A couple of Sunday mornings ago, I was hanging out in the “coffee commons” talking to a parishioner/friend. Our children are similar in age, so we often find ourselves together at church functions. Not too far into our conversation a couple of other women came and sat down at our table and joined the conversation. I had never met these two women before (it’s a fairly big congregation and we’ve been at this church less than a year), but my friend knew them. We all chatted for at least 10 minutes before we got around to actually introducing ourselves. I decided not to tell these women that I was the pastor’s spouse, I just introduced myself as Julie. My friend, however, did mention that I was married to the pastor, which seemed to take the women by surprise. I explained that I sometimes don’t let on who I am because it occasionally makes people uncomfortable or they feel like they can’t be themselves around me. Whenever possible, I like to let people get to know me for me before their expectations or assumptions of the “preacher’s wife” get thrown into the mix.
Being able to get to know others without the designation “preacher’s wife” is a luxury. In the relatively small communities where we have and are serving churches, I often run into parishioners at the store or the ball fields, and almost always get introduced as the preacher’s wife (sometimes without even my first name). Sometimes it bugs me that I don’t get to be just Julie, like many of our parishioners get to be just Sarah or Dan. I would like to be sure that the conversations I’m having with people in the community are not being filtered through the assumption that there are things they are not supposed to say to me. One of my personal goals as a clergy spouse is to help people see that clergy families are very much like most other people.
That said, I have learned that being introduced as the preacher’s spouse comes with the territory, and rather than resent it I try to see it as an opportunity for possibility. It opens the possibility of relationships to which I might not otherwise have access. It opens the possibility of being able to minister to someone who doesn’t otherwise have anyone to whom they feel they can turn. It gives people the chance to get to know me and see just how normal (and imperfect) clergy families are.
How is it for you when you are identified as the minister’s spouse? Is it something you celebrate, loathe, or somewhere in between?