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.
Recently, Babykins has started to notice the crucifixes in our bedrooms. My husband and my bedroom has one hanging above our bed, the nursery has one hanging above the closet door. Whenever she points them out, we talk about how Jesus died on the cross to forgive our sins.
However, in the guestroom we have a decorative cross. Babykins was looking at it the other day and we then had this chat:
Babykins: What’s dat? (points to the cross)
Me: That’s a cross
Babykins: Jesus no on that one!
Me: Well, yes, um. . . That’s because it’s just a cross. When Jesus is on the cross, it’s called a crucifix. Can you say “crucifix”?
Pastor’s kids can have the oddest vocabulary.
Last week, my good friend and fellow pastor’s wife came to visit us with her 2 children. We also had all of the parsonage’s windows replaced during their visit because sometimes timing just works like that.
There was no chance of keeping the house tidy with 3 children under 3, a steady progression of windows coming out and in, and me gimping around with an aching back because I’m 33 weeks pregnant. I tried to pick up a little yesterday and didn’t get very far.
But there is much to be thankful for in the chaos. Thankfulness for a dear friend who takes time from her home to come visit and thankfulness for a congregation who wants to keep their pastor’s house cozy and nice.
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.