When I was a little girl, we got a new, young pastor’s wife. She was lovely. Young, incredibly stylish, pretty as a picture. Their two young children were clean, always well dressed, and far too young to be my playmates.
The female population of my church was enthralled. They oooh’d and aaah’d over her decorating skills, her impeccable figure, her ability to look like a complete fashion plate with her feathered 1980s hair, decorative hats, and dainty gloves, and her ability to sew sweet little dresses for her daughter that exactly matched her own.
Quite a few of the ladies took up sewing that year. Including my mom. Before I knew it, I had several dresses for church that made me look like my mother's mini-me. At 10 years old, I thought that was great! Made me feel all grown up, like I fit in perfectly with the ladies.
I didn’t realize it much at the time, but the rest of our little church was beginning to lose its sense of balance. The honeymoon was over. The social good times were slowly tapering off in frequency.
Our lovely young pastor’s wife was sweet and fun-loving most of the time . . . that is, until someone spoke in any way that could be construed as being “critical” of her husband. Then she morphed into this mother tiger, teeth bared and claws out. It usually happened during board meetings, but she wasn’t above giving a good tongue-lashing to any member in the lobby after services.
One time I was privileged to attend a baby shower that was held at the pastor’s house. I was so excited to be part of the “grown-up ladies” for once. All the dainty little finger foods, the pretty dresses, the gossip!
Oh yes, the gossip. Our pastor’s wife wasn’t above joining in the talk that abounds in every church.
“Did you hear that so-and-so is also having a baby this fall?!”
“Really?! But I thought she wasn’t getting married until June!”
At this my mother shot me a look that said, “You’d better not be listening to this!”
“Oh yes, they’ve moved up the wedding date and are still planning to go to school in the fall just like they were before, and they will be rebaptized just before the wedding, and they plan to confess before the church.”
A few of the ladies grew quiet and drew away from the conversation while our pastor’s wife leaned in farther and joined in with a few more details. Finally, someone spoke a gentle reprimand to the gossipers, and we nearly had World War III.
Our young pastor’s wife didn’t appreciate being reproved. She let loose with a rousing defense, and the whole room inhaled collectively and held our breath. The party quickly finished, and it wasn’t long before we were riding homeward and I was asking questions my poor mother had to figure out how to answer age-appropriately.
The backlash? Growing rifts between many members of the congregation. Worse than that was the slow, trickling loss of respect for her husband.
You know the kind of loss I’m talking about. It starts with feeling a little bit sorry for him because his wife has a temper. And then it becomes a little more like disillusionment, and soon feelings of contempt rise up as it becomes apparent that he “allows” it and that she most certainly “wears the pants.”
After about four years they moved on, and I haven’t any idea how their story continued. I hope she eventually learned to bite her tongue, or accepted that her husband was a big boy who could take care of himself—even in the face of occasional disagreements with church board members.
I know that all pastors’ spouses walk a delicate balance between being comfortable with members and being too comfortable—between being warmly approachable and becoming overly familiar. I know that the walk of a pastor’s spouse can be incredibly lonely.
I also know that there were many good things that accompanied the ministry of that young pastor and his family. He baptized me that year, along with about 30 others. He was a kind, gentle person, and there were many besides me who were sorry to see him go. But I can’t say that the same sentiment followed his young wife when they left.
So I write this letter to you, as pastors’ spouses. I pray that her legacy will not be your own. May you be blessed in the journey to find balance, in the quest for peace over the trials your pastor-spouse faces, and in finding that harmony where your part of ministry complements and increases the respect people hold for the pastor.