11 February 2011

What the seminaries should actually tell candidate wives instead of all the overblown and unnecessary stuff they do tell them

If you hated it here and never got to know anyone and worked like crazy at a miserable job to keep your family solvent this whole time and are so glad these awful years are over, you can skip the next two paragraphs.

But if you liked it here, it may be important for you to hear that this place is fake. Here you have been surrounded by people who are like you. Your friends were your age. Their husbands did the same thing your husband does. You had kids the same age. You had comparable costs of living and means with which to support yourselves. You had similar educations, pieties, and convictions about Windex. You shared bunches of bananas and fears for husbands finishing papers and maternity clothes. You woke up to the same weather and the same clearance at Old Navy. You went to the finest churches and when you could get there, there was chapel every day.

This place was college with benefits. You, like your friends who work in law firms and beauty shops and schools, will now have live among people who are not like you, who are not your age, who are not interested in the things you are interested in, who think you're weird but are nice to you anyway, who think you're weird and aren't nice to you, who think your ideas about Windex are idiotic, who will be mad that you're on WIC, who will be mad that you won't go on WIC, whose piety is different than yours, whose kids watch TV, who think kids are gross, who haven't been to as much school as you, who have been to way more school than you, who have way more money than you, who have way less money than you. Your church might be bronzy or crabby or taciturn or clappy. The organist might tell your husband, "I can't play that" when he hands her a bulletin draft including "To Jordan Came Our Lord." The senior pastor will treat him like a vicar.

Some churches love their pastors and others don't. Some churches will leave you too much alone, others will find reasons to tramp through your kitchen every week. Some churches will care what you drive or eat, how you treat a cold or teach your kids, and others won't. Some churches will expect you to be at everything and others will get mad because you're trying to take over everything. Some churches will have friends for you and some won't.

We don't know what kind of place you're going. We don't know why they didn't have a pastor until they called your husband. All we can tell you is that you should have six chief parts in common with your new neighbors. That's it.

You should try to do the right thing. And thanks for the money.

UPDATE: And if your husband is one of the people we pocket vetoed or threw under the bus, we don't have to say we're sorry. We're the seminary.


Glenda said...


Joy said...

Deep down I always knew, but it still would have been slightly more tolerable without the four years of sugar coating.

Ewe said...

We didn't get married until after dh was done with vicarage and didn't have children until after he was a pastor so I don't know about that part, but I do understand some sugar coating. I would add that after your dh becomes pastor then it is part of his job to find more men to go to Seminary to do the same thing.

Leah said...

We are on vicarage right now. We are at one of those "good fit" churches. Very supportive, friendly, though older and small, and I have no friends. But I'm really scared about where we'll be in 2 years. I lived through the unsupportive, highly-critical, and unwelcoming. I don't want to do that.

Kristen said...

We didn't marry until after sem, but hubby got placed in the Fort, so I have found tons of awesome moms/friends in town, almost none with whom I share anything in common theologically/familywise. And it is really great.

etem said...

possible addition:

if you came to seminary ten or more years after graduating university, you know what you know. enjoy.

Wing It Mom said...

I think that the worst part is that you have all these great friends, many of which you have known through college and seminary and now everyone that you are close with lives across the country from you. Now you have to be happy all the time in a place you have never been before and with no one you've known longer than a week within hours of you other than your husband and children trying to fit into a new role of Pastor's Wife.

You have just moved AGAIN and (insert favorite thing) is missing and (insert child's name)won't stop crying until we find it even though they had totally ignored it at the last place you lived in and will continue to ignore it once you find it.

Some people will be overly helpful to try and nose around, some will ignore you because they voted to call the other guy (or didn't think they needed a second Pastor in the first place - after all, how many guys does it take to work one hour on Sunday?!). Then there are those who are genuinely kind and generous - sometimes hard to tell the nosy from the kind in the beginning.

I am speaking of our first call of course, not our current call. It was a shock to the system to go into call day thinking we were moving to a place within 30 minutes of St. Louis and to walk out having heard that we were moving to a town 17 hours away from St. Louis. Shock really isn't the right word there... It's not that we didn't meet wonderful people there and not that they weren't welcoming. It was just very unexpected and one of the most difficult times in our lives.

His ways are not our ways.

Melissa said...

