Does Your Husband…?

By Bev Marshall-Goodell

It always starts out innocent enough. “Our last pastor’s wife was the (unpaid) church secretary. Does your husband know how to use a computer?”

“No,” is my patient reply, “he doesn’t even have email.”

“Our last pastor’s wife played the piano for worship every Sunday. Does your husband play the piano?”

“No,” I continue, “but he does like to beat drum sticks on an oatmeal box.”

How many times have I been through this in new congregation? “No, my husband cannot direct the choir or teach Bible study or head up the church bazaar. No, he won’t be staffing the church nursery or taking charge of the youth group. No, he won’t be redecorating the bulletin boards or keeping the kitchen stocked with coffee for Sunday morning fellowship.”

Maybe single pastors never get this, but for some reason, many churches expect the pastor’s spouse to serve the church as part of the pastor’s salary. Perhaps there was a time when every pastor’s wife had the time and energy and inclination (though I seriously doubt it) to be unpaid servants of the church, but if there ever was such a time, that time has most certainly come and gone.

When the bishop appoints me to a church, my husband will go with me, but no church should expect him to an unpaid assistant who picks up all the responsibilities I am not able to take on. He will be a faithful church member who attends worship and study groups and an occasional church bazaar, but he does not wish to be in charge of anything at the church.

Women have been ordained as pastors in the Methodist tradition for more than fifty years, yet for some reason, churches do no know what to do with a pastor’s husband. It is bad enough when the problem occurs in a small rural church. It is even worse when it occurs in a large suburban church (experienced with clergy couples) that could not understand how their female pastor could be married to anyone except another pastor.

Unfortunately, our worst experience with came at a gathering for clergy spouses hosted by the bishop’s wife during annual conference. The event was announced well in advance, and clergy spouses were required to preregister in order to attend. The invitation announced that the event would include a meal, entertainment and special gifts for all the spouses.

When my husband arrived for the event, he was surprised to receive a gift bag filled with women’s cosmetics! He was not the only man in attendance, and after some quick scrambling, the host did manage to put together some more gender appropriate gift bags, but the damage had already been done. Now my husband jokingly introduces himself as “the pastor’s wife.”

I am not sure what kind of paradigm shift it will take for the United Methodist Church to live into the reality that women are pastors and men can be clergy spouses. Until that time comes, my husband will be skipping the clergy spouse gatherings and simply trying to be accepted as another member of a local congregation.

marshall-goodellBev Marshall-Goodell worked at The University of Iowa for 19 years conducting research, teaching and directing the Women in Science and Engineering Program before accepting a call to ordained ministry in 1998. She received her M.Div. from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in 2001, and served at Aroma Park UMC in Aroma Park, Ill,  and Ankeny First UMC in Ankeny, Iowa, before being appointed to Grace UMC in Tiffin, Iowa, in 2004.

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3 thoughts on “Does Your Husband…?

  1. As a preacher’s wife for more than 50 years, I am very aware of some of the expectations. My husband always said at the first PPR Committee Meeting that I was not the church secretary or the assistant pastor. I had my own rule that I never did anything in a local church unless there was no one to do it–I did play the piano (badly) a few times. He was always a better typist than I was, so there was no secretary question!
    Much of the time I was working and being a volunteer in various church activities beyond the local church. I don’t think I ever fit the mold of “preacher’s wife.” It puts me in mind of Marilyn Brown Oden’s book: “Minister’s Wife: Person or Position.”

  2. Your article made me laugh out loud. Too true that our churches are still not ready for male clergy spouses (even after almost 60 years of ordaining women). My beloved’s feeling on the subject is that, as a faithful member of the congregation, he should do some kind of volunteer work, and so has taken on the job of webmaster. The sting comes when the church does not fully appreciate his talents or heart for service, but makes jokes about getting “the deal of the century” or “two for the price of one.” I suppose this is gender equality at its worst.

  3. The root of the problem has less to do with gender and more to do with the assumption that spouses are part of the “package.” For too long, clergy spouses, initially all women, went along with the silent (unpaid) servant model – and did great harm. Contemporary female spouses have just as much trouble finding a good balance as do the male – maybe even more, due to past practice!

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