It’s official. We’re moving to a little town in the Adirondack mountains of New York State where my wife will be the Pastor of a little United Methodist Church. So I’m beginning my adventure as the Pastor’s husband.
In the past, I’ve been a Pastor myself. So I know (by observation) about the expectations churches have of Pastors’ wives. The lore and advice surrounding that role in church life is unending. The support groups are legion. Several hundred years of Protestant tradition has made the Pastor’s wife a normal and expected part of Protestant church life, though the past few decades have seen many radical changes in how it is played out.
The ordination of women, and thus the role of the Pastor’s husband, though, has only emerged slowly over the last century:
- In Baptist life (my denominational background) some congregations began ordaining women as early as the 1920s. However, Southern Baptists convention, after ordaining women with qualifications for a while in the 1970s and 80s stopped the practice and revoked its recognition women ordinands in the 1990s. American Baptists (formerly Northern Baptists) still ordain women.
- In the Methodist tradition (my wife’s denominational home) the first ordination of a woman was recorded in 1880 in the Methodist Protestant Church. In the Methodist Church in America women were granted the right to be ordained as full elders only in 1956. These merged into the present United Methodist Church.
- Among Congregationalists (now generally United Church of Christ) the first ordination of a woman was in 1853, but it was not recognized by that denomination.
These are some of the earliest ordinations. However, appointments and recognition of ordained women as Pastors – people in charge of congregations – took even more time, and the role of ordained women as Pastors, though common nowadays in the life of “Main Line” denominations, continues to emerge slowly and painfully as it continues to crash into the stained glass ceiling of denominational life within and continued denial among denominations that still will not recognize women as legitimate pastoral leaders.
With women increasingly entering the ranks of Pastoral ministers in congregations, however, the new phenomenon of Pastors’ husbands appeared. But what’s a church to do with such a person? Given the church’s tendency to be behind the learning curve on every gender issue, and it’s typical inability to talk about sex (or anything having even tangentially to do with sex) in a healthy way, there seems to be very little to do with Pastors’ husbands.
When my wife and I went to interview with the Staff-Parish Relations Committee in preparation for her assignment, I had the opportunity to ask them, “What expectations do you have for the Pastor’s Husband?” Their answer was an awkward silence. One member of the committee offered that they didn’t really have any expectations. But, in the course of that same interview, different committee members suggested that it would be nice if I:
- came to their monthly church dinner fundraiser, and
- took a turn in their second-hand thrift store ministry, and
- sang in the choir, and
- taught a Sunday School class, and
- helped with general building maintenance.
Clearly, there are expectations. The church just doesn’t know how to articulate or negotiate them. To be fair, I’m pretty sure I don’t know either. What I’m sure of, though, is that over the next year or more, I’m going to find out.
So, as I start to figure this out, I’m starting this blog for those of us who are Pastors’ husbands, and for the women we’re married to. I hope that, though we’re still a relatively rare but increasingly common breed, we can connect and work some of these things out. (I realize that I’m not the only one. There are three other blogs by DTJGordon, Steve, and Mitch, that come up at the top of the Google search on “pastors husband,” though the latest posts are April and May of 2009, and January of 2011 – so I’m not sure if these guys are still doing the “Ph” thing.)
Whether you’re a Pastor’s husband, a Pastor with a husband or a church member dealing with a Pastor’s husband, I welcome your comments, observations, experiences here.