Along the same lines as what etem said.

I felt like seminary was a wonderful escape/vacation. :)

Anonymous said...

Just a slight twist on this line of thought because we can't impact the "message" of the sem; but those of us pastor's wives who have trotted around the block a few times have a responsibility to be more supportive of recent grads who are in the early years of ministry. Our " 2 year plan" for our first call turned into a 25+ year plan as we are nigh onto decades. I am pained to even write these words, but in retrospect, I can't help but think (with shame and some degree of self loathing ) how God was also grimacing as we came into this our "first call".

I can only imagine what He would have said to us (and perhaps He was trying to tell us, had we not been so full of ourselves), it would have probably gone something like this: "I couldn't help but notice that between the two of you you keep referring to this as a "starter congregation". These beloved people of Mine might take a while to warm up to you, after all, they've had 9 pastors in 25 years, so they are likely to size you up for a quite a while before they commit. Even though My people in this church have struggled they also have the potential to do great things to further the Kingdom, but they will need a pastor who, from the very first day, understands that the Holy Spirit has led him to this call with the intention that you are called here for the duration. Only when you have a Call in hand and the Holy Spirit nudges you are you to consider otherwise. Yes, I realize that you've got a skill set that has prepared you for far greater tasks that setting up tables, moving about chairs, sweeping, and taking down tables. Your kids will be able to set up and tear down a banquet hall in 15 minutes - someday you'll thank Me. And by the way, those Seminary days were great, weren't they. Now you're being dispatched into a world where everyone isn't like you - with the intention that I can work through you so that all of those who are harder to love, because they're not your spiritual/ethical/moral twin, are also with us in Heaven. And please, stop second guessing your placement interview answers; the Holy Spirit can hardly contain Himself during those meetings. "

There, I've said it. I don't intend to ever, ever assume that I would know the Lord's mind. But HE would have been so right to say each and every one of those words to me. I am only Anonymous here because I am afraid that my Google Me will actually turn into a Mini-me and one of me is enough.

Elizabeth said...

Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you for this post and ensuing comments. :) How easy it is for me to fall into self pity - woe is me, I am the only one. But I'm not. There is so much comfort in not being the "only one".

You know how everyone jokes about getting a call on Call Day to North Dakota? Yeah, that was us. And mostly, we love it. What a pleasant surprize. :)

Anon: I think your bit about setting up and tearing down banquet halls is brilliant and spot-on. :)

Rebekah said...

Anon, thank you. We landed at one of those parishes that would have smelled pretty bad to many of my husband's classmates. We're far from our grandmas and there's no movie theater and the only restaurant is a greasy bar and I'm the only at-home mom. It took me at least a year before I even began feeling like something other than an alien (not because people were unfriendly, just because IT TAKES TIME). But we love it. We bought property in the area. We thank God for bringing us here. 25 years here sounds great to me.

Someone once worried to me that a call her husband was considering would really just be "a lateral move." My stomach went blrkjlkjg.

The Rev. BT Ball said...

Dear Frau Reb. and sisters-
Had I been present with the dear sister I would have tenderly reminded her that every call of Christ's Church is a lateral move. Christ's slave in one place and then another. Big church, little church, school, no school, city, country; doesn't matter. Slave of Christ, and the bride's slave for Christ's sake.

Rebekah said...

Rev BTB, I'm always impressed by the grace with which you're able to say such things . . . weird since you're one of those liturgy jerks.

Untamed Shrew said...

I like what Anon and Fr. Ball have to say, and I second Rebekah. I would have been glad to stay at our former congregation for 25 years, and I hate the term "starter congregation." Are there "starter parishioners," then? Or perhaps I was a "starter Pastor's Wife."

The Mama said...

Amen. I wish more wives were prepared for the real world outside the seminary.

Julie Wenzel said...

Wow. Wow. I'm rarely speechless...but wow. Finally someone that gets it. Thank you- all of you, for your posts. The transparency and authenticity deeply touched me...and ministered to me.


Dakotapam said...

If nothing else, I've learned to bloom where I have been planted. Oh, and that bit about moving tables and chairs, my kids are getting to be pros. And now with a building renovation underway, my kids aree learning to prime and paint, put up drywall and demolish dog kennels!

