It’s been just over 3 years since my husband was ordained and installed at our church in Iowa. 3 years seems to be about the amount of time needed to really start putting down roots. We’re slowly making friends–or at least extremely familiar acquaintances–with people around town, becoming a bit more involved with the town happenings (we actually look forward to the town’s Independence Day festival now!), and getting a better feel for what my husband really needs to do in order to best shepherd our congregation for better or for worse. Aside from giving birth to 2 little girls since we moved, life has almost fallen into a predictable rhythm.
Or I should say, life had almost fallen into a predictable rhythm. Next week my husband starts a vacancy position at another small, LC-MS church 20 miles from our current congregation.
Now we will all pause to ponder the good Lutheran question of what does this mean?
What is a vacancy pastor?
For those of you who don’t know (which was me until some point during my husband’s seminary years), a vacancy pastor is essentially a long-term substitute pastor for a congregation who doesn’t have a called pastor of their own. The vacancy pastor leads the services, visits the shut-ins, teaches Bible studies, attends meetings, and so on, while the congregation works to call a new pastor.
How long does a vacancy position last?
It depends on the church. Sometimes congregation can’t really afford to call a pastor or can’t get their act together to put together call documents, and a vacancy can last for years (note: This isn’t really recommended). From my observation, a vacancy for a church actively seeking a new pastor usually last several months to a year. Calling a pastor can be a long process involving interviews, meetings, votes, etc., so it takes time.
While this congregation is wanting a new pastor sooner rather than later, they have the added complication of needing to be a dual parish with another congregation since they can’t afford a pastor for only their congregation. This means a dual parish agreement with another congregation has to be put together, which of course takes time.
How will my husband take care of 2 churches?
Vacancy pastors are picked in part of their availability. Sometimes a retired pastor will serve a vacancy, sometimes another pastor in the circuit will fill in. My husband was asked based on his proximity to this church and his schedule. Our church is on the smaller side to begin with, not to mention he currently only has a couple of shut-ins to visit, so he has more available time then some of the other pastors nearby. Of course adding another church to his workload will add more work hours to the week (not to mention travel time), but the new church is asking for about 8-12 hours of work a week from him. It’s not easy, but it is doable.
How does this affect our church?
Right now, the main effect of the vacancy means that our church service time changes from 9 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Likewise, Sunday morning adult Bible study will be temporarily suspended since my husband has to go to the other church for a 10:30 a.m. service.
How does this affect our family?
Currently, the vacancy position means that my husband will be away from home more often. It also means there is the added stress of starting something new (neither my husband or I are the adventurous type). He’s going to be more tired on Sundays after leading 2 full services. He will also have a few more shut-ins to visit.
So, there you have the down low on vacancy positions and the changes in our life. The moral of the story: You never know when life is going to change!
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.
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.
Happy Easter, everyone! Christ is risen! Alleluia!
We survived our first Lent as a “pastor’s family”. We’ll add that as a bonus celebration today (and by “celebration”, I mean watching my husband sleep and battling with Babykins to take a decent nap).
It seems to happen to every pastor’s family at some point. As a vacation approaches, death comes.
My husband has a conference at the seminary in Indiana next week. Babykins and I were going to tag along and visit some of our seminary friends. Technically, this is continuing education for my husband, but it was also going to be a vacation for our family. My husband would get a chance to focus on studying and take a break from the daily grind of parish life. I would have the opportunity to have rejuvenating socialization with people I’m comfortable with. Perfect.
But a member has been fighting terminal cancer. Last week my husband no longer referred to him as “terminally ill” but as “dying”. By Tuesday, my husband had made his decision–he couldn’t leave for the conference. We cancelled our trip.
The man died yesterday. The funeral is on Monday.
Our family can’t complain about the cancelled vacation. It’s a disappointment, but there are people in our congregation mourning the death of their husband, father, grandfather.
We’ll just count this as one of those “Quintessential Pastor’s Family Experiences”.