Things your pastor’s wife wishes you knew – Guest post by Holly Scheer

Luther-Familythumb-640xauto-5This is a collection of sentiments from all of my sisters in Christ that I have met over the years. Please know that not all will ring true for each situation.

The pastor’s wife occupies a strange space in the parish. She is not a called worker (usually) nor is she a normal pew sitter. She may be involved with every activity and committee or none. She may have a brood of children she is busy minding, children grown and flown from the nest, or arms that have longed for children and never been blessed with them. The make up of each pastor’s family will look different but there are some quiet commonalities that escape notice.

She is far from family. Almost all of our pastors leave their home area to attend seminary. Sometimes they are married before they go, sometimes they marry there, sometimes after. It is the rare pastor’s wife who lives her whole life by family. This means that on holidays unless family can travel to them they are without kin to celebrate with. It means that when there is sickness in the family there is no family close by to swoop in and help. Many pastor’s wives see their family far more rarely than they would prefer.

She struggles to find friends. It is a difficult thing for many pastor’s wives to find friends. Do you make friends in the congregation and hope that nothing goes wrong? Many women are afraid of this and are often counseled against the practice by fellow pastor’s wives. Even if she finds friends in the congregation there are subjects that are best avoided so that the parishioner’s view of the pastor is not impacted. It can be hard to find friends in the community, as well.

She misses her home parish. Every parish has the special ways of doing things, the holiday traditions, the special meals that come out at potlucks. While most pastor’s wives love how things are at their current church home there are times that the differences are difficult and sad. It can be things like which setting of “A Mighty Fortress” is used in services or the way that the sanctuary is decorated at Christmas. Maybe she grew up with Jello salads and hotdishes, or they could be new and take getting used to.

Along with the home parish is that the only sermons she usually hears preached are by her husband. Most pastors wives (myself included) think that our husband’s are wonderful preachers… possibly we think that they are about the best. Even so, it can be difficult to hear a sermon preached by someone that you are having a disagreement with. Even pastor’s families sometimes have disagreements. It also means that if she wants to go to private confession she has to decide to confess to her husband or to seek care of someone not her pastor. It means that she sits in the pew every single week without her spouse. She wrangles kids while trying to listen without a spouse to help take them out.

She may be afraid or resentful. It is an ugly truth that pastors are removed from office. Pastors have their pay cut because the congregation is unhappy with him. Parishes go through tough times and can’t afford to pay their pastor. If she is in a situation like this or has been, or even just knows a fellow pastor’s wife struggling through this she may be very upset. It is hard when the congregation and pastor are at odds and it is very difficult for the wife in this situation. She is most likely powerless to fix the issue. She may be afraid of losing her home. She may be spending her time applying for assistance and looking desperately for a way to help keep the family financially afloat. If there are children involved she has to find a way to help them not resent the church for how the family is being treated.

Is it all bad? Is it all sadness and heartbreak and homesickness? Is every pastor’s wife hiding upset behind every smile?

No. There are so many wonderful things about being a pastor’s wife. There are pastor’s wives who are very happy and feel loved and well cared for. They are happy to see their husbands in his vocation.

But the other side of this is that one of the seldom talked about reasons pastors leave the ministry is for the sake of their families. They leave when their wives are miserable and hurt and no longer able to let it go. They leave when they can not provide for their family. They leave when the place that we most expect love and help becomes the place that hurts the most. Conflict and loneliness eat away at families.

So how can we help?

Pray.  Understand.  Be thoughtful.  Encourage.  Ask.  Pray.



Things your pastor’s wife wishes you knew – Guest post by Holly Scheer — 22 Comments

  1. My two best friends at church are my pastors’ wives. 🙂 I’ve always wondered if that was weird or wrong or made me seem like a suck up in some way (as if sucking up to a pastor’s family could earn someone more favor with God — ha!). But maybe it’s that I somehow feel like I can relate. I know I’m “just” a guard spouse, but it’s still the military. For us it still means being away from family, being alone in the pew when army duty calls, and trying to juggle and weigh the various vocations of our husbands which often conflict. Obviously, these are not the same, and we each have our own struggles… but maybe that explains why I connect with you both.

