I’ve recently finished reading Katie Schuermann’s new book, The Harvest Raise. I enjoy Schuermann’s Anthems of Zion books because they aptly reflect the life of a Lutheran congregation in a small, Midwestern town (although seeing how Bradbury has a college, it would be much bigger than our little town here in Iowa). The books are good for a quick read with some clean laughs along the way (with sound theology!).
What I wasn’t expecting in The Harvest Raise was a peek into my parsonage life–but there it was. Several times I felt shock as Pastor and Emily Fletcher struggled to balance church and family in the same ways I struggle. Those were my struggles, my emotions, my sins. But clearly I am not alone in those thoughts and actions if they were in a book.
For example, Schuermann succinctly described the unique stress of a pastor’s job by explaining,
“Church Stress was [Emily’s] nemesis. It stole her husband’s thoughts and robbed her of his time and attention. It was an invisible thief, and she felt so helpless against its advances. Other than offering up prayers to God for mercy, all she could do was watch from the sidelines as it paralyzed her husband and ate him alive from the inside out,” (91).
Speak to almost any pastor’s wife about the difficulties of life in the ministry and one of the first thing she will mention is how hard it is to watch her husband struggle with things he cannot discuss with her. I know that pastor’s wives struggle with Church Stress but it’s refreshing to be clearly reminded of that.
Likewise, Schuermann has her characters tackle the balance of one man being a pastor and husband. When Emily comes home crying after an altar guild meeting, Pastor quickly tries to figure out the best way to comfort her because,
“He also knew better than to say anything too pastoral in the first inning of the game. Nope, an early swing would most definitely result in a foul ball and an irreversible call made from his ump of a bride: ‘I need you to be my husband, not my pastor!'” (147).
I have certainly shouted at my husband before to stop “pastoring” me because I needed him to be my husband.
One of the biggest surprises I learned from the Fletchers is that pastors and pastors’ wives having fights on Saturdays is actually a “thing”. Schuermann writes,
“The spiritual battle in the parsonage was real. It often was on Saturday nights. Whether it was the devil and his minions sabotaging the upcoming Sabbath with attacks against Pastor’s peace of mind or simply the sinful humans in the house indulging their nefarious natures, there was no doubt that powers and principalities and even people–small and tall–were opposed to God’s servant of the Word having a good night’s sleep before preaching in the pulpit,” (318).
I am not a patient woman. Far too often I lose my cool as church work eats away at our Saturday and my anger flares up while making dinner (apparently the witching hour isn’t just for children). I honestly thought I was just the Worst Wife Ever for letting my temper loose on the one evening a week I know my husband is preoccupied with fine tuning his sermon and Bible study. Nobody ever mentioned that this is a common struggle, yet here it is in print proving that I’m not the Worst Wife Ever but just your average sinful pastor’s wife.
These are just a few examples from the inside of the Fletchers’ parsonage that are oh-so-common for pastors’ families. I am so thankful that Katie Schuermann wrote The Harvest Raise–I desperately needed the reminder that my parsonage life isn’t so unique after all.
I’m going to regret writing this but. . .
Church with Babykins and Sweet Pea has been going much better than I anticipated.
Please note that I described the service as “going much better”, not that it is “easy”.
When I was pregnant with Sweet Pea, I would sometimes leave the church service and think, “How am I going to do this with 2?!” I would think about trying to catch an escaping Babykins while holding an infant or trying to slip out of the service to nurse Sweet Pea with a toddler in tow. It seemed impossible, especially since we sit up front.
Thankfully, Babykins is currently at a cooperative stage for church attendance. She likes hearing the music and flipping through the hymnal. She also likes being able to see the congregation, hence the reason we sit up front. And somehow I’ve managed to convince her that apple slices are an acceptable snack during the service and she’ll happily munch on those.
Likewise, Sweet Pea is proving to be an easier baby than Babykins was. She isn’t nearly as prone to crying fits as her sister, nor does she have the same intense need for movement when I wear her (I can get by with rocking her in the pew instead of marching around the back of the church). She is also a better nurser and I’m able to feed her in the pew. Sometimes she even sleeps in her car seat! About the only time I’ve left the service for Sweet Pea is when she needed a diaper change.
Of course, I’m still far from consciously getting anything from the service. I sing the liturgy mostly from memory as I awkwardly hold a hymnal open for Babykins. I half hear the readings while trying to get Sweet Pea ready to nurse. I less-than-piously stand for the prayers while keeping one eye open on Babykins lest one of her mischievous hankerings take hold of her. And there are moments throughout the service that I have one child strapped to my front and another child balanced on my hip. It’s exhausting, but manageable.
