    Each Sunday, I greet everyone. Walking pew to pew, shaking hands. Smiling at babies. Talking to older folks, Asking if health has improved. Inquiring if they will be going to the local fundraiser in town?... you get the idea. I'm kind and gentle...but no real response. Just yes thank you's and no I'm sorry's.

    Calls come to the parsonage, members seeking the pastor. I attempt to engage conversation, "How are you?" "Have you enjoyed the sunshine"
    Yes and No answers...ok...well that didn't I wait for the next call...I'm going to make a friend...or find someone interested in communicating with me.

    Pastor mind you has had no trouble finding members interested in talking with him. They love HIM!! :o) Which is a really good thing!

    I decided to begin a card ministry. Getting birth and anniversary dates for all members...sending out 10-12 cards a month. Wanting them to know we cared about them and prayed for them...well 9 months into the card ministry no one has ever mentioned receiving one. But I'm still sending them out, because I enjoy thinking about the people and praying for blessings on their special days.

    As far as my research goes...I either have an invisible case of the plague, a previous pastor's wife has hurt them, or these three churches have never had a pastor's wife that was willing to love them unconditionally.

    Either way. There are no friendships, but I hold out hope that maybe one day, someone will step out there and be willing to sit by me at church or have a conversation that is longer than 3 minutes.

    My God is good. I love my husband!

  2. My husband is acting as an interim pastor at an early service for a few weeks until their new pastor arrives in June. As I walked into the sanctuary on his first Sunday there and chose a seat, and sat alone, and remembered being in that place several times before, the thought occurred to me that being in that "sitting alone during worship" place is one of the hardest things about attending church as the pastor's wife.

    I definitely understand how you feel, Anonymous. Maybe we should gulp our fears down and either choose someone to sit next to or if there's no room ask them "would you come sit by me?" It could be that people don't realize we don't want to be alone on that pew.

    And as far as the poll, I have had close friends in previous churches, but not our most recent and not currently. I find that there seems to be a separation of church friends and personal friends to most people and that once you move to a new congregation, the friends you made gradually slip away.

    I also fear that clergy families stay so involved in the life of a congregation it makes having personal friends difficult, because of simply not having enough time to invest in the relationship.

    I am constantly apologizing to one of my closest friends when she calls to ask us to events or evenings out that we can't because we're already obligated with something at the church.

  3. Linda,
    Thank you so much for responding. My name is Jamie. I really appreciate this site and wish there were more UMC spouses utilizing this forum. I no longer feel like I'm flying solo on this pw journey...thank you. Keep up the great job! God knows I need this support!
    Blessings to you.