Is it Possible to Live on a Minister's Salary?

The thrilling story of a minister's wife with four children who refused to divide her life.

CARROL JOHNSON SHEWMAKE, a minister's wife

EVER run across an old diary or notebook and find yourself propelled backwards—into yesterday? I'm afraid this happens quite often to me, for as likely as not when my mind gets going my pen does too! Cleaning out draw­ers at my house often yields some very inter­esting tidbits. Today's discovery was a report of a meeting for ministers' wives held more than three years ago. As I read it over and re­counted to myself the marvelous working of God in my life since I recorded those scribbled notes, I decided it was worth sharing with other ministers' wives around the world.

I came home today from the Ministers' Wives Fellowship with a puzzled mind. I had enjoyed the meetings greatly. Getting acquainted with other workers' wives in our large conference gave us all a feeling of kinship. Nevertheless I felt puzzled.

"Did you have a good time?" my husband asked.

"Oh, yes, lovely!" I answered.

I truly had had a lovely time, stimulating and thought provoking. Perhaps if I thought carefully back over the day I would be able to analyze my puzzled feeling.

I had arrived a few minutes early, chatted with the reception committee, who were old friends, pinned on my name tag and went in search of new faces. Today was a day to make friends with as many new people as possible as well as visit with old friends.

I was slated for a panel discussion later in the day, and the other four ladies on the panel I had not met as yet. By the time the first meeting began I had met three of the panel members. In the process of getting acquainted we asked about the number of children in each family and all the other chitchat so necessary to women in order to get to know one another. "How many children do you have?" each would ask me.

"Four," I would answer, "ages thirteen, twelve, ten, and nine. Three boys and the last one a girl."

"Oh, my, you're busy, aren't you? What kind of work do you do?"

"My family keeps me too busy to work away from home," I would answer.

"How can you ever manage to rear four children on just a minister's salary?" was the astonished question almost every time!

As the day progressed I began to have an un­easy feeling, as though I somehow was not do­ing my share, or perhaps was just a little lazier than the other ministers' wives!

The panel discussion was on the topic "Bal­ancing the Ministers' Wives Obligations." Sub­topics were: to her husband, to her children, to her special church interests, to all the meetings and activities of the church program, to evan­gelism when the church is engaged in it, to her home duties, to entertaining, to her personal hobbies or activities, to the community, to her spiritual growth, to her mental development.

Much study had been put into this discussion and the points brought out were interesting. It was truly a full life this ideal minister's wife was to lead. It was a challenge to all of us!

The conference president's wife stood up to dismiss us. "I want to thank all of you ladies for coming and especially to thank those who helped on the program. All of the ladies on the symposium and on the panel discussion work away from home as well as doing their jobs faithfully as homemakers." She glanced at me, "Nearly all," she amended.

A very young minister's wife raised her hand timidly. "Do you suppose at another meeting we coold discuss the possibility of raising a fam­ily on a minister's salary without the wife work­ing away from home?" she asked.

My mind was in a whirl! At least three fourths of the ministers' wives in our conference work at paying jobs. Would this young mother be any different?

Presumption or Faith?

This, then, was the cause of my puzzled feel­ing—was I being presumptuous by depending upon God to provide for any extras or emer­gencies our family might have in the future? In other words, was I neglecting my duty by not holding down a paying job?

Would you be bored if I told you a little of our life and how we have managed on a minister's salary for the past sixteen years?

To begin with, if I had been a man I most likely would have been a minister. I was thrilled to know that the man I loved was called to this sacred work. We were married four days after John's graduation from college, spent a seven-day honeymoon, and started right in on our lifework together. I loved the minis­try as much as John did, and I went with him visiting, giving Bible studies, and in all the other duties of a ministerial intern.

Three years later our firstborn son arrived and I had another absorbing job—that of be­ing a mother. Within four years we had three more children. No longer could I share as ac­tively in John's work, but I still retained my in­terest. I found being a mother made me more sympathetic to others and a better Christian and helper for my husband.

Money Divine Aid = Success

God blessed our money during those years, as He still does, and we never went hungry or lacked any necessary things. If we needed shoes, some store had a sale and we outfitted our flock. Sewing has always been a hobby of mine and my little Singer has saved us many dollars.