I won't lie. I miss my days at the sem when the Shrew lived below my apartment and I would sit and nurse my fat baby in her clean apartment (she did not have kids yet!) and we could talk theology. none of my local frien want to discuss theology much:)

Luther's Raven said...

So much of this could also be applied to children of pastors. I was born long after my dad was ordained, but there are many things about having children that are probably not discussed at seminary. A clergy family leads a very public, yet isolated life. Many details about your personal life will be known to the congregation, and yet it can be hard to connect with people. Your children will be held to a different set of standards than others, and assumptions will be made about them. I've had many people ask me if I would want to marry a pastor, and assume that my spirituality is a direct result of my dad being a pastor. In fact, I don't believe many of the same teachings I grew up with; I still consider myself a Lutheran, but have very different opinions from "traditional" Lutheran doctrine. And my dad is ok with that.

I have been blessed in that both my parents always encouraged me to think independently, and keep in mind that while my dad is a pastor, I am not. This is his life and profession, not mine. I would encourage clergy families to let your children be themselves. Let them develop their own ideas, opinions, and beliefs. Guide them, yes, but encourage them to be open-minded.

Being a part of a clergy family is tough, but it can also teach how to be insightful and read people in a way that few other professions allow. And life is certainly never dull. :)

HM2345 said...

I experienced just about every possible facet at the seminary for a woman. I was a staff worker first, then I was an MA student, then after I was no longer working there I became a seminary wife. I know the sunshine and roses that can be felt at the seminary, and I've seen some of the workings of the devil there too.

I've experienced the nervousness and shock that can come with Call day. We were just about guaranteed in our interviews that we would be placed somewhere in the Midwest, so we would at least be within a day's drive of family in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. We got the shock of our lives when we were placed in Montana, in the middle of nowhere. I couldn't stop crying at the Call service. Our closest town with any type of chain stores is 2 hours away, and life here is different than either of us have ever experienced. Our closest family is 15 hours away, and furthest immediate family is 30 hours away. We were also newly married (just one year) when we arrived and still trying to adjust to married life too.

It has not always been easy, and there have been many times I've felt lonely and isolated. However, my husband always reminds me that this is where God has put us. This is where God wants my husband to serve in proclaiming the Gospel of Christ to His people here, so this is where we are. We do what our Lord gives us to do, what He puts before us, and not what we think is best. Knowing this is where God wants us has been a great comfort to me and we really enjoy our lives here. Though it is difficult to be away from family and feel alone sometimes (I have had my share of pity parties), God has blessed us in many ways and we wouldn't mind spending our lives here if that is what God wants.

I pray that knowing God is working through those issuing Calls and placing candidates will comfort those of you awaiting Call night to see where your husband will be placed. God works through sinners, God can even work through plots of evil. We just need to trust and rest in the peace of Christ.

Heidi Sias
Colstrip, MT

The Rev. BT Ball said...

Mrs. Sias-
Colstrip! My in-laws live in Huntley, MT. My call out of seminary planted her just outside Boston, so she was a way away from family, me too. Then the Lord saw fit to put us outside Chicago, half a country closer to her family. We go out for two weeks every summer, so we will have to commiserate when we arrive in July. Remember the weather stinks here too.
Pr. Ben Ball

Petersen said...

Dear Rebekah.

Perhaps you are a genius. If not, you've come close to genius words here.

This should have been said a thousand years ago. Why did it take so long to get it out there? I don't know but I am glad it out there now.


HM2345 said...

Pastor Ball,
Looks like we drive past your in-laws' town every time we go to a major store (about every week or two). Funny where you ended up because I was born and raised in the Chicago area. I grew up in the Rolling Meadows/Arlington Heights area to be exact, and still have lots of family and friends there. (My husband grew up in the Quad Cities area.) What part of the Chicago area do you live?

Heidi Sias

Rebekah said...

Father Dave, even a blind polar bear finds a baby harp seal sometimes.

The Rev. BT Ball said...

I serve St. Paul's in Brookfield. Brookfield is famous for the zoo and confessional lutheranism - thanks to my predecessors in office.

Serena, my wife, went to high school in Glendive, MT after they moved off the family ranch and now my in-laws have retired to Huntley. Their pastor is the Rev. Bob Lane at Our Redeemer in Worden, MT.