    Or maybe it’s simply that we are all around the same age with kids all around the same ages… who knows.

  2. Mrs. Scheer,
    I concede the particular problems you have with church/Pastor as a pastor’s wife.

    Everything else can be said by the “second wife” to a man married to a corporation. [Believe it or not, very few Missouri wives are still living on “the farm” and in the same congregation to the third and fourth generation, with all their relatives and the cemetery on the hill across from the church.]

    I did look for the church first with every transfer; every transfer meant starting over. (I’m sorry if you don’t have “honorary grandmas” for the children; mine were fortunate.)

    This Christmas, my children and grandchildren hope to be in the same place for the first time in more than 10 years. Even the young Pastor plans on it, DV! I can’t complain of letting them go where they needed to for the jobs they wanted to do; I moved 1100 miles after I married. (My grandmother emigrated with husband and four small children and got back to Denmark once, after 50 years.)

    Oh, yes. Corporations, at least the ones I’m acquainted with, have upheavals, too. In ours, about every 7 years… if you survived, there was guilt in having a job while a friend, no less capable, was “out”. [Is that why Pastors, who haven’t experienced it, (yet) insist that CRM’s “must have done something wrong”? Well, no, maybe they didn’t do anything more “wrong” than the ones still in place. I digress!] Eventually, it’s your turn….

    If you have immediate family somewhere, (after five years, I didn’t) you possibly also have Skype for face to face conversations, e-mail, drop-box for pictures, a cell phone and even the US Post Office, (which was all I had; the long distance was too expensive to use often).

    Sorry to be so long….

  3. I was blessed to be the son of two parents who acted to make sure the wife and the children of the Pastor were supported and recognized. In fact our whole parish loved our Pastor’s whole family and understood the work they all were doing on our behalf. The members showered them with food, gifts, invitations to dinner, baby sitting the children, raising money to send them on a very nice vacation every couple years, getting them the best vehicle possible, supporting them when one member of their extended family needed them, we had them over for dinner often. My Dad was the homemade sauerkraut king and gave them the loads of kraut they wanted and loved.

    I cant remember how many times I witnessed our Pastor sitting on a wagon or leaning against a tractor as the guys shared a few beers. We loved them and still do. It doesn’t take much but we are driven by Christian love to do sometime for them.

    For what it is worth the Pastor and his wife did tell us that we were an atypical congregation. It made me sad to hear that and it still does.

    Of course we thought we had an atypical Pastor and family and as I go through life I recognize even more how atypical they were. Faithful to Word and Sacrament, our confessions, great teacher, great counselor……

  4. For all the sacrifices of the pastoral office, it is good to remember the remarkable suffering that is often born by a pastor’s wife. It is not without significance, that St. Paul warns his readers of the difficulty of serving Christ in the Church, and serving a spouse and family.

    Thanks for reminding us all of this, particularly as the seasons are changing.

  5. On the challenge of the pastor’s wife finding friends, there
    are some avenues to explore.

    1) If she is a young mother, then it is possible she will become
    friends with some of the mothers of her children’s friends.
    This can happen at the elementary school or in the neighborhood.
    When your children have various school activities you can easily
    meet some of the mothers and build a relationship.

    2. If she is an empty nester, then it is possible for her to become
    friends with other pastor’s wives in their circuit. Some circuits
    have a monthly gathering for the pastor and his wife. It is a good
    place to develop meaningful relationships.

  6. Holly, Thank you for the reminder. I think Vanessa and Helen hit the nail on the head whenever they alluded to other ladies in many of the same situations because of their husbands’ jobs. Perhaps one encouragement for pastors’ wives would be to seek these ladies out. They may even need a friend more than you. My own daughter, who lives over five hundred miles from family, has become great friends with her pastor’s young wife. This is a blessing to both, as well as to her parents, who were concerned with her assimilation into the community.

