You've come a long way, pastor's wife!

While being the wife of a pastor may bring its stresses and strains, it's easier to fill this role now than it has ever been before.

Ellen Bresee is the coordinator of Shepherdess International, a part of the Ministerial Association of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

You say it's tough being a minister's wife in today's hectic society? There are the complications of members' expectations, living in a fishbowl, small salary, loneliness and isolation, scant family time, etc. It's true that the list is long and the concerns are real. But sometimes we pastors' wives read and hear about so many problems in the ministry that we sink slowly into the mire of self-pity.

If you find yourself feeling that you are destined for the torture chamber because you are in the ministry, perhaps a quick look back and a turn of the coin to the positive side are just what the Master Physician is prescribing for you.

What if you had married a clergyman back in the 1500s? Well, at least you wouldn't have had to be a clergy wife for very long. Your dear husband would probably have been burned at the stake, put in prison, or hung for breaking the vow of celibacy. Suddenly, no role expectations!

Do you think you're on display all the time? The fishbowl syndrome? Mrs. Thomas Cranmer, wife of the first Anglican archbishop of Canterbury, was so forced to seclude herself from the public that she had to travel in a box with ventilating holes in the lid. Not until the 1600s were married clergy widely accepted in England.

I'd rather have been in the lime lightmy claustrophobia, if nothing else, would have cried out for more exposure!

Many women of my (very young!) age can look back the few decades to when we entered the ministry and remember what now seem archaic practices. After the terrifying interview with conference administrators (that part hasn't changed much), the call eventually came through, and the two-for-one (giant economy size) era began. Of course, I believed this was the way it should be. A wife who wasn't willing to donate her full time to the church was a bit suspect.

Even when the children began arriving, I didn't slacken my pace in church work. I merely accelerated to high gear to encompass child rearing, church work, and wifely duties. Evangelistic meetings knocked out five or six evenings a week. I had to be at every one to run the slide and movie projectors, keep the ushers lined up, run the book sale table, and give chalk talks up front. During the day there were sermon brochures to type, mimeograph, and deliver or mail. There were dozens of black light illustrations to draw and cut out. We were busy, we were happy, but we didn't have much time to just be a family.

Here are some ways I think things have gotten better for the pastor's wife:

1. Ministers are encouraged to spend more time with their families. I'm not complaining now and I didn't com plain then. I loved the excitement of the meetings. My heart was thrilled and my tears ran freely when my husband made a call for decisions and those we were working and praying for responded to the Holy Spirit. However, I sometimes feel my children were robbed of too much of our time. And we were not able to nurture our marriage as much as we should have.

I thank God our church now more frequently encourages its ministers to spend time with their families. The conference will pay for incognito counseling services if marital difficulties or other personal problems require professional help.

2. Administrators are more democratic. The conference in which we began our ministry was very arbitrary in how they informed us of new appointments. Since it was easier to move pas tors during the summer, camp meeting time brought the yearly fruit basket up set. During one of the evening meetings in the main pavilion, the conference president would announce which pastors were being moved and where. We pas tors and wives were not previously in formed. You can understand why every pastor wanted to be present at that meeting! If you didn't manage to get there, you would likely learn of your appointment through the grapevine.

Like most other interns and their wives, we were assigned duties in the primary and junior pavilions. Ours was a large conference, and we were all extremely busy trying to corral as many as 1,000 nuclear-powered dynamos in one building. But that special evening we wives would sneak out long enough to hear the moving announcement. We would then run back to our work station and get the word to hubby. Sometimes we were in tears over the proposed move, but we weren't asked, notified, or given an opportunity to express our feelings.

I know moves still sometimes seem to be made rather arbitrarily, but many of us have lived through a time when there was less say than the church typically affords its pastors today. Most administrators now try to work with the pastor and his family, and their needs are usu ally considered.

I could go on, but I don't want to sound like a maudlin, senile senior stuck on old memories. We've come a long way, pastor's wife!

3. It's more acceptable today for pastors' wives to have their own careers. Some wives prefer their own career or profession. Their self-worth is enhanced by being successful in an area separate from that of their husbands. Identity is not as much of a problem for them as it often is for those pastors' wives who walk only in their husbands' shadows.

On the other hand, many pastors' wives would rather work by their husbands' sides and be involved in the work of the church. However, because of finances, they must work. Their congregations probably understand better than they would have a few decades ago. Now most of the wives in the congregation are working too.

4. Pastors' wives now have more freedom to choose their own role in the local church. The pastor usually frowns on church members who say they're too busy to accept a position in the church. It would seem the pastor's wife has at least as much obligation to support the church as does any other member. She does, however, have the freedom to accept or reject responsibilities according to the gifts God has given her. If she is asked to lead in the junior department and she knows that is definitely not her expertise, she should feel free to say, "I'm sorry, this is not one of my gifts. How ever, I'd feel comfortable with one of the younger divisions." This is a new freedom too few of the older wives have had the privilege of exercising.

5. Needs related to the problems of loneliness and isolation are more often met. With the backing of conference administrators, Shepherdess organizations are providing opportunities for wives of pastors to get together. Thus for many pastors' wives a ready-made support group is available. These sharing and learning times provide a valuable assist to coping in the pastoral home.

6. Training is encouraged through continuing education courses and books written especially to meet the needs of the minister's wife. Only in the past few years have pastors' wives had access to these educational and supportive tools. Some conferences are even reimbursing the pastoral spouse on completion of a course. Being knowledgeable before situations arise with those "irregular people" in the congregation can smooth a mountain into a molehill.

Being part of a pastoral family is easier now than it has ever been. And filling this role definitely has its advantages. In what other role could you get so intimately involved in the lives of so many wonderful people? Have you ever been moved by the prayer of faith the little old saint offers at prayer meeting? Or has the widow lady who lives in the two-room apartment above the gift shop pledged a quarter of her small monthly pension to ward the church building project in response to your pastor-husband's call for funds and she hadn't even voted for the new church? Sacrifice? Love? Where else could you see it so vividly?

They say many baby animals bond to the parent through their first sight and smell experiences at birth. Church members are constantly bonding to the pastoral family through happy and sad events in their lives. When you share with a member or family in the joys of baptism or a birth or marriage, you will be bonded for life. When you stand with a parent, spouse, or child at the bedside of a dying loved one and enter into his or her grief, you are forever bonded to that person. You may meet that member 10,000 miles away, 10 years later, and his or her love for you will still be there because of the bond formed when you shared his or her experience of joy or grief.

Where but in the ministry would you have a church member drive clear across town to bring you a fresh-baked loaf of bread and tell you how much you are appreciated ? Or a gardener who shares so many bountiful gifts from his garden? Or a lady who every year makes her special Christmas peanut brittle to "share with my dear pastor and family"?

We can choose to spend our time thinking how bad we have it, or we can choose to thank the Lord for all the blessings the ministry has brought to our lives. Not every day will be filled with flower-strewn pathways, fresh-baked bread, peanut brittle, or people requesting baptism, but as those things happen now and then, we can let them bring praise to our lips and warmth to our hearts.

Frankly, I think we've come a long way, pastor's wife!

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Ellen Bresee is the coordinator of Shepherdess International, a part of the Ministerial Association of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

January 1989

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