The Personality of the Minister's Wife
There are certain physical assets that the parson's wife should have, and one of those is an attractive appearance. In our branch of the church each congregation selects its own minister. When a pulpit becomes vacant a committee from the church is appointed to go and "spy out the land." They go and hear this man preach, and they hear that man preach, and they hear the other man preach. They ask all sorts of questions; they get all the data they can about him. One of the first questions they ask is, "What kind of a wife does he have?" In our home just recently we had two college presidents visiting us in search of men for the chair of Bible in their colleges, and they each asked particularly about the wife. One of the men said, "I would not think of asking a man to become a professor in my school until I had seen his wife."
Now if it is important for a college professor's wife to be a worthy woman, how vastly more important it is for the pastor of the church to have a wife who is a worthy woman! Very often when it comes to the actual call, the qualifications of the wife weigh almost as heavily as do the abilities of her husband. Because a church wants a woman in the manse who will draw people to her and not repel them.
It has been twenty-five years since we were in the pastorate. When I sat down to begin writ ing my book I wondered if my ideas were a little rusty. Maybe I had forgotten a few things and should do something to bring myself up to date. So I sent out questionnaires I sent fifty questionnaires to laywomen and fifty to minister's wives. To the laywomen I asked the question, What sort of a woman do you want in the manse? I think you minister's wives or prospective minister's wives will be very much interested in the list as I have compiled it here from the letters of those laywomen.
First of all, at the top of the list, all but two of the fifty women who answered put "consecrated Christian character." One of the women who forgot to put that in was my own sister, and I know that both women took that much for granted. But all of them placed consecrated Christian character as the first qualification they expected of their minister's wife. Then followed such traits as these: "sincerity," "friendliness," "a gracious personality," "a sense of humor," "a happy disposition," and "tact." One writer suggested "not too eager to give advice." Another laywoman stressed a knowledge of Christian education as being important. Then others wrote, "kindly," "understanding," "sympathetic," "willing to listen," "able to give counsel at the proper time," "one who can keep secrets," "courteous."
Wouldn't you think that was about enough? Well, it isn't! That is, that isn't all the lay- women want. "A pleasing presence," "neat in appearance," "immaculate in dress," "poised." "cultured," "a good all-around woman," "nor mal in all her ways," "an interesting conversationalist," "one we can look up to and not feel afraid." "I want my minister's wife to be well informed about things in general, especially the women's work of the church." "I want her also to be poised and pleasant in trying situations." "My pastor's wife should have more than the average education, but never should she refer to the fact. Mrs. X prefaces far too many of her remarks with 'When 7 was in college.' " Then this woman comments, "My mother used to say, 'If you're smart, people will find it out without your telling them.' " "Wise old mother," she adds.
Another says, "We want her to be friendly, outgoing in all her interests and attitudes, genuinely interested in the welfare of others." "We like good taste. One who has been around more than a little, and knows the amenities. One who never stoops to petty gossip." "She should be well adjusted and mature in judgment, joyous and confident in faith, testing all her acts and relationships by the life and teachings of Jesus."
Now, women, that's what is expected of you. Who is equal to it? It seems that the lay sisters want someone just a little lower than the Virgin Mary, and perhaps a cross between Mary and Martha. Anyway, they set our standards for us, and they have set them high. And so the minister's wife should know this. The people themselves may do a certain thing and think nothing of it, but they don't wish to see their. Minister's wife doing that same thing. They set the standard for us.
Now a few of these qualifications deserve special mention. Personality stands high on the list. One girl may have a joyous disposition from the cradle on, and another one may have a solemn, sometimes sour disposition. You know, you go up to a cradle and look at one baby, and his little face will be just wreathed in smiles. He is such a happy little fellow, and he begins to wiggle and kick and gurgle. Another one will blink his big eyes and stare solemnly up at you and seem to wonder what it is all about. You may remember the remark that is attributed to Alice Roosevelt Longworth about Calvin Coolidge, that he must have been weaned on a sour pickle because he looked so dour all the time. Well, there are many people who have somewhat of a sour-pickle look.
But, fortunately, a woman who has a tendency to a solemn disposition can improve that particular characteristic in herself, beginning with the injunction of the apostle Paul, "What so ever things are true, and pure, and lovely, and of good report, think on these things." Personality has a way of shining out through the face. Not long ago in visiting with a cousin, I said to her in speaking of a mutual friend, "Is she just as homely as ever?" I had not seen the woman since I was a young girl. Mary studied a minute and then said, "Yes, I suppose so. But you know, she's always so lovely that I never think about her blotched face." It seemed to me that that woman had the spiritual glow that we all covet, but in my foolish youth I had missed seeing it.
