I’m sitting in Jiffy Lube right now getting my oil changed and so I thought I’d write a somewhat serious list this week.
Every so often, talk of Pope Francis allowing married clergy crops up and people talk about how they have *NO* idea how it could work. (Hint: instead of the Baptist/evangelical churches, look to the Orthodox churches, the Episopalians, the Lutherans, and the Eastern Catholic churches as a model.) For those who are wondering about all of this and are concerned for the sake of how things would be for the priest’s wife, here is my list of things that help me survive when Jon is pastoring a parish.
— 1 —
A cell phone number that is a state secret. After getting a couple “emergency” calls on my cell phone by people looking for Jon that turned out to be questions that could have waited or that took me 2 seconds to answer, I made the decision that my cell phone number would not be given out to anyone that did not desperately need it. Those who watched my cats got it as did the church council presidents but nobody else.
Another benefit: I kept texting off my cell phone plan until a year or so ago and this ended up actually being beneficial to me in Jon’s last parish. We had a ladies event and someone came in late. They started chewing me out for not texting them and I told them very sweetly that I hadn’t texted anyone because my cell phone plan didn’t include it. (Said person had been copied on an email about the event as well as me calling them to see if they were coming.)
— 2 —
Friends outside of the parish. There have truly been wonderful people in every parish Jon has served but I have found the need to keep some part of my life separate. As a rule, I do not friend people on Facebook until I am out of that particular parish, nobody Jon has pastored gets access to my Twitter EVER, and there is a definite limit to what I discuss with parishioners. This is why I have friends like Rebecca (who has known me for 20+ years, was my maid of honor, and is one of Daniel’s godmothers), Kym, Dayna, Crystal, my Cathso chicas, and a few other friends who have absolutely no connection to the parish but whom I trust enough to talk about things that are going on in my life.
Another part of that: I thankfully can read people well enough to know who is trustworthy. In the case of one particular person, I knew within 5 minutes of meeting them that whatever I told them would be known countywide before too long. It’s why I laugh when I hear people use the argument of the husband telling the wife the secrets of the confessional as an argument against married clergy in the Catholic church — Jon doesn’t tell me anything! Fellow parishioners, however, have tried to tell me who has a drinking problem, whose marriages are on the rocks, and a lot of things that I usually tell them I don’t want to know.
— 3 —
My own faith. One thing that all of my successful clergy spouse friends have is an understanding of what they believe and what works for them spiritually. As faithfully as I can attend church, Jon is not responsible for my spiritual life and each parish would become a cult if I made them solely responsible for it as well. My devotional practices fluctuate from time to time depending on what is going on in my life but the fact that I do spend some time reading the Bible and praying each day has enabled me to keep my faith during some pretty dicey times in parish ministry.
— 4 —
A place where I can escape. In Minnesota, we did errands in Watertown once every week or so and it was a chance to get away from our small town for a couple hours. In Montana, we went to Great Falls at least monthly for Walmart runs (back when I actually had to shop there) and also because I had family there. When things got hard in the parish, I also had a couple churches I could attend if I was willing to get up early and drive two hours south. In Jon’s last parish, I’d head to Elk Grove (the next town north of us) for a couple hours or I’d head to my parents’ house two hours away.
My best escape was my full-time job in Montana. My commute was 60 miles each way and it gave me a break from the parsonage, the churches, and the community. I found that it seriously helped me to deal with some difficult people if I could get a break from them and I thankfully had a boss who was more than happy to help me enforce those boundaries by letting me transfer parishioner phone calls to her so she could explain to the caller that it was highly inappropriate to expect me to conduct parish business on company time.
— 5 —
A sense of adventure and an inquisitive side. When God has called us to go to the ends of the earth to spread the Gospel, it generally ends up being rural and a farming community. I used to joke in Montana that we hadn’t gotten called to the ends of the earth but you could probably see them from there. A town of 12 people where we would have to drive 25 miles for groceries, banking, and medical care? Sign me up! A church in the middle of nowhere next to a Hutterite colony on a gravel road? Bring it! A church out in the corn fields 12 miles from town? I’ll do it! I actually had better Internet in my town of 12 people in Montana than my in-laws did in Los Angeles. The only reason we can’t take calls like that anymore is that Daniel needs pretty specialized services and medical care which unfortunately require access to a major medical center and/or proximity to various groups that provide speech, physical, occupational, and behavioral therapy.
Another part of this is that I am always wanting to know more about how things work and I’m not afraid to ask questions about what various parishioners do. I used to sit at the local co-op on Saturday mornings in Montana and talk with farmers about their crop yields and their cattle while getting my oil changed. My farm wives in both Minnesota and Montana taught me quite a bit about how to buy beef, how to can just about anything, and how to quilt. In exchange, I’d teach them how to use their computers. 🙂 I still look back on some of those conversations with fondness.
— 6 —
A sense of humor and the ability to laugh at the absurd. One of my favorite authors is Phillip Gulley and his books in which he writes about a fictitious Quaker minister in a small town are a pretty funny look at life in a clergy family. In one of them, the church council is discussing the minister’s benefits package and various people are making remarks like the minister and his family not needing health insurance because they can pray for healing. (I hate to say that I’ve sat in on similar meetings with similar remarks made.) In another, there’s a Quaker militia to guard the various parts of the live manger scene from the ACLU. That sounds utterly bizarre but after 12 1/2 years of being a vicar/pastor’s wife, I’ve seen weirder things happen.
— 7 —
A therapist and the Boundaries book by Cloud and Townsend. Living in a fishbowl when you suffer from anxiety and depression is really hard. In both Minnesota and Montana, I took advantage of therapists to get some of the really toxic stuff out of my mind, especially when dealing with difficult people and when I was fighting PTSD/PPD after Daniel’s traumatic birth.
The book that I think I found most useful across the board was the Boundaries book by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. It was helpful to know how to separate what was mine to handle and what belonged to other people but was being tossed onto me. I still use every one of the lessons of that book in my daily life even though Jon is not in full-time ministry.
For more Quick Takes, visit Kelly at This Ain’t The Lyceum.