A Composite Picture of the Minister's Wife

This article is by Mrs. H. S. Smith, whose husband is minister of the Christian Church, Ashtabula, Ohio. Portion of ar­ticle reprinted by permission from Church Manage­ment, June, 1948.

ANN HIBLER SMITH

The chance remark of the minister's bride that she wanted to share appreciation with her husband chal­lenged the groups of ministers' wives. Mrs. Smith tells more of its implications.

We wives of the clergy solemnly had promised each other that on our eve­nings together we would never—just never—talk shop. But that is precisely what we did, and with complete abandon.

It must have been the atmosphere of that charming rose-and-mauve living room, 'the fire on the hearth, the cozy relaxing comfort of it, or maybe it was our newest member who started it all. , . . The minute she walked into the room, we could feel her zest for life, sense her vital young enthusiasm, and we were con­tent. . .

The conversation drifted along, as it does when women get together. The children were discussed, the latest plans for spring decorat­ing, the "battle of the bulge" that most of us are eternally waging. With the trite question, "how do you like our little town ?" the barrage began.

"I love it already," answered our newest one. "I know I shall be happy here; everyone is so wonderful to Bill." Then wistfully she added, "I want them to be proud of me, too."

"Proud of me. too !" That started the ball rolling. Before the evening was over this young woman had been exposed to a first-class round­table discussion on the "what and the what­nots" involved in becoming the kind of person a church can point to and say proudly, "There goes our minister's wife!"

We were a group of women representing many denominations. Our ages ranged from this young girl, down through several in the "life begins at forty" stage to one gentle soul who with eyes a-sparkle sat quietly, reliving her days of service with us. We were as di­verse in personality, in appearance, and in ex­perience as any lot of women drawn together by common interest could possibly be. I think all of us were ready for a housecleaning, men­tally that is; or we would not have entered into that conversation so freely. This unburdening did us good. We parted having rekindled within ourselves a desire to pull up the slack in our own lives, and, like our young friend, wanting our church people to be proud of us, too. . . .

These are not my ideas, alone ; rather, they are a composite picture of the ideal minister's wife as set forth by all of us that evening. Not one of us ever hopes to attain this perfection, but we all resolved to aim for it.

[t] Number one I shall call the minister's wife in the home. A home begins with just a husband and a wife, and in the course of time it usually ends with just a husband and a wife. Because of the close mutual interest that holds throughout all our lives together, the relation­ship of husband and wife in a minister's home is most important, more important than in al­most any other profession. There must be love. Pm not talking about the . . . romantic culmi­nation of a thrilling courtship. I mean the love that comes after the first bloom has worn off, the love that is a sharing, a giving, a together­ness that needs no sham or artifice. It is the kind of love that makes two people laugh to­gether, sorrow together, that gives rise to a fierce protectiveness of each other.

Every minister has times of discouragement. It is then a wife who loves him knows what to do for him. She may just listen, let him talk out his unhappiness ; or the solution may be as simple as cooking his favorite dish. She may suggest a game . . . to bring back his good spirits or an invigorating swim or the nerve-soothing remedy of a hike through the woods together. Whatever the cause of his being "down," the clever wife will have a remedy for it. One thing is certain, if a man cannot come home and find in his wife a sympathetic audi­ence, something is wrong. To God he can go in times of trouble, and he does : but he needs also tangible understanding, a feeling of oneness with someone close at hand, and that someone should be his wife.

I add this further word. A wise minister not only talks over his problems with his wife but also listens to her when she expresses her ideas about any matter of mutual interest. The wom­an's viewpoint, this thing called "intuition," often proves worthy of a hearing. One church board chairman (whom I shall always adore, maybe because he does this very thing) has often stopped when we would be talking over church matters in our home or his and said, "Now, wait a minute, I want to hear what Ann thinks about this." Blessed man!

[2]    Number two in this discussion of the minister's home might be headed running the parsonage smoothly. This is a Job—and no one knows it better than the wife. What with bells here, phones ringing there, unexpected in­terruptions the rule rather than the exception, it takes a calm soul and a clever manager to care for her family with efficiency. It means planning and plenty of it, and hard work ; it requires a maneuvering of the budget that would challenge experts. It needs patience. But, having taken on this job of being a minister's wife, this we must expect. A church as well as a minister has a right to know that the parson­age is well managed.

