December 10, 2012

Nursing Infants at Clergy Spouse Events Response

As this year’s chairperson of the Indiana Conference Clergy Spouse Retreat, I feel compelled to respond to the September 24th blog concerning the issue of nursing mothers that arose at our Retreat in September. I also want to respond to some of the comments to that blog as well as the most recent one on November 6th. I want to give a broader and accurate picture of what happened and what is being done since the event. But first, I want to give an historical perspective so that all who read will be able to see who and what the Indiana Conference is and more precisely, what the Indiana Conference and the Clergy Spouse Retreat Committee are not. I ask that if you feel you must respond to my comment that you do so only after reading the entire comment and that you do so kindly and prayerfully and try, for a moment, to walk in our uncomfortable shoes before passing judgment.
The Clergy Spouse Retreat of the Indiana Conference has been in existence for 40 – 45 years. There arose some child issues and, in 1989, a policy concerning children at the Retreat was written. This policy has been in effect since that time. It has been published in our brochures and in our communications. Evidently, this last year (and, it seems, in the most recent previous years) the policy was, regrettably, omitted in all communications. This happened because, well, we are human and have a propensity to err. And, err we did.
The mother in question was unaware of the policy and innocently brought her child with her to the Retreat. I was immediately made aware of this before our first session began. As I was busy doing what chairpersons do before the Retreat started, I asked the retired clergy spouse mentioned in the September blog (who is on the Retreat Committee) to speak to her and talk about our policy. About ½ hour later, I asked this committee member if she had talked with the mother and she said she could not find her. So, I decided to let the issue go and address it if it became necessary. The mother brought the child into the session and again, I just let time take care of what needed to be done. The baby did what babies do and the mother correctly took the baby out of the session. I asked a committee member, who has been on the committee prior to 1989, if I should go talk to the mother. She said yes. I went out into the hall and the following is the CORRECT chain of events and conversations. I simply told her I did not know how to handle this but there is a policy of no children at the Retreats. As an aside, I later found out I misspoke -– the policy states that children are not allowed in the sessions and at mealtimes. If a spouse chooses to bring their child, they must provide for their own childcare in the hotel room. I later corrected my error. I found out she had not brought any childcare with her. I told her that we did not want her to leave the Retreat but if she felt she needed to because she had no childcare then she was not to go home until the morning. The first session was an evening session and she lives about a hour from the Retreat site. I also told her I was going to call a committee meeting after the session and we, as a committee, would discuss the situation and try to find a solution so that was another reason she should not leave that evening. The Retreat committee, upon hearing of the event, expressed the range of emotions one would expect from anger to affirmation, both directed at me. Because we wanted to help and because this Conference has many spouses who have Open Hearts, several of the committee members volunteered to provide childcare for this mother. Bear in mind, these spouses and/or their churches paid a fee for them to attend this retreat so those who volunteered their time were willingly giving up their retreat time to help out. I went to the mother’s room and presented this solution to her. It was her choice to use only one person, the aforementioned retired clergy spouse. Never, not once, was this mother asked to go home. Rather, we bent over backwards to accommodate her, knowing we would be addressing this issue after the Retreat.
On the way home and afterwards, I ruminated about and prayed for direction in how to handle this issue. I devised a plan of forming an ad hoc committee to research and study this issue and then have this committee present their recommendations to the full Retreat Committee in March. I spoke with our Cabinet Clergy Representative about this and she was in full agreement that this would be a good way to handle this issue. I was in the process of formulating this plan when I got an e-mail from the mother asking if I could send her a copy of the policy and then could we talk. I responded quickly by sending her the policy and told her of course we could talk. I was very happy we could do this. She and I then had a long, warm, non-incriminating conversation. I shared my plan with her and she, too, thought it was a good way and she would be willing to serve on the ad hoc committee. That committee has been formed and will be meeting next week to discuss their research findings and start to formulate some recommendations.
I am concerned and disappointed that the Clergy Spouse Retreat Committee of the Indiana Conference has been portrayed and castigated as non-caring, exclusive, and, as one comment said, needing to “ask for forgiveness for being so mean spirited.” I believe we are far, far from any of those aspersions ascribed to us. I am disappointed that some fellow clergy spouses from wherever in the nation or world may now have a skewed opinion of our Conference from this one blog. I am also disappointed that several spouses who have posted comments have been very negative and judgmental even though uninformed about the total picture. I did appreciate one of the comments to the September 24th blog from Anonymous when they wrote, “There must be something else to this” and went on to ponder what the “something else” could be. Hopefully, my comment will help clarify some of the “something else.” I believe, with all of my heart, that the Indiana Conference has some of the most caring, loving, considerate, and open-hearted spouses in the denomination. I will defend them to the end.
Again, if you need to comment about my comment I ask that you do so prayerfully and carefully. Anger is not helpful and neither are nasty and spiteful comments. They really do not further the Kingdom of God. There are a lot of needs and emotions present in the meeting room at our retreats. A nursing mother is not the only need to be considered. We, as an imperfect people on this committee, want to do what we can to be the best we can for our fellow spouses and meet as many needs as possible. So, please, if you have any criticism of our actions, be kind and most importantly, do try to be helpful. If you have had experience with fee-based, adult, non-family types of church events and have faced this situation, we welcome genuine, caring comments.