  7. Holly, thank you for sharing with all of us a bit of life that we don’t often think about. I agree that there are many other vocations which create some of the same challenges, especially when it comes to moving multiple times. I appreciated very much the comments from Mames, reminding us that there is actually much each of us can do to reach out and support those around us in active Christian love. Unfortunately, this type of thinking and acting has disappeared in much of our society; we have become focused on so many activities for ourselves and our children that we use up our allotted time and have little left for the congregation. I believe that we have to remind ourselves frequently of the opportunities before us to share Christ’s love in word and deed.

  8. @mames #3
    Of course we thought we had an atypical Pastor and family and as I go through life I recognize even more how atypical they were. Faithful to Word and Sacrament, our confessions, great teacher, great counselor……

    The Pastor’s wives in my first and second congregations “away from home” were about as old as my mother, with grown children. The older ladies in the first congregation were helpful in the pew and otherwise. The Pastor’s wife in the second congregation was the nursery school teacher for the Day school; my younger two went. We became friends.
    We sometimes tend to “divide by age” now. I’m glad those older ladies (pastor’s wives and others) were willing to help and advise. [And yes, their husbands were valued friends, too.]

    It can be done, if (as one of my younger clergy friends puts it now), “you keep things separate”.

  9. But please, PLEASE, when you’re asking us questions – whether to get to know us better or see how you can help, DO NOT ask, “So, are you going home for Christmas?” You know where we’re from, and if your PASTOR left for CHRISTMAS… you wouldn’t have church. I get it, it’s conversation and you get caught up in the season and everything but as much as we love you, we do miss home and far-flung family a lot, too.

  10. I appreciate Helen’s word of caution here.

    Particularly those pastors and their wives who have little to next to no “real world” experience in the workplace tend to forget that there are a lot of laypeople who live far from family, work very long and very stressful hours, and still are at church for services and activities. While we can all appreciate the unique stresses on the pastor and his family, we must take care that these kinds of posts do not come off as a litany of whining, that may not be too well received by laity whose also know considerable hardship of living out their Christian life in what can often be an extremely hostile workplace environment, etc.

    I had a friend who went to the seminary and his wife was so distraught by the “seminary wives” group that basically was one huge ongoing pity party about their bleak future as pastor’s wives, that after the first meeting of the this group, she never went back and was better for it.

  11. @GW #10
    You know where we’re from, and if your PASTOR left for CHRISTMAS… you wouldn’t have church.

    True, but I know quite a few pastors who disappear for a week or two, post-New Years/post-Easter. We learned early that even birthdays were celebrated at the convenience of [the corporation]. When my oldest was perhaps 6 or 7, his “birthday cake” was a “short stack” with a candle in the middle, because breakfast was the only time Dad was going to be available that day. (And he remembered that, as “special”.)

    Once that son left college, married and went to Sem., we celebrated “Christmas” when we could, or more often, without him. Where you are, with your husband and children, is “home for Christmas”.

    [If you are going to cry about anything else (I did, and I sometimes do), don’t let anyone else know about it! Your husband is also not “home for Christmas” (if you mean where he grew up) and his mother misses him!]

  12. Whenever I read articles like the one Holly posted here, I’m aware that people who are not involved in professional church work, might read our complaints as “whining.” To be sure, some of us do indeed “whine.” I think that what happens is that when Pastors and their families try to describe the challenges of “life-in-the-fishbowl,” lay folk can feel that we are minimalizing or marginalizing the struggles they have as well.

    One difference, which is not often discussed, though, is this: When people, whose working or professional life occurs outside of church world, experience the stresses and struggles of their lives, they can find comfort, solace, refuge and strength from Christ – within the church and from their fellowship believers. They do not sit in the pews, or attend Bible study, with their company’s stockholders!

    For professional church workers, and their families in particular, it’s a different deal. Sometimes, the very setting in which that comfort, solace, refuge and strength is desired, is the setting, that is contributing to the stress and pains of the heart. When life is going well in the congregation, there are few distractions in worship. When life is not going well in the congregation, the pains of the heart can be triggered by the faces of the very people with whom we sit. There is no worse feeling than being in the company of believers…and feeling all alone.

    Thank you, Holly, for your courage in putting this together. Thank your fellow pastor’s wives for their courage, too. I look forward to continuing the conversation.

