Clergy spouses gathering 2015

Posted May 04, 2016 | Pastoral Excellence Network

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By Joyce Thomas

In April 2015, I consulted with a group of pastors’ spouses about the role of clergy spousesand how Christian Theological Seminary could support them in their own ministries. While a growing number of men are now taking on the role of pastor’s spouses, this particular group was comprised solely of women. These spouses take care of their families, members of their congregations and other people, such as those in the community who come to the church looking for help. My goal was to talk about what personal needs were not getting met for these clergy spouses, considering they were spending so much time taking care of others.

In the consultation, five questions were given to participants prior to the gathering: What is the traditional role of the clergy spouse and how has it changed?  What is your role as pastor’s spouse in your congregation?  What are you celebrating as you experience ministry with your congregation?  What do you need to continue to thrive in your role as clergy spouse?  What can the seminary do to help/support you in your role as clergy spouse?  Each question was discussed in detail to get a clear understanding of the role of these clergy spouses.

This particular group of women spouses reported that the “traditional” role of the “pastor’s wife” has been someone who made herself available for her husband and the church. A perfect role model of a Christian woman, she felt called to full-time partnering with her clergy spouse whether or not she had a full time job. Many had no life of their own, but served wherever needed.

However, participants stated that the role of clergy spouse is changing and spouses are more educated now, and are opting out of working in the nursery when no one shows up or playing the piano and singing solos with the choir. They are redefining what it means to be chic and “saved” at the same time.  Many of them are re-defining their ministry to include preaching, teaching, and the use of their gifts and skills in service outside the church.

When asked what they were celebrating in their congregations, these spouses said they celebrated their husbands, members who stayed faithful to the church after an iconic pastor left, women who were using their voices to speak out against injustice, and the work of their church. They were not complaining women, but were working positively in their roles as clergy spouses.

As we were talking about what they needed to continue to thrive in ministry, many of them, to my amazement, avoided talking about their own needs, but rather focused on the continuing needs of their churches and their husbands. Many of them wanted to make sure their churches were thriving entities, with programing to meet the needs of the youth in their communities and other activities to keep children occupied and out of trouble.

Although the spouses were looking for help for their churches, what they found was comfort in a supportive group. Their freedom to communicate inspired them to want to stay connected and form a peer group to learn from one another. Many of them said that it was good to have peers to talk with about the life of a clergy spouse, which most other people do not understand. We are continuing to meet monthly in our support group.

I believe when clergy spouses feel supported in a safe and confidential atmosphere they let their guard down and are able to be themselves to talk about what their real needs are. It was the rest, relaxation, and fun in the gathering of spouses that allowed space for conversations to freely and openly flow.

What about a support group for men or women clergy spouses in your area?

Joyce will present "Clergy Spouses: Surviving, Thriving and Even Thriving," a free PEN Talk webinar on Thursday, May 26 from 2:00- 3:00 pm EDT.  To participate, go to https://cpx.adobeconnect.com/pentalkmay2016/.

Dr. Joyce Thomas is the Associate Director of the Academy of Preaching and Celebration at Christian Theological Seminary and an ordained Disciples of Christ minister. She is a licensed Life and Energy Leadership Coach.  Based upon her thirty-one years in pastoral ministry with her clergy husband, she offers coaching to those that want to celebrate and survive ministry as a clergy spouse.

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