married to the ministry?

There is something about being married to a minister that messes with my brain a little, especially perhaps when the minister is the less common female minister variety and you are the more traditional minister sex who is not the minister.
When I was 15 yrs old could I have ever imagined myself being married to a minister?  No,I couldn’t.

That would have been  just crazy because it would almost certainly have meant marrying a man as I didn’t even know women ministers existed back then, and if they did exist they would almost certainly have been the liberal tree hugging type of woman who would lead me away from my Warren W Wiersbe books into untold mischief and ruin.

Yet here I am, 20yrs later sleeping with the minister and she’s a babe.
How did that happen?

It’s hard to explain these things but as a Christian life revolves around the church. I suppose that it should revolve around God, Jesus, Holy Spirit but the reality seems to be more church, or maybe even churchism if you can put it like that.

My personal life is somehow tied up to the church, church relates somehow to my deepest fears and dreams, it’s thumb prints are all over my upbringing and childhood.
I was going to church before school, it’s been there in different locations for the 35 years of my life. Not only that but it’s thumb prints are all over my family and to a large extent my friends. Most of my friends are/where church friends.

For most of my life I never questioned it, or at least in any deep sense. It was just part of me, and I guess it still is. Maybe scares me to ask questions sometimes of church because to do that is to question who I am. But that’s a discussion for another day.

So it’s very hard to keep church life and my life separate, they have always been intertwined and are intertwined.

But when you either work for a church or marry the minister  things become even more hard to separate or untangle, things become more intertwined.

Questions I sometimes ask myself are:-

What is my role?
What is expected of me?
If so is it fair that things are expected of me?

For instance, I am blogging here at 12.23pm, a time when H___ is up at church with the congregation.
Part of me thinks ‘ I should have gone this morning, people will be wondering where I am. It will look bad on H___ if I don’t go to the main service’.

But another part of me feels pretty rough this morning and is planning to go to the evening service tonight.
Most people who will be at this morning’s service won’t be at the evening service and they are good Christian people.
They will go to one service and I will go to one service.
Should I be expected to go to both services [just] because I am married to the minister?

Personally I don’t know if there is any reason why having two services on a Sunday is better than having one.
Surely there is enough in one sermon to be thinking through and working on for the week?
Maybe that is just me though, I can only take on board so much information and then my brain switches off.
What I don’t believe is that going to two services on a Sunday means that you are necessarily better off as a Christian.

The other thing to remember is that Sunday is not a day of rest for most ministers. It is their main working day. Today I am married to someone who is working very hard. A typical Sunday would involve two services and youth group afterwards.
Sunday isn’t a day of rest with your family when you’re married to a minister. It could be for the spouse, but personally I would like to have a  day off together. If H_____ is working today it puts me in the frame of mind to work today as well, maybe because I would feel guilty lying around the house while she is working hard.

Saturday is also a hard day for a minister to enjoy or relax on  as there is the thought of church in the morning, or a sermon to write for the morning. It’s the equivalent of someone have a normal working week and knowing they have a big presentation to do first thing on Monday morning every week. That would make it hard to relax on your day off. So it’s often hard to be off together on the weekend meaning that you’re out of sync with the majority of your friends and family who are off on the weekend (although maybe less so nowadays with shift work and the like)

Another example would be if there is a wedding and someone loosely associated with church who I don’t know and have never met decides to get married in the church.
H__  is taking the service and  she and I get invited to the reception.
Should I be expected to go to the wedding? Should I want to go to wedding out of courtesy?

I guess what I’m really trying to say in all of this is that it’s messy sometimes.
And is the minister making a ‘commitment’ to be a full time minister/priest in the church the same thing as the family or spouse making a commitment to be a full time minister/s in the church?

Whenever the H___ is leading the service I find myself wondering if it’s more important to me that it’s my wife up there or the minister of my church is up there? Is God speaking to me through the voice of my wife?

Also there is the way that work and private , personal and public all overlap in type of crazy way that can’t be untangled (and this is just the student stage of things, not the full on minister of a congregation stages)

In the PCI the manse isn’t really your home  and you don’t really get to choose it.
You will probably be expected to hold church events or meetings in it. It might be right beside the church with the living room having panoramic views of the building.That would be like being a teacher who has to live in a house that is on the grounds of the school and is expected to have school meetings at home. Yet you might feel guilty about not wanting to go to a church because you don’t like the manse and think it might drive you a bit mental living in it. If you were a really holy person who loved Jesus properly you could live in a shoe box in the church porch.

I didn’t realise this program had been on Radio 4 the other day when I started this blog,  but from 20mins on (or 13.3o mins in) describes some of the stuff I’m trying to say.