Neatness is a thing that the laywomen stressed practically all of them a neat appearance. Now I don't think the minister's wife should try to set the styles in the town, but I think she ought to keep within hailing distance of them. She should never seem to be overdressed. You won't please everybody, no matter what you do. Whether you do or you don't there will be somebody who will take exception. I remember once after a long illness I had decided to give my morale a boost and pad my bony frame with a new outfit. I hadn't had any new clothes all winter because I had been sick, so I sort of "went to town" when I got my spring wardrobe. It was a striking outfit. I still have the rose from the hat I bought and wore it again last summer!
The first day I wore my new clothes to church, a woman of perhaps the sour-pickle variety came up and said, "Hum, our pastor must have had a raise in salary!" I had been feeling so beautiful! After that remark I just felt like a little balloon that had had a pin stuck in it, and I began to go down. Another woman who overheard the remark came to my rescue. She said, "We pay our pastor a good salary; we expect his wife to look the part. We want to be proud of our pastor's wife." And that idea was stressed a number of times in the questionnaire returned by the laywomen about the pastor's wife looking her part.
I remember another time when I was getting ready to go home, out to Kansas, I was buying a new suit. I was trying to decide between one that cost $25 and one that cost $35. Now thirty years ago $35 purchased a fairly good suit. Since I needed that other ten dollars so much, I was just about to take the twenty-five-dollar one. The man who was waiting on me was the proprietor of the store and also a member of our church. He said, "Please take the better suit, Mrs. Blackwood; we want to be proud of our minister's wife."
One of the women in her reply to the questionnaire said, "Our pastor's wife always looks so lovely. We are all so proud of her when she stands up to make her report at the annual meeting." So you see your people who may not have as good a salary as your husband will have want you to look your part and they also want your husband to look his part. The shepherdess ought to use discretion about where she wears her best clothes. If she is going to call on "Mrs. Astorbilt," for instance, she will put on her "$35 suit." But if she is going down into one of the humbler cottages she will wear something simpler, but it should always be spotlessly clean. The minister's wife represents the Lord in the community.
I like to tell this story about a minister, the late Dr. Theron Rice, of Richmond, Virginia, a friend of my husband, whom he considers the most spiritual man he ever met. They were sharing a bath at a conference one year, with adjoining rooms. Dr. Rice was to preach on Sabbath morning and he was spending a great deal of time over his toilet. He came into the room where my husband was and said, "The Lord has not given me a beautiful body, but I am told that this body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and I feel that my body and my linen should be as neat and as clean as is possible for so holy a Guest." So let us think of that when it comes to selecting our clothes not how we can adorn our body or show off our figure, if any, but how we can glorify the Lord.
I hesitate to speak about matters more personal, such as brushing the teeth, the daily bath, and the use of deodorants. I know many, many people who will be reading my book are not going to need this advice perhaps ninety per cent of them will not but I put it in for the benefit of the ten per cent who do need it. I am sure that in your contact with people you have come across women who are careless. There is nothing more offensive to a person of dainty habits than to have her minister's wife rush up with a body odor strong enough to fell an ox. A very prominent minister in a nearby city was late for a dinner one night. As it happened he was seated right beside me. He had been playing golf in the afternoon, and had rushed to catch his train. He sat most of the time with one arm akimbo. I almost had to leave the table.
Another thing is to keep.(-your hair carefully groomed. A pastor and his wife never know when an accident or death or calamity of some kind will strike in the flock, and you may have to go at a moment's notice. You may not have time to take a bath and change all of your linens or fuss with your hair. So each morning when you get up, comb your hair as carefully as if you were going out to dinner. Then if an emergency arises, with a quick brush you are ready to go.
A Good Carriage
A graceful carriage is another important thing. You have seen many women who may spend small fortunes on their clothes, but because they walk in a slovenly way, they spoil the effect of a good gown. It is not difficult to keep your shoulders up. It may be, when you are carrying a baby in your arms, but learn to walk with your head erect as if you are proud of being a minister's wife. And never look dowdy. A housemaid said one day of a caller, "She looks good until she starts to walk." And that was the truth. A saucy daughter said to her mother one morning when they were walking together, "Draw in your neck, Mom; you can't do anything till your feet get there anyway." So that's a good thing to bear in mind. Do you know how the Eastern women do? They carry their packages on top of their heads and they are all just as straight as arrows. Try walking with a book on your head if you cannot find a better exercise.
The Charm of the Voice
A pleasing voice is another thing that is very important for the minister's wife. Sooner or later you will have to speak before a group of women. I am sure that we each have had the experience of not being able to hear a certain woman if we were sitting more than two or three seats from the front. Or we may have to stop our ears because of a high-pitched, nasal voice. Learn to make the most of the instrument which God has given you. That is particularly necessary if you will be asked to lead in prayer. You want to be able to lead in prayer so that all may hear you.
(Continued next month)