on being a minister’s husband in a certain denomination

I have been pondering the issue of women in church leadership a lot for the last few weeks.

If you don’t know me you might be thinking ‘OK, that’s a pretty weird thing to be thinking about’ :but it’s not for me. Because unusually  I’ve found myself attending a church where the minister is a woman.

And even more unusually I happen to be married to her.

I’m not talking about her though (well I am I suppose….but not really). I’m talking about things from my perspective.

In a way my perspective is even less common than that of female minister in PCI, it’s that of a husband of PCI minister. I’m a freak!

This pondering started when I unknowingly switched on coverage from the General Assembly at the start of the month. Bad decision!
I was at home by myself as ___ was up at the Assembly for the week. 2 trains journeys up, a long way to go. There was a round of applause at a certain point of debate that seemed to coincide with a male minister saying that he didn’t think biblically that women should be ordained. (People have told me that the applause might have been for other stuff but the way I perceived it was that the applause for ‘no women’ was much louder that for a few speakers before hand who were thinking about how more women could be encouraged to become ministers.)

I heard that some people had been heckling when a women minister was speaking.
I’ve heard some people worrying that someday they might want to take a vote on the issue. (I’m not sure if that’s people worrying over nothing but even so, why would they be worried enough to think that?)

So when I hear the principle of the denominational training college on national radio a few days later saying that ideally he would probably prefer to not be training women for the task of leading a church I’m not really sure how to react as a Christian and as a husband of women minister. Because somehow with the mystery of marriage there is a ‘two-become-one’ sort of thing going on. Or at least that’s what I think is going on. I’m not really sure sometimes. I’ve no blueprint for this stuff!

My more balanced friends emphasis the need to allow people their conscience,
to show grace,
to treat it as a secondary issue and not get hung up over it,
to not question if that is the ideal position for someone in charge of running the training college to hold.

It feels like they want to put the ball in my court to deal with my issues, my anger or lack of grace, almost as it’s my fault that this is becoming an issue, that I don’t really understand the good news by getting annoyed or that I shouldn’t be moaning about it all the time. According to some my soul is even at risk for getting so worked up over a secondary issue .

I know we’re to forgive people and treat them with grace and love. We’re brothers and sisters in the Lord. But at what point do you go ‘Hold on, I don’t think you’re treating other people fairly… ‘ And how loudly do you shout about it?

When I listened to the radio interview I could hear nervousness in the voice and appreciate the bravery and honesty. I also deeply value my freedom and conscience so agree we shouldn’t be forcing people to go against their conscience.

But as a husband who upped sticks and moved from a place he enjoyed so that his wife could train for ministry in a place he mightn’t have chosen for himself it’s hard not to question if it’s an ideal position for someone who is principle to hold. Perhaps I’ve an insight into how much of cold house it might have been for a women minister in PCI and would question if it’s going to make other gifted women feel like they would be treated fairly in the college or would encourage them to want to study there?

If we were living in Dublin now and thinking about moving to Belfast so that ____ could train for 4 or 5 years and heard that interview I’d still appreciate the honesty, recognise the need for people to have their conscience but my primary thought would be:-

‘The principle of the college has just told us that he personally doesn’t agree with what we thought God was calling __ to do. It’s hard enough moving from a community that values us to new place without being unsure if people actually want you there. I’m not sure we belong in this denomination, it feels like they’re saying you’re sloppy seconds’

That’s what I’d think anyway.

In part I’m annoyed because I nearly see it as a gospel issue, not some secondary issue.

Because although it doesn’t have anything to do with whether you’re saved or not surely it might have something to do with whether other people are saved or not?

It might discourage a gifted women enough to stop her thinking she could use her gifts to reach people for Jesus . If you’re a Christian and you’re hindering or discouraging people from using their God given gifts for the sake of some ‘secondary issue’ maybe it’s becoming more than a secondary issue? You don’t have to be out with placards, you can be friendly and polite but still be saying.that ‘I don’t want to encourage this person to be a church leader as much as I could as I think it’s unbiblical and a gospel issue’.

If you want to reach Ireland with the good news of Jesus you need men and women using their gifts. And sometimes I wonder if PCI is happy to become a place that says ‘We don’t really want women using their gifts in this particular church leading way’. Which annoys me because people are putting good news road blocks in the way.

Especially maybe the people who are telling me this is a secondary issue. If you really think it’s a secondary issue why not do more to encourage women who might be gifted but not feel encouraged?  

 

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CS…aye right.

I wasn’t expecting C.S. Lewis to have an opinion on woman priests when I randomly grabbed a book of the bookshelf for some bedtime reading but there you go, he did and old C.S Lewis. wasn’t in favour of them back in 1948.

