This 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.