Friday, April 19, 2013

Pastor's Wives: Uncensored - Week 2

Sorry this is a day late this week... funny enough, we were out of town at a church planting conference, so ironically the delay is blamed on ministry (although I probably could have done it on time).  This week my friend Jessica is sharing with us. Jessica blogs over at The Parsonage Family, works for, does some freelance writing and editing, and raises her two young daughters (and occassionally a foster child) with her husband Matt. They pastor a Methodist church in the Nashville area, and I love her honesty about the ups and downs of serving in a denominational church, proving that church is not always "one size fits all" and even as a ministry wife, a good fit is important!
Despite the fact that I named my blog "The Parsonage Family," I rarely write about pastor's-wife issues. That's because, for most of the time I’ve been a pastor’s wife (going on seven years), I’ve been pretty disgruntled about it, and found it hard to write about without being really negative and cynical.
Unlike Kim, I wasn’t turned off at all by the idea of dating a pastor/pastor-to-be. Matt was working in youth ministry when we met on our first night of orientation at Vanderbilt Divinity School. Being a religion major in college, and going on to study religion in grad school, I already had a notion of hoping to marry a man preparing to be either a pastor or professor. My parents told me to hang out next door at the Law School, but I liked spiritual, scholarly types, and knew there was a good chance of getting my MRS at the same place I was getting my MTS (Master of Theological Studies).
Despite having notions of marrying a pastor, I was not prepared for the actual reality of being married into the ministry, especially in the United Methodist Church, where pastors are assigned to churches within a certain geographic area, and matching up open churches and pastors desiring a move takes precedence over finding a “good fit” between church and pastor. So, I’ve felt a lot of frustration over not getting to choose where I worship, where we live (during our parsonage days), and just in general not getting to be a “normal” congregant. Not to mention all the usual stresses that go along with life in ministry. I found these statistics telling:
Did you know that 75% of pastors report a "significant stress-related crisis" at least once in their ministry? That 56% of pastor's wives say they have no close friends? That 33% of pastors say being in ministry is "an outright hazard to their families”? (Source: a post on Eugene Cho's blog, in a post called "Death by Ministry.")
I guess we’re lucky, in a way, that my husband experienced his “significant stress-related crisis” early in his ministry. I hope that, years from now, we will look back on that period of time as the worst time in our marriage (i.e. I hope we never experience anything worse). I’m glad to report we’re two years out of that terrible time now, and I’ve learned at least one thing about coping with the ups and downs of being a pastor’s wife, embodied in my decision of when to become a member of the church my husband serves.
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. 
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 (remember, in our denomination, that decision isn’t entirely up to us) 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.

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