This was an unexpected turn of events as I’ve always been used to  Lewis quotes being used on other people in sermons and talks, in blog posts and books. I’ve never really appreciated his writing that much but always appreciated a well placed quote or soundbyte used on someone else at a the right moment.
But now he has gone and made it all personal or something like that with me being married to ‘a priestess’

‘To us a priest is primarily a representative, a double representative, who represents us to God and God to us. Our very eyes teach us this in church. Sometimes the priest turns his back on us and faces the East – he speaks to God for us: sometimes he faces us and speaks to us for God. We have no objection to a woman doing the first: the whole difficulty is about the second.’

I’m not really going to loose sleep over this.
Well actually maybe I am, because here I am typing this at 2.26am loosing sleep over this. I’m not sure if it’s his saying that a woman can’t represent God or his idea of what a priest is or should be that has me loosing sleep.
Are priests, ministers and pastors special people who’s job it is to represent God?
That maybe unsettles me more that the women shouldn’t be priests line.Because it seems to play into the notion that ministers should be special people and all the pressure that brings as well.That whole congregation is watching you and looking to you for inspiration. It plays into the notion that the most important person in a church is the minister and that the priesthood of all believers is just a catchphrase. It also might play into the idea that the minister represents God more than other people represent God as he (or she these days) is the expert.

Right, got that out of my system. Time for sleep.

the big one – married to the minister no.4

…except it’s not my last post as I nearly forgot the most obvious difficulty about being married to woman who is a pastor namely that many good Christians think that only a man should be leading a church and teaching men. Some people very obviously believe it is a sin while with others you aren’t sure what they are really thinking but suspect they think the same but won’t say.

I’ve thought about this many times but maybe not as many times as a man in my position might have been expected to.
The main reason is something of what I’d mentioned in the first post.

The traditional role of a minister has been built up and inflated out of proportion to what it actually is and should be in my opinion. It is seen as the key position, the most important position in any church as if that church should call a duffer then things start to go wrong.

It would be silly of me to say that they’re is not some truth in that as if you’ve a minister teaching things that just aren’t true (like Roman Catholics can’t be saved for example or that you shouldn’t enjoy an alcoholic beverage or two) then things will go wrong.

But at the same time there is too much emphasis and prestige placed around the minister/pastor/vicar as the leader of a church. Their position matters too much.

Because it is seen as the key position the debate about whether women should be in the position of church leadership takes a more prominent position than maybe it should and is blown out of proportion.  Some people seem to think that if we don’t get this right they’re won’t be a revival and we’re off to hell in a hand basket.

Again I’m not saying it isn’t important to think about these issues but perhaps there are more burning, pressing issues out there to be getting our knickers in a twist about? What about injustice or encouraging people in their work and dealing people who have no hope?

Which is why I’ve not thought about it that much. At the end of the day we don’t have to answer to anyone but God. And I live with the evidence and the evidence is everything you could possibly want in a pastor and more.

Besides often the debate isn’t really about the question of women in ministry but how Christian’s should interpret or read the Bible. The debates and fights for truth over issues like this aren’t about whether ____ would be suitable as a minister but over the authority of the Bible and how we should interact with it. The issue over homosexuality as well is maybe more about how people read and treat the Bible than issues of sexuality. For some Christians I know it is very important that life is black and white, right or wrong with no room for shades of grey and things that don’t really matter that much. They like to major on the minor’s as my friend Trevor used to say.

Many Presbyterians I know and have known will insist that the Bible is literally true and that if you don’t submit to it’s authority, even the difficult bits you are sinning.

S0 when Paul writes in a personal letter to one man that he’s doesn’t permit women to teach in church it seems fairly obvious to them that applies to all women from then until now. But does it?

They’ll talk about Greek words and context and arguments from Genesis and this and that while forgetting that the ordinary man on the street just doesn’t care.

They just want to know that if they’re mother is terminally ill someone from the church will come and visit and pray with them. They want to know that someone cares for them when they’re struggling with life. They want to know that someone is praying for them or that if they loose their job it will be OK.

Again I’m not saying that it isn’t important or a vital position but it doesn’t seem to have sunk in that all people occupy an important and vital position in the scheme of things.  The teachers, bin men, farmers, Tesco workers all have a ministry and matter as much as the minister.
Put simply there is too much emphasis on the role of the pastor and what he/she does or doesn’t do.
There is too much expectation and pressure with the position and by default with the family of a minister to be something more than an ordinary pilgrim struggling with things as much as the next person.

What would happen if a minister got up on Sunday morning and said how they really had been that week?
How they are struggling with addiction, or clinically depressed, or had been having huge fights with their spouse?
How they didn’t trust God as they are sick of having no money to go on a simple holiday or to buy a new car?
How they struggled with family members or struggled with pornography or said the church should be  welcoming but didn’t really like anyone?
How they had lied that week or were greedy, how they had thrown the sermon together at the last minute and didn’t really believe the words they where saying?