However, I’m not naive enough to think that pew wrangling will stay at this manageable level. I know handling both girls will probably get harder at some point (like when there’s 2 mobile kids in the pew. Oh my!). I’ll get frustrated and wonder what’s the point of going to church. Then it will get easier, then harder, then easier, and then someday the girls will be old enough to not need my constant attention during the service. And then I’ll be by myself again and remember with laughing fondness of this time in my life–at least that’s what the church grandmas seem to do.
Now, getting to church on time–well, that’s a different matter entirely. :p
Clergy taxes are a nightmare. It’s like some folks in the government had a discussion that went like this:
Lawmaker 1: You know what would be funny? To find a group of people who earn very little money and make their taxes nearly impossible to figure out on their own.
Lawmaker 2: Oh, that does sound like a laugh! But who should we choose?
Lawmaker 1: How about pastors?
Lawmaker 2: I love it!
Why is it confusing? I can’t give you the full details because I don’t fully understand them, something about pastors filing taxes under self-employed but technically not being self-employed so everything is a big mess. At any rate, through the advisement of numerous other pastors, we ship our taxes off to an accountant who has experience with clergy taxes (our accountant is a pastor’s wife we met in seminary and is one of the happiest, most helpful people I know).
Despite hiring an accountant, there is still work to be done at home on taxes. One of the big tasks is keeping track of unreimbursed work expenses and housing allowance expenses (because, yes, even though we live in a parsonage, we still have a housing allowance. I told you our taxes were confusing!).
In an ideal world, I would have a system created that makes sorting and tracking these receipts. I even know how I would make it work:
- Create Clergy Tax spreadsheet
- Sort receipts weekly when I do the budget
- Input costs into spreadsheet at the end of every month
- Add up total cost at the end of the year
If I did it this way, total time would take about 10 extra minutes a month.
However, this is what really happens:
- Create Clergy Tax spreadsheet: I actually did this when my husband first started his call. We’re off to a good start!
- Sort receipts when I get around to doing the budget: In a less chaotic time I can actually do this weekly, but sometimes weeks can go by without me looking at the budget. Discipline needs work in this area.
- Shove all unreimbursed/housing allowance receipts into file folder: System is failing.
- Ignore them
- Ignore them
- Ignore them
- Panic because I now have a thick pile of receipts to sort/input and it will take a couple of hours to go through everything: System failed.
Of course, all I can do is look at my failed system and wonder why, why, WHY didn’t I just take the 10 minutes to input the receipts back in January.
*Note: You may be wondering why I’m thinking about taxes in August. I’m currently in full nesting mode and that means I must deal with ALL THE THINGS! You can ask my husband how well that is working with my mental state. But I also remember the first 4 months with Babykins being a sleep-deprived haze and functioning on survival mode. If this is the MO for life with a newborn, then taxes need to be dealt with before Sweet Pea arrives.
Despite not having a summer break anymore, it’s hard not to feel like life will be a little less chaotic when we flip the calendar to June. The town becomes alive with happy children pedaling their bicycles to the pool and neighbors taking longer walks around town. Even my husband’s schedule gives the appearance of calm. Confirmation is on break for the summer and he doesn’t have monthly chapel duties at the Lutheran school 20 miles away. And, for a moment, we think that we’ll have a little reprieve from the rigors of pastoral life.
But June is a trickster month. While children are on summer vacation and confirmation class isn’t a weekly obligation, June is the month of VBS and weddings. Illness and death also don’t take a summer break and still strike when they please.
So, here we are, midway through June: 2 funerals completed, a wedding and VBS still coming. My husband and I are giving each other frazzled looks asking, “How did June get so busy?!” And I would like to say that we were naive and didn’t know to expect this, but the June did the EXACT same thing to us last year. In fact, I remember telling myself, “Next year we’ll know that June isn’t a quiet month.” How could I have forgotten?!
Now, don’t worry about us. We’ll survive June and we’ll go on a family vacation later in July (because nothing says “relaxation” like driving across 3.5 states with a toddler). The end of July and August do promise to be our calmer time of year (it was last year as well), so we’ll get our reprieve. And next year we’ll remember that June isn’t a quiet month and it won’t lure us in with its false claim of summer calm.
