Being married to a minister was not something I had on my to-do list. I just happened to fall in love with a guy who also carried the title, “Reverend.” According to my mother, I used to kiss the TV screen when Mr. Rogers was on, so maybe I always had a thing for Presbyterian ministers.
I definitely had zero schema for a pastor’s wife. I grew up Roman Catholic in overtly Catholic cities and towns, went to Catholic school and had grandparents who had Mary and Joseph statues from church in their house. On a bench. Standing close to nine feet tall. Number of times I peed my pants thinking they were people: two.
We didn’t meet in college or in seminary. We met through mutual friends at a dive bar with fantastic pizza. A year later, we were married and I was sitting in a pew, staring at a hymnal, thinking, Dear God, they sing every verse to every song. And, I don’t think I can leave after communion. Err, no.
A photo of us in our early dating days
As I categorize myself as a novice preacher’s wife (10 years in), I am still learning, growing and navigating my way through this very unique role. I still really don’t know what I am doing and just strive to be my authentic self. However, there are a few things that I have gleaned along the way that are worth sharing.
1. People flip out a bit when they meet me.
People are in a state of disbelief when they find out I am a pastor’s wife. They are either surprised, flustered or think it’s “cool.” I watch them play back the last five minutes of our conversation in their head. Individuals get awkwardly nervous if they used profanity, mentioned Jesus or said they drank beer.
2. They are also taken aback when I say “shit.”
When I cuss, people are either horrified or breathe a sigh of relief.
3. I like to use nicknames when describing churchy stuff.
I came up with little monikers and nicknames for special holy days, meetings or sacraments. Baptism = The Dunk Tank. Session = Ministry of Magic. Communion = “Shot Glass Sunday” or “Rip and Dip.”
4. No, I don’t like to sing.
Congregants automatically think I love to sing. I sound like an animal dying when I sing. You don’t want me in the choir.
5. I don’t gossip.
Church members think I know everything about everyone. I don’t. I truly don’t know all the dirt on Bob, the Watsons or the organist. Confidentiality and privacy are pretty important to me.
6. Church luncheons are not just cold cuts and community.
Sunday luncheons are the pièce de résistance to a congregation. So far, ham balls and chicken pies are on an equal playing field with caviar and truffles. Eat. Smile. Repeat.
7. Some Sundays, I prefer my bed and PJs to a pew and bible.
People expect me to be at church every Sunday. We go most Sundays, but there are times when the kids and I can’t seem to get it together and get out the door in time.
8. Who am I on Sunday morning?
Every seven days, I go to my husband’s place of employment and literally watch him work. Weird. This unique dynamic is hardly inimitable. Sitting in the pew, I know my role is just as nuanced. Am I a church member? Or supporting my husband? Or assisting the nursery staff? Or failing at being a single parent? I have accomplished all four before the sermon most Sundays.
9. The B-Side of ministry.
I get resentful at times. At his countless meetings. For Saturday morning emergencies. For working 60 hour work weeks. For being tethered to work, regardless of time or day.
10. This can be a lonely gig.
I talk very little about this part of my life with anyone. I have found it makes people feel uncomfortable or they don’t know how to respond, or maybe a little of both.
11. I don’t bite.
This role can be isolating. I do not bite. Feel free to sit next to me during church or at the luncheon. I am not judging you or want to make you feel uncomfortable. However, my son is a loony toon in church and may annoy you. So, maybe scratch #11.
12. God, who?
Acting on your faith takes more work when you are married to it. Really. I need to pray more. And figure out how to make a meaningful, spiritual connection with God when I am at church. It’s hard to take heed of your husband’s monologue when you are still pissed at him for letting the kids eat chocolate chip cookies for breakfast.
13. The fishbowl thing is real.
It is so much better than 50 years ago, but it still readily exists. I love it when church members listen to me yell at my kids in the grocery store.
14. I meet extraordinary people.
I am very fortunate. I have the opportunity to meet and make relationships with amazing people. I always learn so much from the people I meet. I love this part of the gig.
15. Congregants are exceedingly thoughtful and kind.
I am constantly humbled and grateful for congregants — they are extremely kind, generous and loving; not only towards me, but to my children as well. I am overwhelmed with their thoughtful spirit. At the core, people are good. Really good.
16. I want the sermon to be short too.
I want the sermon to be short and sweet like you do. My husband is a wonderful preacher. You can thank me later for the 10-minute sermon. Shut it down. Shut.It.Down.
17. My heart is heavy with your sorrows.
When tragedy strikes or hard times befall anyone, it affects our entire family as well. We may be the one guiding the ship when it sails, but we hurt and mourn too. Many tears are shed in private.
18. Happy, happy! Joy, joy!
On the other hand, being witness to baptisms and weddings are so much fun. Joy is contagious and I feel honored to be part of your special day.
19. I am not your stand-in pastor.
Speaking of weddings, I tend to become the stand-in priest or pastor. But really, I am just a guest, nothing more. Do not dive into why you think atheists are bad, but you used to be one, but now you’re not, with me. Or ask me if I think your sister-in-law will go to heaven or hell. OMG. How about those bridesmaid dresses….
20. You can lead with my first and last name.
Please don’t refer to me as “The Pastor’s Wife.” Rita is just fine.
I am an educator and writer living in the frozen tundra of Wisconsin.
I have been published in Akashic’s ‘Terrible Twosdays,’ Mamalode, Scary Mommy.
Also, great Moments in Parenting.
You can find me at: www.girlscoutflunky.com
On Twitter @girlscoutflunky
Rita, thanks for sharing this. I know several pastors wives through a charity I work with and they are definitely their own people. They sound just like you and will utter a bad word from time to time. BTG
Very enjoyable read. I was equally surprised, as a Protestant visiting Catholic churches though my ministry, that the Catholic parishioners DIDN’T sing every verse and bolted right after communion. I remember being confused at the comments I hears some of them make in their way up the aisle and out the door – comments about how odd/sweet it was that my young daughter and I stayed and kept singing to the very end.
Congratulations! You’re human. I’m glad you acknowledge that and live accordingly. 🙂
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Well said Rita. I’ve never met a clergyman’s wife, so all this is new to me. Thank You.
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