May 17, 2010

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.


  1. I commute to my job about 50 minutes a day (one way), But for years we were a lot closer, so I still count myself as fortunate. However, I so know spouses who are now refusing to move, and frankly, can't afford to even if their spouse gets an increase, which is by no means assured any more. It seems that ministry is becoming much less stable a profession. This makes for a scary proposition if you are sending your kids to college, buying a car, or even trying to go back to school yourself.

  2. Has anyone heard of not knowing your going to be moved until state conference?

    This is our first appointment, and we didn't find out we were appointed last year until after conference.

    Now this year, the DS says your moving but we wont know where until conference...
    As far as we know those who are moving have been made aware and there are only two pastors that have yet to find out their appointments for the upcoming year?

    I guess my question is...have you ever heard of this before? Is this common or unusual?

    We were told that national UMC pastor moving day is annually June 22. But packing and moving within 2 weeks is not a lot of time to prepare your children or congregation...

    Please help me understand?

  3. Dear Jamie, We've been in the Tennessee Conference for over 30 years and each time we've moved, we have known well ahead of time. Sometimes as early as Feb. But I understand that different conferences do things differently. About 50 years ago, things were as you describe them here. But the process may be different for local pastors or student appointments if you all are in those categories. It seems to me that not knowing that you are moving until so late makes it hard to plan. For example if you have to plan for child care or for aging parents. Just seems totally unfair to the families involved. As for an offical national moving day. That too depends on the conference I believe. I think ours has even been changed this year for some reason. But even so, we have moved both before and after the official date for various reasons.
    I'm not sure if you are getting totally correct answers from your DS. I'd check with other spouses in your conference. Every conference has a conference journal, some of these are online at the conference website. Or you can call your conference office to get names and contact info for others in your conference. Are you also aware that each conference has parsonage guidelines for what the church is supposed to provide?
    If you want more help, please feel free to contact me.

  4. I am doing PhD. research on this area of the itineracy. How do you think spouses career, child care, child schooling, aging parents -- if disrupted -- affects the effectiveness of the ministry of the spouse who is the clergy. In particular, in SC, we are finding it no longer a given that a spouse who has a public school teaching career will be able to find a teaching position -- because of cuts across SC in education. This means, in our case, my wife's health care with the school system is terminated as of June 1st. This could mean I have to negotiate a new direct billing -- adding her to my conference health care -- with the church to which I am being appointed. This is a difference to the church of >450 per month.