The list goes on and on yet it seems to be a matter for most if not all ministers to suck it up every week and be expected to churn out an inspirational sermon whether they feel like it or not, even whether they truly believe it or not.
It is their job and much like you would get the sack if you didn’t turn up for work on Monday morning and do your job so the church minister is obliged to do a sermon whether they feel like it or not.

The disconnect is hard though isn’t it?
If all the stuff someone like myself has been taught in church over the years is true then this Jesus stuff should be life changing and we should be whole people.
If we’re fundamentally doubting inside but saying things on the outside that sound good and correct surely that doesn’t mean we’re whole people at all.
Isn’t that why Jesus hammers the Pharisees in Matthew 23?

It’s hypocritical.

As a spouse how can someone help their husband/wife to be a whole, healthy person if  their job and the expectations of the job put them on some type of treadmill that doesn’t allow them to be a whole, healthy person?

‘They’re watching you…’ being married to the minister No.2

The second thing about being married to the minister is that feeling of responsibility that ‘they’re watching you’.
I took a dander yesterday afternoon along the Lagan and scribbled a few points down.
The first point was the whole ‘Buy One, Get One Free’ idea whereby your life, family, marriage all become tangled up in what is essentially your wife’s/husband’s  work and vocation and because they are working in that area of life that is most important to Christians (the church) boundaries are hard to set or define. Can you and your family ever really be free or yourselves?

The second point is the whole idea that your life (by default of who you are married to and what might be expected of the typical minister’s wife) is under scrutiny as well.
Batman and Robin are both being observed by the powers that be until the L plates can come down. Then when Batman and Robin get a new church they are being even more closely watched by their new congregation.Maybe that is exaggerating things, but that is what it feels like sometimes.

I had scribbled these words  in my notebook

‘Feel like I’m being marked, assessed and judged as well as _____ or as a couple by people I never really agreed to be judged or assessed by’

What this means is that we had to move to a new country to study for three years in order for ____ to become a minister.
I had to say goodbye to somewhere I was very fond of and friendships I had made there and start again in a church that I didn’t have a say in choosing.

I’m not saying that the people in our present church aren’t lovely, Godly people (because you are if you are reading)
The point is that any minister’s husband would naturally give up their life and move home for 3-4yrs,
perhaps from somewhere that they love dearly and have been salt and light in and happily be placed in a new church that they know nothing about and expected to get on with things.

It’s like someone telling you to move to a new country,
change work, find work,
find a home,
make new friends, say goodbye old friends,
learn the area
while placing you in a certain church of their choice that you have to attend and become very involved in.

Added to that is the bonus that you are being watched to see if you are a suitable couple for ‘the ministry’  by people higher up the Presbyterian food chain. And those higher up the food chain might be judging you from a certain cultural perspective or lens  (that of a Northern Irish, Protestant, Unionist etc.) even though you might be coming from a different culture altogether. To pick one example Remembrance Sunday and singing ‘God Save the Queen’ in church might cause issues if you are from a different part of Ireland than Lisburn or Ballymena.

For instance it seemed to be only natural that I would give up my job for the sake of this move and find new work. At the time it felt like my job and what I was going to do was only a minor consideration compared to the importance of ____  being called to the ministry.

(Sorry, this is a very garbled one again)
As I’ve said to _____ many times we didn’t have a choice in where we had to worship.
In my idealistic head the church should be the one place you can go if things are tough at work for support or encouragement. But what if the church is your work and work or the organization you are working for is the thing causing the discouragement?

Perhaps it is the sense that my freedom of worship has been taken away from me as well.

There is also those who say you just have to survive your placement and just ‘dot the i’s or cross the t’s, jump through the hoops, just do whatever you need to do until you get called to another church where things can be different.’

But I resent that sort of thinking.

Surely the ‘now’ is just as important as the ‘then’ and the means are just as important as the end? If I start faking things just to create a good impression that everything is OK in my soul and that I’m a dedicated minister’s spouse is that just not hypocrisy and dishonest? Is that not just training me to be dishonest?

The danger of course is that if you are too honest about how you really feel reports will get back to the next church you might apply for that ‘____ is great but I’m not sure how _____ would cope with the move. He wasn’t very involved with anything and seemed resentful.’

The idea that people are watching both now and in the future is frightening and frankly off-putting.
I’m a mess.
Most Sunday mornings I don’t want to go to church, church politics drives me crazy, theology bores me to death,  I don’t want to be involved in small groups,men’s group, lead youth group, the formality of the service drives me crazy as well,I find church halls the loneliest place in the world.