Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Offered Help In A New Role

With Lisa appointed District Superintendent, we all face many changes in our lives.  First and foremost, we're moving.  That means a new house, a new neighborhood, a new city (well, an actual city because we currently live in the country; Lisa and I still laugh it took two decades for her to be appointed to a place that has its own grocery store), a new school for our children (which could but won't be the subject of a post all on its own; my kids' struggles are for us, thank you very much).  I'm losing my pastor of 19 years, because she won't be serving a local church.  Which means my kids and I have to find a church home.  Our older daughter told me a couple weeks ago it will be "weird" going to church and not having her Mom lead the service; so that's another layer of change and different and new with which we'll all have to deal.

Yesterday, Lisa received an email about new DS training the United Methodist Church offers.  It takes place at Lake Junaluska.  Along with being a beautiful retreat center, the area is famous among United Methodists as a place where retired bishops have homes, so it's kind of a UM hub.  What fascinated me as I listened to Lisa read off the information about the training was that spouses are encouraged to attend, and there will be "training" for the spouses for their new "role".

I would be the last person to suggest clergy spouses have no special role in the ministry of their wives and husbands.  On the contrary, it's something with which I've struggled every day since July 1, 1994.  Back then, as much as we imagined we were so advanced, local churches just weren't sure what to do with us clergy husbands.  We weren't expected to play the piano or teach Sunday School or work all the pot luck dinners, although I did what I was comfortable doing.  I enjoyed, and have enjoyed, singing in the choirs, teaching adult classes, including Christian Believer and team-teaching Disciple with my wife, along with other classes.  Beyond that, it's kind of like a map with large empty spaces.

My experience has been that I would be, well, a man.  I'd have a job, perhaps even a career, that was my own and separate from whatever Lisa was doing.  By and large, that assumption has created all sorts of pressure on me - pressure I was surprised to experience, and with which I've struggled the whole time I've been in this position - as I have always identified first and foremost as Lisa's husband rather than by whatever occupation I currently have.*  Who I am is defined far more by my domestic relationships - husband and father - than whether I worked at a hotel or WalMart or whatever my occupation might be.

And I received all the training the United Methodist Church brought to bear on this role: Zero.  None.  Zilch.

I do know there are clergy wives who struggle with their roles, a position with which I feel much sympathy.  Their struggles, however, are very much the opposite of mine.  Usually, especially over the past couple decades, the struggle has been to escape the straight-jacket of the traditional role, as clergy wives have jobs and careers outside the home and local church that push back against the expectations too many people have of what they "should" be doing.

And now, with this new position to which Lisa will be going, the church is turning to us spouses and saying, "Hey, you've got a job to do, too!  Come!  Let us help you!"

All I can think is, "Really?"  I've been married to a minister for 20 years.  I've been making it up as I go along, and only now you care about how I live my life as a clergy spouse?  Because, I have to say, if the denomination has expectations for the spouses of District Superintendents that differ in any substantial way from that of regular clergy, all I can say is, "That's just swell!"

Will it be that my wife won't be around much because she'll be at meetings, whether at the local churches in the District, on the District, or the Conference level, or even for the General Church, all I can say is, "Been there, doing that."  Will it be that clergy and their spouses will be looking at me as if I'm some kind of role model, all I can say is I've never considered our District Superintedents' spouses to be any kind of role model.  I'm at a loss as to how my position as the spouse of a DS will be qualitatively different from that as the spouse of a minister under local church appointment.

While I'm disinclined to accept the invitation - only because I'm already taking too much time off from work this summer; plus, this will be my kids' second week at a new school, and I think my place is with them - I am curious as to what, exactly, the planners for this training think we spouses "should" do that we haven't been doing all along.  And I wonder why there aren't support networks for clergy spouses that include help from the District, Annual Conference, and General Church.

*That's changing slightly with my current job as Office Manager at a United Methodist Church.  I'm in a place and space where I'm serving the people of God, and I'm so happy to do so.  Perhaps a preacher's spouse being a church secretary is as much a cliche as a preacher's spouse leading Sunday School or something, but it's a cliche that feels right for me now, so who am I to complain?

Virtual Tin Cup

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