March 7, 2013

Join When You're Ready

I've known my husband for just shy of ten years. In that time, he has served three churches. I've been members of all three, but my decision to join has looked very different in each case.

In the first church, my new friend/boyfriend was the newly hired youth pastor when we met. I helped out with the youth some on Sunday evenings and for special events and activities, but continued to search for a church "of my own" on Sunday mornings. As we got more serious, however, I wanted to make a church home with this person I hoped to make a life and marriage with, so I came over to his church, got more involved, and eventually joined, around the time we got engaged. It was the closest thing to a "normal" (i.e. unrushed, unpressured) new member process as I have had or probably will ever have.

During our first year of marriage, my new husband was appointed to lead a small church in another town. And because I didn't know any better, and wanted to be a "good little pastor's wife," I joined the church on our very first Sunday. I don't really know if it's true or not, but I assumed that was the expected thing for a clergy spouse to do. Over time, however, I really regretted that decision. That church ended up being a very poor fit for my husband and me, and our time there was largely miserable. On top of all the other frustrations, the fact that I didn't "belong" there (i.e., fit in) was put into even starker relief by the fact that I technically "belonged" (i.e. I was a member).

When we were blessedly moved four years later, I was determined not to put myself in such a situation again. So I didn't join on our first Sunday there. Or anytime in our first month there. No one said a word about it to me, though one older lady did ask my husband who they should "write to" about my membership, and my husband liked to tease me that until I joined another church, my membership would still be at our dreaded former church.

I waited more than five months before joining our new church. I had gotten to know the people. I had gotten involved. I had joined the choir. I felt like I belonged. And only then was the time right to make my "belonging" official.

When I went forward, I chose to say a few words to the congregation, explaining why I had waited:

"The pastor's spouse is often expected to join the church on the very first Sunday there. To me, that feels a little like getting engaged on your very first date. I wanted to wait until I got to know this church better to make my membership official. So now, after five months, I have come to know and love this church, and would like to join"

Three wonderful women actually got up out of their seats to come stand around me as I took the membership vows. We hugged, and I really felt they were not just church members, but my church family. People told me later that, knowing my reasoning, it meant more to them that I wanted to be a part of the church. And it meant a lot more to me, too.


  1. While I do understand and appreciate you for sticking to your principles, in my experience, the pastor's spouse can never be a member of the church like any other member. No matter what, the spouse and family are part of the package. I just know of too many cases where not joining the first Sunday or two made for a shaky start and got the pastor's ministry off on the wrong foot. It was seen as rejection by the church. You were lucky that people actually wanted to know your reasoning.

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