  1. Kathy, Tennessee ConferenceDecember 10, 2012 at 8:07 AM

    I have led several of these types of retreats and am a past president of our conference clergy spouses. We have no written policy on this. Our stance has been to recognize that there are times when even childcare is not appropriate. We welcome children, but ask ahead of time if any are coming so we can be prepared. It has happened that the mother will also bring another family member to care for the baby of toddler. But our preference is always to be welcoming. Young clergy spouses have much less support then we did starting out. We don't expect spouses to know our policies and frankly, our record keeping isn't all that great anyway. But we do see our primary goal to offer support and care when and as needed. And we always try to talk things out as a group so no one gets triangulated, which is what happened to your group.

  2. I am a pastor rather than a pastor's spouse, but I've been following this. Now that we are aware of the other side of the story, I wish to say a few things. Hindsight is 20/20, but I think in this case, radical hospitality was not shown to this woman. Radical hospitality, or bending over backward to accommodate her, would be to allow her to have the child at the event since the policy was not publicized. She was unaware of the policy because it hadn't been publicized for "recent years." Knowing this, the best plan for the leadership of this event would have been to not say anything to the woman unless the child became a big distraction. It sounds like this was not the case since she took the child out of the meeting area when he/she became noisy.

    Regardless of how the particular woman involved in this incident feels (she may be fine with the way it was handled), think about how many mothers would view this. You come to an event with your child because you have to feed the child and there is no policy stating this is not allowed. Then when your child cries, you leave the room. While outside the meeting area, someone comes out to inform you that there is an unwritten policy against having children at the event and that, unless you happened to bring someone to provide childcare, you'd have to go home. Then they say to wait until the next day to see if they can come up with a solution to the problem (you). The solution given is that some other people who have paid to come to the event can care for the child instead of attending the event. So the mother's choices are to go home or stay and make someone else miss the event. My question: why did it never occur to anyone that the best option may be to forget the policy that year since nobody thought to publicize it, and let her take care of her child while attending the event, knowing she would take the child out if there was crying? Then if the policy is to be kept, just make sure to publicize it in future years.

    Like I said, hindsight is 20/20, but hearing the other side of the story does not make it sound better, in my opinion. Going forward, whether it's a special committee or not, the leadership needs to decide whether or not to keep the no child policy. If they do, they need to publicize it clearly and know they will probably be excluding nursing mothers. The other option is to just forget the policy and try it out again with children. The incident of the 1980's was quite a while ago. Maybe it's time to give it another shot.