And H___ had noticed this on the BBC website.

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unsettled

My youngest  brother and his wife left today for at least a year away from Ireland, to explore and have a change of scenery over in Australia (and if you’re reading this you’d better have a good time, stay safe and come back again…) so I’m feeling a bit sad and unsettled I suppose.

We took the Christmas tree down earlier and packing it up I was wondering if that was the last time we’ll have the tree up in this particular house. From the 15th January on H___ is free to be called as a minister with her own church. I’m not sure how to phrase that.

Obviously it wouldn’t be her church as the idea isn’t that she would finally be promoted to looking after her own church like passing a driving test and  finally being allowed to drive on your own more that congregations who are vacant and looking for a minister can start approaching her more formally and saying ‘Would you be interested in being our minister?’

This has the power to unsettle me a lot as I have no idea where we might end up. I think we’d both like to move to a church in the south of Ireland but this last few years have been so tough on us the idea of moving anywhere and wondering if it will be as bad as the last few years has the power to keep me up at night. And it has.

 

skipping church and stuff

This morning I am skipping church. My legs are aching and my nose blocked but they are not life threatening and certainly not enough to stop me from making a public appearance at this morning’s service.

So why am I skipping church?

I don’t know. It is hard for me to put my finger on. There are many reasons. I will unpack them now over my coffee and aching legs.

1 I’m not a Marching Anymore

A few weeks ago the church choir sang this song

‘Will you ride, ride, ride with the King of Kings?
Will you follow your leader true?
Will you shout hosanna to the lowly son of God
who died for me and you?’

I think it’s that attitude of ride, ride, ride that’s a stumbling block for me in church, not just my present church but every church I’ve been  a member of.  Perhaps that is why I feel I should put the brakes on sometimes.

This ride, ride, ride attitude that I’ve heard from countless pulpits seems to leave no room for doubt or questions, for mess or grey especially during our traditional Presbyterian church service.
If you’ve ever been to one you will know that it’s your job to sing verse after verse of hymns like a metronome which contain aspects of doctrine and statements of faith that you don’t really have time to process.

You might be singing a hymn and the first verse hits you and you say  ‘Oh that is quite a bold statement of faith, do I agree with that?’ but already you are racing on to the next verse and sitting down and now the minister is praying and you’re confessing sins and listening to a children’s address and singing another hymn and riding waves of doctrine and faith and then maybe the pastor will be reading a chapter from Ephesians and you will be thinking ‘Oh, that sounds harsh’ or ‘Isn’t that wonderful?’ but there is no time to reflect on that either because the minister has now launched into his/her sermon and is hitting you with more spiritual truth or proclaiming words that aren’t actually his words, but God’s truth for us today and then it’s another hymn, a chat with someone over a cup of tea (in a cheap polysterene cup) and back home.

Basically you are expected to receive or give everything in faith quickly and without room in the service for working through issues or for having a discussion. And the nature of sermons seem to be to give an elaborate ‘Sunday School’ answer to grown-ups.

Guilt
This is sort of related to the above but the main reason that I’m feeling guilty right now about not attending this morning’s service is because I feel as if I’m letting the minister down by not attending. This attitude of ride, ride, ride means that if I don’t ride,ride, ride I’ve let people down such as the minister and even the apostle Paul further back.

My minister has heard that I played guitar and has been determined that I should join the praise group over the past number of years. He has said the words ‘We need you in the praise group’ in a stern manner as if that is my preordained position in the scheme of things. I play the guitar therefore I should join the praise group.

It wouldn’t be such a big deal except I’ve seen it countless times over my years in church. The minister has a vision of the way he would like church to be and therefore it will be moulded that way. If someone is friendly they should be on the welcome team in the door. If the someone is young and trendy they should help out with youth group. If someone is a teacher they should be teaching Sunday school.

My dad was talking about this over Christmas in how the minister used to have incredible power over members of the congregation, probably as they  are seen as God’s spokesman and representative in the community.
And so your job isn’t to question your leader but to do whatever your leader says or thinks you should be doing as they know what God thinks you should be doing and God thinks you should be playing guitar in the praise group. Next thing you know you’ve been teaching Sunday school for 30 years or church organist until you die as you can play the piano.

Often the leader of the church doesn’t seem to be Jesus, it  seems to be the  church or whatever has been decided should happen at the church by whoever is ‘in charge’ of the church

Stepping back there is the whole truth that the pastor or minister isn’t supposed to be the head of the church or the brains behind the operation and yet it doesn’t seem to be that way.
The brains behind the whole church operation seems to be the minister with the elders as  supporting cast.
The church set up seems to be modeled on Jesus and the disciples with minister in the role of Jesus, the elders as the disciples (with an inner circle of committed elders) and the rest of the church as the crowds flocking to hear Jesus.

