August 4, 2006
Married to the Ministry: has the pastor’s wife’s role changed for better or worse?
When my wife and I interviewed at my present church she asked what expectations the congregation had of staff spouses. She was told, "We just expect spouses to be church members like everyone else - serving, attending worship, and living uprightly. You know, no smoking pot in the back of the church." That's a pretty low bar, my wife thought, but one she could reach.
Of course, things have not always been so easy for clergy wives. Opinion Journal recently posted an article by Lauren Winner (author of "Girl Meets God" and "Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity") about the changing expectations placed on spouses of ministers. Below are a few excerpts. Read Winner's entire article here.
Until fairly recently, hiring a minister or rabbi was a two-for-one deal: Into the bargain, churches and synagogues got A Wife, who would host teas, teach religious-education classes, sing in the choir. All this, of course, without a salary.
But she did get a job title--the diminutive rebbetzin in Jewish communities and the clunkier, and somehow more ominous, minister's wife in Protestant circles?
Second-wave feminism was, for clerical wives, a double-edged sword: No longer were women accorded honor and respect simply because they were married to a minister. And some clergy wives, reading "The Feminine Mystique" along with everyone else, began to rethink all those hours they had devoted to polishing the church silver. A role that had once seemed noble began to seem, well, exploitative?
Why is the wife's contribution to that work somehow defined by her husband? ("I sometimes muse that if I died, my husband would remarry, and someone else would assume my role in his ministry, but that if he died, I would not only lose my husband, I would also lose my position as a colleague in campus ministry," says one of my friends, the wife of a campus minister.)
?The problem with a facile feminist critique of the role of clergy wife is that it misses the real beauty of the collaboration sometimes found in clerical marriages. There is something wonderfully seamless about their lives--their work and their marriage is all of a piece. Husband and wife are profoundly knitted together, and their shared calling offers something of a rebuke to the hyper-individualism that characterizes so many American marriages. Indeed, they may set a nice example for the flock.