  13. @JimORev #13
    They do not sit in the pews, or attend Bible study, with their company’s stockholders!

    In one place, a good Pastor was followed, upon his retirement, by one who was more interested in the members’ incomes than in their spiritual lives. [But not enough to really know about either.] At one church board meeting, he remarked that “nobody earning less than $10,000 a year belonged to his congregation.” [This was in the 60’s, but even then $10K wasn’t a whole lot of money.]
    There happened to be, sitting on that board, two men, one employed by the other. The employee earned less than $10,000 a year. Which of them, do you suppose, told the reverend that he was wrong?

    A few years later, it was an accurate statement, because all the members earning less than his despised $10,000 [including many charter members who were small businessmen] left that congregation… and before the reverend finally left, the congregation was nearly broke.

    [Pewsitters usually do not regard themselves as “stockholders” in God’s church, BTW, or the church as a “company” unless they are infected with PLI, CG and similar plagues…]

  14. In the spirit of the title of this post—”Things your pastor’s wife wishes you knew”— I’d like to give a shout-out to the congregation my husband serves (and congregations like it). I’m so grateful to them for letting me be me, and treating me like just another parishioner (i.e., someone with her own identity and interests), with no special expectations. I may not be “a normal pew sitter,” as Holly points out, but it sure is nice to be treated that way.

  15. Very nice little article. Most church members today don’t really give any thought to pastor’s wives and pastors sacrifices, isolation, and other problems that come as a result of taking on the call and role that they have. My wife has served all three congregations that I have served as the church organist. She has never gotten much pay and very little recognition. It hasn’t been easy but you don’t do it for the money or the high praise, hopefully we all serve as part of our love and thanksgiving to God. That being said, we both look forward to putting down our responsibilities and becoming just regular members.

    However, I think the seminaries should do a better job of warning future pastors and their wives of the sacrifices they may have to make, before the new pastor takes his call. This little article will help.

  16. Rev. Loren Zell :
    However, I think the seminaries should do a better job of warning future pastors and their wives of the sacrifices they may have to make, before the new pastor takes his call. This little article will help.

    Pastor Zell,

    I don’t know what seminary life was like when you were attending, but as a first year seminary student I can assure you that we are getting loads of information preparing us for the sacrifices we are going to make in parish life. Wives are taking course work at night about this very thing. I believe the seminary I attend (Ft. Wayne) is doing an excellent job preparing wives for parish life, but as always it is up to those who hear to take away from those lessons what they will.

  17. @Rev. Loren Zell #16
    My wife has served all three congregations that I have served as the church organist. She has never gotten much pay and very little recognition.

    God bless your wife in her service. Good organists are usually under appreciated! I wish it weren’t so, because a good organist adds much to a liturgical service.
    [As is the case with many jobs, people only notice when they are done badly or not at all.]

    G’nite now, all y’all!

  18. @Jim Pierce #17
    In reality, I understand what he says. You can take courses, practice at seminary, or whatever, but when “flung to the wolves”, this is where it can get tough.

    And this is where a strong Circuit and CV are good for support. The CV should take the “new guy” under his wing and make sure all is well at various times. Sad of late, some Circuits could care less, and in reality, being a pastor is a lonely job.

    And please, whatever the state of the CV, just be a brother and care for the man and his wife. Let them know they are part of the team. Bury the liberal / confessional hatchet and take the job you were elected for as serious.

  19. I learned one very important lesson from an elderly lady at my field work congregation my first year at the seminary. This elderly lady’s husband had been a pastors wife, but her husband had died several years before. She sadly just said something like, “I lost my husband when he became a pastor”. I think what she was saying to me was, don’t neglect your wife and family for the sake of the church. You have to balance off your responsibilities, and sometimes the church has to come second to taking care of the wife and kids.

    My wife has never been to the pastors wives retreat in Texas, as her full time job as an RN has gotten in the way. They have counselors there to help the wives with their problems. Apparently, they keep pretty busy, from what I’ve heard. This tells me that some pastors are not ministering to the WHOLE flock. A word of advice. Don’t be that guy.

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