Serena knows all about small town Montana life; their ranch is by Hot Springs in Western MT, with a population of oh about 300 or so, and she's familiar with following a preacher husband around.

My in-laws are great at entertaining and have a nice firepit for smores and drinking around such so we'll have to have you and yours over this summer for commiseration.

HM2345 said...

Pastor Ball,
We went to Brookfield Zoo all the time when I was a kid. I also know Pastor Otten who was your predecessor, right? We would enjoy getting to know you and your wife this summer. Let us know. We know Pastor Lane well. My apologies to everyone else that we had this conversation here, but I don't have any other contact info for you yet. :-) If you are on Facebook you can look me up there, or my email address is my sign-in name above at gmail.com. Good to get to know others in the LCMS world.

Mrs.Bomberger said...

What a wonderful post... I am not a pastor's wife, but I sympathize with Mrs. Sias... I am a pastor's mother. I was that grannie holding the perplexed little boy for dear life, singing the TeDeum to try to stem my tears. I had hoped that God would see fit to put our son and his family a tad bit closed to Oregon...We are 30 hours away as well. Our dear daughter-in-law is one hour away from her parents. We aren't able to visit as often as we would like, and we are the grandparents the children don't really know.
Three years in, we are reading his sermons on-line and cheering on what is happening in his congregation. I understand they are coming this summer for a visit. It will be too short and fast... God knows all these things, how I prayed 'Thy will be done', all the while meaning 'My will be done'. God forgive me for wanting something other than His best for His kids!

Colleen said...

LOVED IT. I miss St. Louis, I miss my Seminary friends laying on the grass under the green trees, our husbands arguing theology while drinking beer, and the girls chatting about our next trip to the Met or the Galleria or when the next LOST party would be.

Seminary is a dream for those of the right age and countenance.

Mrs. Pastor said...

Excellent post. Excellent comments. So glad RPW pointed me to this post. How often I have lamented what I did not know when we left the sem.

Sola Gratia said...

Dear Sisters in Christ:

We are indeed called to an unusual life. CTSFW was the hardest thing we've done as a couple. And you are right - there is no preparation for future pastor's wives. Seminary is not a normal experience. It's not a normal family thing either.

When we got to our first call five years ago, during the first week we were there one woman cornered me in the narthex and asked: "What kind of training did the seminary give you for being a pastor's wife?" "None", I said. And I felt as though I owed her an explanation. But you know what? I DON"T!

I think too many parishoners expect their pastor's wives to be "co-pastor". I don't play the organ, teach sunday school, run VBS, or organize the production of the church directory. I am not my husband's secretary. I do not keep his calendar. I do not know where he keeps the baptism records in his office. I am not the "greeter".

I don't accept every invitation to participate in everything going on at church or anywhere else. I don't help with funeral lunches. I don't write the newsletter. I don't do any of these things any more than my doctor's wife would do similar things for her husband at his job.

Don't do anything becuase you feel obligated. Don't do anything because you feel it's expected. Don't do anything you would not enjoy. You are not co-pastor (still much to the surprise of protestant evangelical type of Lutherans). Sometimes I've even deliberately avoided certain persons - an that's OK too!

Do only the things you enjoy or want to do or have time to do. You don't owe anyone an explanation for anything you do - not the way you cook, or the way you dress, or how many children you do or don't have, nor how you keep the house or yard or car or anything else for that matter.

We are indeed called to an unusual life style. It's good to have each other.

BTW - when we arrived, and even now today, no other pastor's wives reached out to welcome or befriend me. I think this is very sad because being the pastor's wife can be very lonely at times. I've made friends outside the church and in the community. And I probably spend waaaaay too much time on my busy work things like knitting and sewing. Keeping busy at home is always therapeutic for me.

Pastor's wives, like their husbands, are either loved or hated. It just goes with the territory. I've had to learn to bite my tongue through a plastic smile while nodding my head and saying, "oh, hmmm, that's something, that's too bad, oh my, wow, really?"

What one pastor's wife can do, another pastor's wife can also do! Remember that other people's opinions are just that - their opinions and it really has nothing at all to do with YOUR reality.

Keep on keeping on Sisters!

Sola Gratia said...

One more thing.

We are our husband's wives and children's mother first -- and the pastor's wife second!