I recently consulted with a group of pastors’ spouses to talk about how Christian Theological Seminary could support them as they worked in ministry with their clergy spouse. My goal was to talk about what personal needs were not being met, considering they were spending so much time taking care of others. These spouses take care of their families, members of their congregations, and I suspect other people, like those in the community who come to the church looking for help.
To my amazement, many avoided talking about their own needs, but rather focused on the continuing needs of their churches and their husbands. No matter how I phrased the question about what they personally needed, their answers came back to support for the church. Many of them wanted to make sure that 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. These are very noble activities. Many focused on finding personnel who could put these programs in place at their churches. Others talked about financial stability for the church itself and its members, and they were looking to have classes in finances.
As I listened to their conversations, I could hear evidence of a paradigm shift in the role of the pastor’s spouse. Many now look like business managers, administrators, community organizers, and co-pastors. This particular group had some of these titles, and they were looking for ways to help with the needs of their churches and for ideas and skills to do a better job in the position they occupied. For many of them their chief frustration was getting their churches in a position to minister effectively to their congregations.
Although the spouses were looking for help for their churches, what they found was comfort in a supportive group. They were surprised that they shared helpful information with each other that addressed their concerns about programing for their churches. Their ability to communicate well 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 clergy spouses to talk with about the life of being a spouse to the clergy, which most ordinary people didn’t understand. They said that life as a clergy spouse was very lonely and working in a peer group would help them to overcome the loneness many of them often felt.
This loneliness piece has been an issue for most clergy spouses. I thought to myself that no matter what position a clergy spouse had in their church, they very rarely developed intimate relationships that were supportive and allowed them to be themselves.
I learned a tremendous amount from this group. I learned that the Academy of Preaching and Celebration at Christian Theological Seminary could play a role in convening an ongoing gathering of clergy spouses. How often it meets and the content of the meetings will be determined by the group. I learned that even though pastors’ spouses do not often say they have needs, when placed in a good environment with the right people, the needs will surface. I also learned that clergy spouses who felt supported let their guard down and were able to be themselves.
I learned that the gathering of pastor spouses needed to be about rest, relaxation, and fun and because when we had time for rest, renewal, relaxation, and fun, the conversations flowed freely and easily. Many of these women were so busying taking care of others that it was important for us to provide an atmosphere to allow them to take care of themselves.
Dr. Joyce Scott Thomas is the Associate Director of the Academy of Preaching and Celebration.
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