MARIE SPANGLER WAS THE visionary who gave birth to what we know today as the Ministry to Clergy Spouses.
Marie Spangler was born Marie Claytor on December 17, 1920, in Newport News, Virginia. The third of four girls, Marie grew up surrounded by relics of early American history and the beauty of Virginia’s abundant wildlife. Marie’s mother became a Seventh-day Adventist as an adult after marrying Marie’s father, who lived his life as a devout Methodist.
Times were hard in that era of American history, which meant finances were limited. Only one of the girls was able to attend a private Adventist school. Marie went to the local high school, eventually graduating as salutatorian of her class. Wanting to stay close to home, she enrolled at Columbia Union College (renamed Washington Adventist University in 2009) in Takoma Park, Maryland. It was there that she met her future husband, Bob Spangler.
Bob was a college theology major looking for someone to date. As he stood on the girls’ dorm steps talking with a female friend, Marie passed
by on her way to worship. Bob’s friend suggested, “There’s a really nice lady, Marie Claytor.” Pulling up to his full six-foot-three height, he moaned, “Oh no, she’s too short!” Marie was a demure five foot three. Her petite frame, however, didn’t seem to deter him! The attraction was instant, and he asked her out. They married June 1, 1943.
In a 1984 interview with Ministry Magazine, Marie shared a brief sketch of their life together in ministry:
“My husband and I entered the ministry 41 years ago, right after we graduated from college, where I majored in English and secretarial science. We enjoyed a team ministry in the pastorate and in evangelism until he was called to the Far Eastern Division as Ministerial Association secretary.
“During the eight years we were there I taught at Far Eastern Academy and did secretarial work in the division office. When my husband was
called to our world headquarters, I was asked to teach elementary school. After helping with the development of our church’s elementary school
science textbooks and later being employed as an executive secretary in the General Conference, I attended the University of Maryland, where I
obtained a Master’s degree in early childhood education. While teaching I also worked with the Shepherdess section of Ministry.”1
During this time—through her and Bob’s interaction with ministers’ wives at seminars, retreats, and camp meetings—Marie began to
recognize that ministry spouses “have real needs that for the most part have been overlooked.”2 She cited a study of Seventh-day Adventist pastors’ wives where it was “discovered that they have a sense of isolation from, and an absence of, meaningful human relationships” (see Ministry, June 1981) because they move so frequently.
In 1983 Marie left her lucrative teaching position in order to devote more time to helping the wives of pastors. She launched a pilot organization specifically for pastors’ spouses. She was tireless as she persevered through the steps to bring the ministry to fruition. This included writing the constitution and bylaws and consistently bringing forth the manuscripts to countless committees for approval and passage. While Marie was about the business tasks of birthing the ministry, she consistently traveled with her husband, teaching seminars, counseling, and listening to and praying with and for these unique women who many times serve silently. Marie devoted the rest of her life to supporting ministry wives around the world. She was passionate about her calling and inspired those who followed to try to fill those tiny shoes that left a giant impact.
According to Marie, Shepherdess had six main goals that needed immediate addressing:
(1) Training through continuing education courses for the pastor’s wife as well as courses for pastors and wives to study together. (2)
Resource materials directed at the establishment and maintenance of good relationships within the pastoral marriage. (3) The development of
materials dealing with the role of the pastor’s wife. (4) Materials for the encouraging of team ministry where husband and wife can cooperate
together in saving souls. (5) The fostering of Shepherdess organizations on the local level that will provide support for the wives of ministers
in their fields. Suggestions and materials were provided to these local groups. (6) Above all, the most important objective was to encourage wives to take time for personal growth.3
Marie wanted to help men at all levels of church leadership to understand the importance of the personal and public role that pastors’ wives play.
She especially promoted the idea of team ministry, feeling that pastors’ wives had a tremendous “untapped reservoir of talent” to offer.
Through Marie Spangler’s visionary influence the regional Shepherdess organizations, newsletters, and the quarterly Shepherdess Magazine (now The Journal: A Resource for Ministry Spouses) became a reality. Marie accomplished the goals she set out to achieve and left a legacy for other international Shepherdess coordinators to follow.
Remembered worldwide as “Sweet Marie” for her ready smile and friendly spirit, Marie established her place in history as a woman who truly cared for the minister’s spouse; she saw a need and sought to make a difference.
Marie Spangler died March 26, 2017, at the age of 96.
1 Ministry Magazine, September 1984.