The last funeral my husband had occurred the week of Thanksgiving. And can you guess what happened a few days ago? Yup, another member died, meaning there’s a funeral Saturday, church Sunday, and the start of Lent next Wednesday.
I hope this isn’t the new trend for the start of midweek services.
It’s one of those weeks when extra duties for the church and a holiday crash into one another. An elderly church member died Thursday night, so my husband has a funeral service tomorrow afternoon. He also has an extra service this week on Wednesday night for Thanksgiving. We’re traveling a couple of hours on Thanksgiving to visit family. And then Sunday comes again and all the preparations that come with it.
Yes, it’s one of those weeks where my husband is busy at work and thinking about work when he’s at home. It’s one of those weeks where the majority of travel preparations fall on me. It’s one of those weeks were quality time for my husband and me is limited. It’s one of those weeks that the upcoming chaos of Advent and Christmas looms over our heads.
But you know what? This is okay. Not ideal, but okay. We will get through this week. We may be a little more tired than normal and our patience may be a bit short. Our routine may not operate as smoothly as usual. But we will live.
Being able to have this perspective is one of the advantages of being done with my husband’s first year in the ministry. I know now that there are just going to be weeks like this. Most people have them, even if their husbands aren’t pastors. Likewise, I understand that most likely it will be over a month before we can catch up on rest and relaxation, but there will be a quieter time eventually. It may not be when we think it should come and we may have to purposely set aside time, but it will arrive. That is the ebb and flow of our parsonage life.
P.S.–Lest you think I have this whole pastor’s family thing figured out, feel free to check in on my attitude in a few weeks when the craziness of Advent is in full swing. My guess is that I’ll still have a breakdown or two. 🙂
Parsonage horror stories are passed around during the seminary years. Most of the time you don’t hear them from someone who actually experienced it. In stead, the story usually starts with, “I know of a pastor who lived in a parsonage. . .” and then goes on to tell a terrible tale about a run-down house where every congregation member had a key and the church council would hold their meetings at 5 a.m. in the parsonage’s living room.
Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit. But many of these parsonage tales convince skittish seminary families that they never, ever want to live in a parsonage.
Thankfully, many seminary families live in homes owned by the church on vicarage. Often these families come out of vicarage having a good experience in their homes. Likewise, the majority of experienced pastor’s families have mostly positive things to say about living in parsonages.
This is the second parsonage my husband and I have lived in (well, technically the house on vicarage wasn’t a parsonage because a pastor never lived there, but it was the same idea). So far we’ve had a good experience living in a parsonage for several reasons:
1. We don’t have to worry about finding housing: Moving for vicarage or a call is generally a whirlwind. With only a couple of months to pack up and move, there is very little time to find housing. If there isn’t a parsonage, either the family has to quickly buy a house with very little knowledge of the area or they have to rent a place knowing that there is another move if they decide to buy a house. Likewise, the pastor’s family doesn’t have to worry about selling a house should he accept a different call.
2. We don’t have to pay for major renovations and repairs: Since the church owns the house, they take on the responsibility of keeping it livable. Admittedly, sometimes this can be a frustration when the pastor’s family is hoping for an immediate repair or change because it takes time to get approval from the right committees. However, when something like the septic system backing up occurs, the church will cover the cost.
Sometimes the church will even pay for an improvement that you weren’t expecting. For example, the dishwasher was a bit aged when we moved into our current parsonage. My husband and I weren’t complaining because we were thrilled to have any mechanical dishwasher after hand-washing dishes for 3 years. However, our trustee decided that the dishwasher wasn’t working well enough and had it replaced. It’s the nicest dishwasher I’ve ever had in my home.
3. We can embrace our home with, “We’ll make it work.”: This may sound like a backhanded compliment, but I promise it’s not. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to shopping–that’s probably why I hate it so much. I’m always convinced that there is a product that is a little bit better quality for a little bit better price and I MUST FIND IT!! That’s why I do things like search 20 minutes on Amazon for the perfect pair of socks for Babykins (Seriously, self, it’s just a pair of socks!). Can you imagine how I would be if I had to buy a house? Be given a house is a relief to my perfectionist tendencies. Instead of searching for the nonexistent perfect house, we can look at our home and say, “There are some great things and not-so-great things. We’ll make it work!”
