On being Mrs. Pastor

Being a pastor's wife can be hard on your humanness, but could it be that the capacity to relate to people in a very human way is the one gift that can do the most to make life rewarding?

Muriel Phillips is the wife of the minister of the Seventh-day Adventist churches of Norwich and New London, Connecticut, and the choir director/organist of the United Congregational church of Norwich, Connecticut.


How did you become the wife, of a minister? Did you fall in love with a ministerial student while attending college? Did your husband surprise you after being married a number of years by announcing he was going back to college, as he felt the Lord calling him to the ministry? Or did you marry a man who was already in the ministry?

It doesn't really matter how it happened, but today you find yourself in this role. How do you feel about it? Do you feel God's leading as you happily fill your place in God's great plan of winning souk for His kingdom.7 Or are you overwhelmed by the role expectations, maybe even chafing at the things you are learning ministers' wives must cope with?

If either of the latter are true of you, take courage, dear heart; you are not alone! Others share your feelings and find it is not always easy to be a minister's wife!

While Muriel Phillips discusses three areas she finds particularly difficult, she shares a secret that has helped in making her relationships with those in the parish meaningful and rewarding. —Marie Spangler.

My partner in marriage has been a minister for nine years. Perhaps you would think that I would have come to terms with the occupation by now. But being the wife of a minister does not come easily for me. I make a distinction here between the pleasure of being Reg's wife and my discomfort in being the "minister's wife."

It gives me great satisfaction to know that my partner is engaged in a meaningful profession. A "people job" is person ally rewarding, and ministry has it on that score. I am proud that Reg can be of help to people in those areas of life that are ultimately important. I do not resent the time he spends on the job because he skillfully manages his time to include family priorities. I am gratified that his job gives him the latitude to decide which areas of ministry he is best suited for. But some things do bother me.

The three problems that trouble me most about the ministry are loneliness, moving, and criticism. I guess I feel that if I put my thoughts on paper, it may help other ministers' spouses out there to feel less lonely. Maybe by sharing we can help keep these feelings from growing out of proportion.

Loneliness. Many spouses find intimate friends within the congregation. For me, this has almost never worked. When the minister's spouse becomes friendly on a personal basis with a church member, there is great risk of misunderstanding due to the pastor's position of authority and leadership. This is especially true when the minister must make a decision that the friend disagrees with. It is sort of like having your spouse as president of a company and relating to all of the company's employees as friends. When there is a "labor dispute" (church board), "policy disagreement" (theological difference), or "strike" (large-scale criticism), the friendships can become quite uncomfortable. I have found friends outside the congregation, but it would be lovely to have just one church member who would be mature enough to under stand my needs for friendship without regard for her own feelings about my husband's style of ministry. That is asking a lot—to ask someone to see you as a person, not a stereotype. To overlook gossip, to be there just for you. I would like to think of this as a contribution to personal ministry—a gift from one person to another.

Moving. While some may look on this activity as a grand adventure, I do not find it enjoyable. In some circles, moving has been regarded as a "way out," or a "way up." I feel that there is personal, professional, and denominational strength to be gained by longer pastorates. I am glad to see trends moving in that direction.

Criticism. Harry Truman once said, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." But a woman whose husband is a minister can't just pick up and leave. Sure I know criticism comes with the territory! I know people have a right to disagree (I didn't say an obligation); I know the church is supposedly a democracy; I know there will never be a congregation that totally supports its pastor. Yes, I know these things in my head, but my heart doesn't pay attention to facts. My heart knows that I love the pastor that precludes objectivity. My heart knows that I can't stand to see him hurt and sleepless. My heart knows that he has more training and experience than his critics. Trust takes time. Trust takes knowing. I wonder if they will give him that time. The anger that results from criticism is tough to deal with for a woman whose husband is a minister. I don't feel that it is appropriate for me to become involved in defending him, but the feelings have to go somewhere. Where?

Most of us, ministers and parishioners alike, are about the same. It is our fear of sharing that sameness that keeps us apart. The best gift any of us can give is simply to be ourselves. This is especially true of the minister and his spouse. Pretense and affectations get in the way of meaningful and rewarding relationships.


Prayers from the Parsonage

I've just spent the afternoon with recent converts to our church. Coming from different religious backgrounds, they had been led step by step to the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. As they shared experiences, I felt a wonderful joy. These were not simpleminded folk deluded by religious propaganda. Neither were they unbalanced people seeking emotional crutches. Vibrant, attractive individuals, they rejoiced in finding a personal relation ship with Christ and a deeper under standing of the Bible.

In contrast, I have no dramatic conversion story. My testimony is of parents, teachers, and friends who nurtured me in the Christian life until I was old enough to decide on my own which way I would follow. The doctrines and programs of this church are part of me. Though I have been blessed by growing up in a Christian home, I easily take it for granted.

Thank You, Lord, for this contact with people who have experienced something so worthwhile that they've made impressive changes to be part of that faith. They are an exuberant witness to relatives and colleagues in a far wider circle than mine. They've also witnessed to me. Because of their perspective, I view my religious heritage—so familiar, so dear—with a special pride.

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Muriel Phillips is the wife of the minister of the Seventh-day Adventist churches of Norwich and New London, Connecticut, and the choir director/organist of the United Congregational church of Norwich, Connecticut.

October 1984

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