No way was it supposed to happen. She was out of college and in a career. Then she took classes at a nearby seminary to become a better informed Christian. She loved Old Testament study, led the class in her maiden course of theology, and entered the Master of Divinity program after a year. Soon we had an idea of where this might lead: she did so well in theological studies that it seemed natural for her to become a theological educator. She graduated from seminary summa cum laude.
But a funny thing happened on the way to graduation. She took the required “field education” units, spending one summer as a ministry-intern in a rural church, the next summer in an urban working-class parish. Her call to pastoral ministry came directly out of her experience of pastoral visitation and preaching.
As a child, my good Nazarene mother had given me to the Lord, praying that I might be a preacher. The idea that I would become a pastor’s husband was not exactly what mother had in mind! You think God works in mysterious ways? Tell me about it. While you’re at it, tell Mom, too. After five years, she’s still adjusting to the idea.
Recipes and Style Shows
Life has become more interesting. When my wife was on another district, a favorite thing was the newsletter sent to pastors and spouses. Mrs. District Superintendent edited “The Pastor’s Wife” page. From it, I picked up great recipes, along with the neat tips for entertaining in the parsonage. I also read between the lines that I should entertain often if my pastor spouse was to become upwardly mobile.
On the present district, interesting experiences occur annually at the liberatingly retitled “Clergy Spouse’s Luncheon.” Imagine the only man in a gathering with sixty women. Somewhat to their embarrassment, and much to my amazement, I discovered what a group of women really do for fun. Their secret is safe, except to say there was a brief fashion show this year. I was all eyes but saw nothing I could wear, at least in public! I had more than my share of attention and will certainly attend next year. This, of course, is part of the lighter side of being married to a female minister.
There is Another Side
As one who loves his wife and has invested considerable emotional support in her ministry, I want her to succeed. I want her to be treated fairly by peers and laity alike. That is not always the case. Last month, for instance, a church committee discussed for an hour whether her annual raise should be adjusted for inflation, .5% less or .5% more than this year. Understand this: for 15 years, a.m. attendance averaged 95 or less. In her eighteen months there, it has averaged 130. She has received 30 new members, many by profession of faith, and baptized fifteen persons. Giving is up. High school students come regularly to church again. New programs are going, the 25-45 crowd is re-energized, and old-timers express thanks that the congregation is again on the move. The church is financially secure, pays all budgets, owns a new parsonage, and has no debts. But when my wife’s salary review came, an influential member of the church board told others: “She receives more than any woman should earn.” My wife has a forgiving pastor’s heart and takes a sanctified attitude about this. Mine is admittedly less so. A male enjoying the same success would receive a merit increase, no questions asked.
Another instance. An elderly church board member stated to others that he would not be buried by a woman minister. Among the audience was another church member, an unchurched man whose wife, a member, has tried for years to get him back to church. Unwittingly, the thrust of the comment was more than a simple opinion. The remark undercuts pastoral ministry in front of another church member and it undercuts her role as evangelist to the unchurched man, confirming a rationale for the latter’s neglect of his soul.
I have come to learn, in ways that personally affect me, that sexism is not simply an abstraction in someone’s political platform. It is a disorder in the way people think, and, very likely, also in the way they love. To the extent that sexism flourishes in the church, it is a sign and symptom of the world’s triumph over the church.
These and a handful of similar incidents hardly define the world in which my wife and I live. She has a good track record that stands up against any other minister’s. She is a better-than-average preacher and is given due recognition by parishioners and fellow clergy for that fact. I rejoiced in her first assignment as associate at a suburban church. She was accepted immediately, and the senior pastor had her preach at least once each month and on certain
special occasions like Good Friday. Her district superintendent is strongly supportive, and there is more than one female pastor on the district. At her present pastorate in a small conservative town, she enjoys broad congregational support, a few prejudiced comments notwithstanding.
Some parishioners did not know at first how to treat me. Time fixed the problem. We have forged a relationship that works. Only twice have I been introduced to visitors as “the preacher’s wife,” followed by chuckles all around. Each Sunday, I sit with our children in the second or third pew. I am a full-time daddy almost every evening, a situation I welcome anyway, which allows the pastor to conduct evening visitation and meet with her church and
As a man with a career, I probably have fewer expectations placed upon me than do the spouses of male clergy. I have a great sense of freedom about choosing my commitments. My role is more passive than that of pastors’ wives who work outside the home. Men in the congregation treat me in a friendly and respectful way, and I have played a part alongside my wife in developing closer ties among adult groups in the 20-50 year span.
The Problem Areas are Chiefly Two-Fold
The first is the pressure of knowing I am married to a gifted pastor but wondering whether my mate will get a real chance to maximize her God-given potential in the present pastoral system. This is no idle worry because I know of eminently qualified Nazarene women who have literally begged for a home mission church just for the chance of proving their gifts. In frustration, some have united with denominations that readily welcome their ministries. The other rub is an occasional sense of resistance from pastors’ wives who may feel threatened by the egalitarian tenor of our marriage and working relationships. Some feel strongly that a woman’s place is in the home and on ideological grounds, not evidence, suspect that our kids must be
warped. They are not.
Sometimes I feel as much a pioneer as my wife. In reality, we are pioneers only within our own generation.
There Were Others Before Us
Two of my heroes are Edwin Sheeks and Ralph Wynkoop. Sheeks was a successful businessman married to an early Nazarene preacher who moved so fast he could barely keep up. He bought her a revival tent when she began her ministry and over the years stood by her in hundreds of ways. I have a copy of his obituary published over 50 years ago in the Herald of Holiness. It is the obituary of a saint. Ralph Wynkoop is a retired evangelist and pastor who encouraged his wife, Mildred Bangs Wynkoop, to freely develop her career as a theological educator. I am acquainted with Ralph. Both men had a significant part in the development of their spouse’s ministry.
In the first year of her present assignment, my wife preached at the community-wide Good Friday service sponsored by the Ministerial Alliance. Her church was strongly and proudly represented. Afterward, a member of another denomination walked up to a member of her flock and said in my hearing: “Your church is really blessed.” How did that make me feel?
My wife is in it for the long haul. So am I.
Anonymous (Summer, 1992). I’m Ted and I’m married to your minister. Grow, 21-23.