Credit where credit is due: My sister-in-law, who grew up in teacherages and lived in a parsonage, introduced me to this mentality. 🙂
4. The members feel a connection to the house: Admittedly, this is a little bit harder fro me to embrace, but congregation members often like being able to care for their pastor in a tangible way. Helping with his home is an easy way for them to do this.
Of course, there are some disadvantages to living in a parsonage, but there are disadvantages to any housing situation. Overall, I would say our experiences with parsonages have been positive and I’m very thankful for the homes our congregations have provided for us.
July 6 was my husband’s one-year anniversary of his ordination. Not to sound cliche, but this past year has flown by–it took my by surprise to realized that we are no longer in the first year of his ministry!
Obviously after only a year, I’m no expert at this whole “Pastor’s Family” thing. However, having gone through the first year has given me some unexpected insights.
1. I often don’t think of myself as a “Pastor’s Wife”. I spent the seminary years taking advice from many pastor’s wives on how to handle this vocation. I was prepared to build my “Pastor’s Wife” persona with whatever congregation called my husband. However, I now realize that I rarely think of myself as a “Pastor’s Wife”. If I were to tell people about myself, I would first say that I’m a wife and mother. I might even mention that I fancy myself something of a writer. But a “Pastor’s Wife”? At most, I might mention that my husband is a pastor.
2. The congregation members let me keep to myself. Again, after spending the seminary years learning about what the life of a pastor’s wife would look like, I was prepared to say no to many church activities. However, the people here mostly leave me alone. There’s been minimal pressure to join the LWML and no one has asked me to do anything like teach Sunday School or head up social events. I’ve been given my space, and I appreciate that.
Of course, having a baby during this first year probably help lessen the pressure. 🙂
3. It’s hard to adjust to the “forever home” mentality. During the seminary years, I became skilled at not becoming attached to places. Now that we’re not moving this summer, I realize that I still feel like an observer of the church’s and town’s going-ons rather than a member.
4. I’m still not sure what to call my husband when talking to other members. Prior to arriving at my husband’s call, I was very adamant that I would not call him “Pastor”. After all, I wash the man’s clothes, budget his paycheck, and bore his child–I would think that would prove that we have more of a relationship than just Pastor-Member!
However, I didn’t realize that people have a tendency to pick up on what I name I call him and use it in conversations with me. I still don’t refer to him as “Pastor” often, but I have become careful not to call him by his first name in front of members. Usually I call him “my husband” or tell something about “us” or “our family”. There have been instances that I opted not to include part of a story simply because I couldn’t figure out what to call him!
5. Learning to filter the questions I ask my husband is difficult. As a couple, my husband and I desire to share most things about our lives with each other. While I can freely tell my husband everything I do during the day, he cannot. Despite my inclination to ask for details about his daily work–after all, I care about him and what he does–sometimes vague answers are necessary. It’s not my business to know details if he only tells me he is “meeting with someone”. And when he has a bad day, sometimes the only reason he can tell me is “church stuff”. Asking questions puts him in the uncomfortable position of having to tell me I can’t know the details.
Of course, not all parts of his work is taboo. I can certainly ask things like how a Bible study went or if so-and-so is home from the hospital.
6. Trying to balance my husband’s needs and my needs on his day off is still a work in progress. In order to fully relax, my husband prefers to leave town because of the fishbowl issue. However, I’m a homebody and would prefer to stay home and do things around the house. We’re still working on finding a balance.
7. Nothing can fully prepare you for your husband’s call. It doesn’t matter how many pastor’s wives panels you attend or how many pastor’s wife blogs you read, you can’t know how your life will look like before arriving at your husband’s church. There are just too many factors: Your husband’s personality, your disposition, the experiences members have had prior to your arrival, the town’s dynamics, and so on. All you can do is trust that this is where God has called your husband–and consequently, you–and make the best of it.
Before dinner tonight, my husband found out one of his members had a heart attack earlier today and was in the the hospital. Consequently, he donned his collar after we had eaten and headed “to town” to go visit her.
So my Friday evening went as follows:
-Cleaned up dinner while Babykins scooted around on the floor
-Put Babykins to bed
-Vacuumed part of the house and tidied
-Tried to finish budget and decided my brain wouldn’t work with money at this time of night
-Get Babykins back to sleep
-Write blog post about my very exciting Friday night
There you have it; the secret life of the Pastor’s wife: Friday night edition. Really, it’s not so bad. Of course I wish my husband was here and of course I’m saddened that a member is so ill. However, I am enjoying putting a sizable dent in the Easter candy stash.