Monday, April 08, 2013

Being In A Clergy Family

I got thinking about the topic after reading this article at United Methodist Insight.  What's aggravating (to this reader, at least) is the lack of any specificity about the conflict between Adams' family and church.  What, precisely, was the source and course of the conflict, a conflict that resulted in the resident Bishop siding with the local church over the clergy family?  It is impossible to get even a glimmer.  For that reason, it is impossible to say much of anything at all.

It did get me thinking, however, about living for the past two decades as a clergy spouse.  My first rule as a minister's husband has been: Do no harm to Lisa's ministry.  I think I have, by and large, managed to avoid doing grave and long-lasting harm.  The assumption behind this rule is that Lisa's ministry is more important than I am, or we are.  Whether or not I agree or disagree with something she says or does, well, I can take that matter up with her in private.  Thankfully, there's only one serious matter where I've come down pretty hard on her.  All the same, that was done between the two of us, out of the earshot of anyone.

That's also the reason why, for most of her time as a pastor, while I had the right as member of the congregations she served, I have not attended most of the Church/Charge Conferences.  When I have, I have both refrained from saying anything (by and large, little has gone on except reporting on general activities; there was one exception of a special called Charge Conference where I attended and voted but did not speak) and abstained from voting on her salary.  Far better to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest (and voting "yea" or "nay" on a spouse's salary is pretty much the definition of conflict of interest).

I have not always rested easy with the assumption behind Rule No. 1.  Because I am far from perfect, I have become indignant, occasionally passive-aggressive (such a lovely trait, I know), and just plain angry that Lisa's work for the church keeps her from home and family as much as it does.  Usually, the end-game of these little family set-pieces has been the same: She gets weepy and apologetic, and I, having vented, insist that I am the one needing to apologize.  The simple fact of the matter is that Lisa manages quite well balancing her ministry with her life as a wife and mother.  All the same, living out a call to ministry is difficult under the best of circumstances; adding family responsibilities on top of that increases the difficulty; add gender difference to the mix, and the difficulty becomes one of near impossibility.  If, that is, you pay attention to the nagging voices from all around.

Which brings me to one of Lisa's more remarkable traits: She is quite adept at keeping her priorities, ministry & family, always in view.  If there's one thing that blows me away is her ability to balance the expectations she hears in her call, the expectations of the institutional church, and the expectations of her family, and improvise so many ways to cut through the too-often insisted upon either/or with a surprising, joyful, both/and.

All the same, as I told her during one of our chats after I melted down a bit, I was not and am not really angry at any of this.  On the contrary, that is the way it should be.  I love Lisa, and respect Lisa, and am so happy to call Lisa my wife, precisely because she lives out a call to ministry that comes first in her life.  That I occasionally let that bug me, well, that's my problem not hers.  I'm no less selfish than most other people, and probably a good deal more when it comes to my wife and the many demands upon her time and people who demand her attention.

I suppose you're wondering about Rule No. 2.  In fact, there really isn't one.  The only reason I call it Rule No. 1 is, when Lisa moved to her first appointment, I started with that thinking there would be more needed.  In fact, as long as Rule No. 1 is kept in mind - never interfere with her ministry; always understand the ministry comes before me - there really isn't a need for any more rules.

Virtual Tin Cup

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