March 10, 2015

What Do You Do?

So, she turned to me. What do you do at the church?   

Pardon me? I didn't quite understand her question.   

At my last church, the priest's wife was always there, organizing things and cleaning up. What do you do at the church?   

I swallowed hard. I didn't want to mention that at her last church, the priest's spouse was actually the full-time Christian formation director who had a master's degree in theology. Nor did I inquire whether she asks doctor's spouses what they do at the hospital or lawyer's spouses how they pitch in at the courthouse.   

So I smiled. I love our church. And my job is managing editor of a publishing house.   

We're working with Richard Schori, spouse of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, on a lovely book about life with Katharine and ministry across The Episcopal Church. In an essay, he includes a section on clergy spouses. How we're often seen as appendages to our collared half. The assumptions about our role in the congregation (seen a lot, rarely heard).

Most people in my current congregation (and in past communities) see my priest/husband and I as partners but also independent, separate people with different talents and, frankly, different jobs.   

But I still run across (un)fair assumptions and expectations because I’m married to a priest. In other blogs, I’ve written about some of the comments people have made over the years (Why do you and your husband have different last names? Do you think it might not work out? Of course your daughter won the contest. She is the preacher’s kid. Which verse of the Bible talks about [fill in the blank]? You don’t know? Aren’t you married to a priest?)   

Some of you might think I’m just ranting, and maybe I am a bit. But ask yourself: Has a coworker or supervisor ever asked how your spouse is helping out in the workplace? Is a teacher’s wife grading papers? A banker’s husband advising investments? An electrician’s spouse offering suggestions for wiring?   

Of course not. That would be absurd. Right?   

I get that being a clergy spouse is different in some ways. My involvement in the church community is not about supporting my husband (though I hope I do that in important ways), but it’s about my relationship with God, about using my gifts and talents in the way I believe God is calling me, not necessarily in the way that you expect me to.   

Clergy spouses, I encourage you to define and articulate your own boundaries. Saying no can be an important spiritual practice. Refuse to be guilt-tripped or side-eye shamed into taking on more work at the church. Listen and respond to the needs of the community that you feel particularly called and gifted to engage.   

And for members of a congregation, please respect the boundaries. Please view the clergy spouse as a fully separate individual, one who may answer God’s call for ministry in very different ways.   

Let's make a deal: I promise not to expect my husband to edit a manuscript if you’ll promise not to expect me to bake brownies (even though sometimes, I might volunteer). 

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