I could fill a book with the wonderful ways God has provided for us. When we needed new furniture I took two children of a working mother to care for five days a week. With my own four that made six children! What good times we had together! All the money I earned in the three years I cared for Rita and Kelly went to buy the furniture we still have.

Time to Help Raise Money for Church

During those three years I also earned more than three hundred dollars for the church building fund, making doll clothes and stuffed toys to sell. My memory still carries a clear pic­ture of my big double bed loaded with the six children in various poses of interested lis­tening as I sat at my sewing machine telling stories of my childhood—all the while busily stitching up tiny doll clothes. That's one way to keep six children out from under foot when you want to sew!

When my own four were all in school I gave up baby-sitting and planned to go back to col­lege and finish the classwork for my degree in speech so that I could teach to help our chil­dren through academy. The fall I was to enroll in college I became ill and had to have minor surgery. I did not have the strength to keep up the home and attend classes too. Somehow in the years since that time there has never been time for me to go to school.

I'm a Mother First

Both my husband and I pray daily for the future of our family. We feel that somehow God wants me at home. It isn't because I'm a minister's wife that I do not work away from home—it's because I'm a mother. I feel sure that many working mothers are successful in rearing their children for God. My children are far from perfect—perhaps because I, too, am far from perfect! It will only be through ear­nest prayer and diligent work that our youth will be in the kingdom of heaven.

Not Looking for Work

At the present time I am not looking for work. Is it any more presumptuous for my hus­band and me to feel that God will stretch our money than for others to feel that God will stretch their time to include outside work? Our oldest son starts academy in the fall. How will we manage boarding school within our limited budget? Only God knows. Johnny will work as much as possible and we will do our best. We have always paid our tuition bills on time and plan to do so again this year. We have never expected help from the church and they have never had to give it.

Our children are not denied the things they really need. All four are taking piano lessons. We have a good piano, an organ, and a selec­tion of smaller musical instruments. Someone in the family plays all of them or plans to in the near future. The children all have bicycles, skates, or whatever they need for recreation. None of us look tattered or worn. I sew in­stead of painting pictures—which I'd love to try someday when I have the time!

Real Self-denial Unknown

It's true our car isn't new, we can't take ex­pensive vacations—but we love to camp! yearn for a clothes dryer, a dishwasher, et cetera, but as I glance back over these para­graphs I'm ashamed to think I ever feel poor. We are rich in comparison to so many! I think of the early church workers and our mission­aries even now who know the cost of real sacri­fice. We do not know what real self-denial is.

I'll not repeat any more stories from our fam­ily scrapbook, but this I must say—my family is my life; I cannot be divided, my work is here within my home.

Thus ends the record of three years ago but it only begins the wondrous working of God financially in our family.

We did not know how our eldest son was go­ing to start academy three years ago—he grad­uated this June! He earned much of his own way by working summers, vacations, and after school. He finished academy in three years and was awarded a State scholarship for outstand­ing academic achievement which will amount to $1,200 a year for four college years.

We still have never gone hungry and we never expect to be hungry. Does not the Bible say, "I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread"?

Excitement in Store

I get excited wondering what God has in store for us in the next three years! Our school fees will be doubled this coming year with three youngsters commuting twelve miles to a junior academy, but we are not worrying. Oh, we're keeping our eyes open, for we need good sum­mer jobs for our fifteen- and thirteen-year-old sons. Our twelve-year-old daughter and I are taking care of a Nazarene nursery on Sunday mornings—it satisfies her love of babies and helps a bit toward both our needs for a few new clothes now and then.

I don't know God's future plans for us but I do know He has always provided bountifully in the past. When and if God ever wants me to work away from home in order to help provide financially for our family He will lead me and I will gladly do His will. For now and for al­ways His promise is, "And God is able to give you more than you need, so that you will al­ways have all you need for yourselves and more than enough for every good cause" (2 Cor. 9:8, Good News Version). Fellow mothers around the world, we can surely claim this promise and give thanks to God that it is ours!

P.S. An interesting postscript is this—I now have the clothes dryer I wished for three years ago—that's an extra! What a wonderful heav­enly Father we have!

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CARROL JOHNSON SHEWMAKE, a minister's wife

September 1967

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