I shall never forget a criticism I heard a woman make concerning a minister's wife in our community. "Why," she said, "there wasn't a single chair in the place that wasn't stacked with junk. She had to clear off three chairs before we could sit down," she added, her mouth settling into a thin line. Every time I met that woman afterward I had a faintly bitter taste in my mouth. Yet I knew there was just cause for criticism in this case. There were no small children in this home, no health problem, just a lazy wife.

One of our members reminded us that there is one thing that is very important. "I think," she said laughingly, "that one of the best ways on earth to keep a man sweet is to feed him well." We knew she had a point. Most of us had found through experience, that good food, well cooked, is cheaper than doctor bills and much more satisfying. The general well-being of any family depends largely upon what they eat. To cut the budget, to skimp by not serving well-balanced meals, is poor economy indeed.

Any woman has a big job in mothering a family of children. In many cases the minister's wife, not unlike the working mother, has so many demands upon her that her children are really neglected. When the situation reaches this state, a wise minister's wife draws in some lines and takes time out to rear her children. She will do all she can to help in the church work, but let her people know that her first job is to be a good mother.

[3]    And then we came to the delicate point—the minister's wife herself. Here we found more diverse opinions than in any other part of the evening discussion. We admitted that most of us were not blessed with the pulchritude of our bride, but we did feel that every woman can be attractive. No matter how irregular the fea­tures, she can be an immaculate person. We talked of clothes, of make-up, of keeping abreast of the trends in style. Appearance depends greatly upon individual taste, personality, and sometimes economic status, consequently, no set rules could possibly apply here. But these little things mean so much—hair, nails, shoes, personal daintiness, and femininity. We must watch these things. An attractive minister's wife never hurt her husband's work or the church.

[4]      And now, the minister's wife in the church. A minister's wife's first duty is to her 'home, but youngsters do grow up, and a day comes when a more active part in the church work is possible. It is then we need to be care­ful.

My mother is a minister's wife and one of the most beloved who ever graced that posi­tion. Back in her heyday my father would say, in accepting a new charge, "Now gentlemen, there is one thing that I want understood—when you hired me as your pastor, you did not hire my wife. Ahem !"

Now, I know I was born thirty years too late. Today questions about the wife are asked when a minister is be.ing considered for a pulpit: Has she a college education? Does she get along well with people? Is she a good worker in the church? Does she play the piano and sing? etc.,

Aside from my mother's loveliness of charac­ter and face, the secret of her popularity lay in the fact that she was permitted to keep in the background. Always in her place, ready to lend a helping hand, but never leading out or taking over—that was my mom. It has its points. When the minister's wife steps into a job some­one else wants or could do, when she starts telling others how and when to do something, she is in for trouble.

Calling is no small part of pastoral work. How much should his wife do is a question. At certain kinds of calling she may excel. It may be upon the new mother or the aged, or if young people are her specialty she can do much good here. Calling in newly established homes she can enthuse over a color scheme, or suggest some easy but unusual recipes; maybe she can help .the young bride solve some difficult house­keeping problem by showing her a simpler method. It's woman to woman, and heart warming; it can bring results.

We did decide that a minister's wife should not accompany her husband on all his calls, al­though at times it is desirable. Some make a practice of this. There are circumstances when people want to talk to their spiritual adviser, and alone.

In our evening's discussion on the duties of the minister's wife in -the church we decided that the wife who is "human" in her relation­ships has it all over her sister, who feels her importance, who never forgets her dignity. Dignity has its place. But the woman who is unaffected, who doesn't trade on the fact that she is the minister's wife, can do the most effective work. Her charm lies in the fact that first, she is a woman, then the minister's wife.

A question arose at this point, this business of parishioners calling us by first names. Be­cause we have been in our present pastorate many years, our people call us by our first names. We like it. We feel one of them. We think it brings about a rapport between pastor and parishioners that is desirable. Some older minister's wives held out that we had lost some­thing by this familiarity, namely, the prestige_ I wonder !

[51 Finally, The minister's wife in the com­munity. As her husband has his place to fill, so she will have hers. Depending upon her other responsibilities, her activities will vary, but ob­ligations to the community there will be. If she is wise, if she wants to help both church and husband, she will cooperate and work with other churches on mutual projects. She needs some interests outside of her church work, but she will work where best she can serve, be in­terested in the worth-while community activi­ties, taking part only where she can do it with­out detriment to her church work, her family, her health. But she won't become a "joiner."

I leave this question with you : Is there one of us, who has not many times longingly whis­pered, "I want them to be proud of me, too"?

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ANN HIBLER SMITH

May 1949

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