January 9, 2013

Are You Married to the Church?

Someone recently accused me of being "married to the church." The person didn't exactly mean it as an insult, but he was saying that he thought I was overly committed to our denomination. Not having heard that before, I didn't have a quick reply. But I did manage to say that no one should ever say that to a clergy spouse. And it did make me think about what exactly is a spouse's relationship to the church.

I have heard of people being married to their job and to, maybe, a sports team, and I know that Roman Catholic nuns "marry" the church in some sense. But it never occurred to me that other people might think that I was married to the UMC--married to a pastor, yes, but not the church. If anything my relationship to the church is, I suspect, much like other spouses. It is a love-hate relationship with church people..

The church can be gracious and a ready source of help in time of need; but it can also be petty, vindictive, and power-hungry. Too many times, I've heard that clergy families are the "collateral damage" when there is a bad move or when the spouse is unfairly treated. From my view, part of my job as a spouse is to protect my children and spouse from unwelcome and unneeded intrusions into our family life. Our home is open but it is also a haven away from the 24/7 demands of the congregation. In those cases, I can't say that I love the church. I respect people's needs but not their trying to make our family co-dependent or be unduly influenced by warped people who are only too willing to tell me how to raise my kids or practice my faith.

But I also love the church. That is I love what the church aspires to be and sometimes is. And I'm in it for the long haul. We've made great friends over the years but also some spectacular enemies.

I guess, however, I'm mostly wary of the church and its all too human structures of power and authority. It's hard to be otherwise when you've been lied to and cheated by other clergy and even DSs. But I'm not going to walk away and divorce myself from the church because, despite its warts, it is still the Body of Christ. But I'm also not going to let it roll over me or my family. The ends, after all, do not justify the means.

So, what about you? What would you say if someone told you that you acted married to the church? What is your relationship to the church, both local and beyond? Are you happy with your choice to be a clergy spouse?

Grace, Kathy

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