I’m an Episcopal priest and my wife is a “parish” priest, which means that her “day job” — if there were such a thing in a church (not) — is shaped by the rhythm and demand of caring for the spiritual needs of a congregation.
So, I have experience as a clergy person and as the spouse of a clergy person. The spouses don’t often get a chance to tell their own story, but if they could, here are twelve things I think they would want you to know:
1. We are thrilled to be here. This isn’t just a job. God has called our spouses to this endeavor and we share that conviction.
2. We are not all women. Some of us are men. We could elaborate, but that should be obvious.
3. We are not all interested in shopping, knitting, the altar guild, and the sewing circle. We are way past the minister’s “little woman” era.
4. Please don’t ask us to take messages home to the pastor, minister, or priest. Speak directly to our ordained wives and husbands. We were taught that triangular behavior is a bad thing and it is.
5. We do not have secret information we can share with you. Our spouses don’t tell us everything and, even if they did, we couldn’t share it with you. Clergy who keep confidences are clergy who can be trusted. The rest are just gossips. (See item 4 above.)
6. We are not unpaid employees. Please don’t assume that we are part of a “two-fer.”
7. Don’t expect us to type or play the piano and organ. (See item 6 above.)
8. We want to be involved. We will support our spouses. But we need the freedom to choose our own way of contributing — Just. Like. You.
9. We have a life beyond the church. We are heavily engaged in our own careers and in nurturing our families. (See items 6, 7, and 8 above.)
10. Some of us are part of a clergy couple. Too often people and judicatories assume that if one of us is paid, it’s unfair to pay the other. Nowhere else on the face of the earth do people make that assumption. If we are contributing on an official basis, we should be compensated.
11. Our homes are our homes. We will gladly welcome you and entertain you. But even if you provided housing, that does not mean that we don’t value and need our privacy.
12. Please don’t pick on our families. Like you, we are a work in progress, in need of God’s grace and your patience.
Finally, please remember: When our spouse became your pastor, priest or minister, you became our family and our home. We live where we live and worship where we worship because of you. We will grieve with you, celebrate with you, live among you, and worship God with you.
We hope that you will welcome us as family, friends, and fellow pilgrims.
The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Rueben Job Institute for Spiritual Formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and consulting editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews, as well as several books: A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009), and The Dave Test (Abingdon, 2013). He and his wife, Natalie (who is also an academic and an Episcopal priest), live in Highland Park, Illinois, with their Gordon Setter, Hilda of Whitby. They have four children and four grandchildren: Henry, Addie, Heidi, and Sophie.
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