It is hard is hard to write these things about the minister as so many of my friends are ministers or training to be ministers and I don’t think they’re control freaks or craving power, they’re just ordinary men and women who are following Jesus.
But I guess that a part of my frustration is partly borne out of being a concerned husband to someone who is training to be a minister.
The attitude of the minister as  leader of the church puts unfair pressure on the minister to keep  standards up and not let the side down, to stick to the script and have all the answers. We don’t really like our leaders to be messy and unsure about the direction to take.

For instance it doesn’t matter if the minister is having a particularly awful week, their job is still to get up on s Sunday morning and deliver a sermon that speaks God’s truth in front of people whether they feel like it or not. |
Of course it is hard for many people in jobs having to do things they don’t feel like doing (a teacher who isn’t in the mood to teach  still has to teach) yet perhaps there is something particularly hard about speaking about God and those deepest parts of our humanity when our heart is in a different place.

3 There is one on tonight
This is the main reason.
We have a service tonight (for some reason). So there are two church services today. Should I be feeling guilt about not attending the service this morning while ‘only going’ to the one tonight?
I don’t think so, and yet somehow I do.

 

‘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.

‘buy one, get one free’ – being married to the minister No.1

Without getting into too much detail something today made me think about the role of the minister/pastor/vicar’s wife,
or in this case minister/pastor/vicar’s husband for that is what I am.

For years it has been part and parcel of things that when a married minister is called to a new church, the church doesn’t just gain a new minister, they gain a new, active and willing member of the church in the person they are married to as well. The church doesn’t so much call a minister, it calls a family unit.
Yet you will rarely hear that ‘The S____’s have been called to 1st Ballymuck’ just that ‘Jimmy S____ has been called to 1st Ballymuck and we welcome his wife Jane as well’

It’s just one of those things apparently,a sort of ‘Buy One, Get One Free’ deal where the wife or other one is there in a supporting role, like Robin to Batman or Kevin Bond to Harry Redknapp.

But there are problems, especially if you set on the journey and find that the scenery changes dramatically along route.
It is not as simple as someone training for a certain job while the other half leads their life.
For Christians the church and what goes on there is the most important thing about life on this earth.
So what to do if your marriage, faith, struggles,job, vocation, community, life all somehow become tangled up in what your wife does for a living, if your minister is your wife and your wife your minister?
Who is that person giving the sermon on a Sunday morning?
Your wife or your minister?
How do you respond to the sermon?
As a someone struggling with their faith and taking issue with something your wife might have said or as a husband eager and wanting to encourage someone you love?

The problems though hard to define are there so I’m going to blog a bit about this the next while.
This is mainly for myself I suppose and incase others out there ponder such things.
Personally I’ve felt a bit isolated as someone who is struggling with faith and religion, who is maybe also a bit artistic and married to someone heading down a certain path being marked on their abilities AND (this is the whole point of this post I guess) has got lumbered with a very non-traditional other half.

Does that make sense? Probably not, especially if you have nothing to do with Christianity. But it’s not all doodles and making up new names for star constellations.

1 Minister Ego
The first thing that I want to highlight is the position of authority that a minister still occupies in Presbyterian church life.
Say what you will about everybody having a role to play and the priesthood of all believers,
when push comes to shove the minister is the don and quarterback, the one calling the shots,
the person that is leading and directing the church.

I’m not saying that all are like that, or that they even want it but it seems to be the way of things from what I’ve observed over the years.

As George Orwell writes in Animal Farm
All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’

I’m not saying that ministers are power hungry pigs,
but the traditional role of a minister and all the baggage that comes with it does give them a certain power over the rest of the church.

They are seen as the ones who are closest to God as they are paid to spend time reading the Bible or praying, have studied theology and are naturally gifted that way.

It can work itself out in many different ways and have consequences right from the start of things.

One way is the process of seeing if someone is called to ‘the ministry’.
It is a long, drawn out process that tests and retests and checks and counter checks and trains in a certain way and finally says ‘You are now OK to be a minister’

The length and pondering makes it seem that you have embarked on the most serious Christian ministry of all time and that there is no going back for you or your family.
Once you’re on the treadmill there will be no turning back,
this is serious and if you fail in this mission you’ve back slidden or something or something worse.

Of course there should be training and we should be careful who we choose BUT does it have to feel so serious,
like you are entering into a sovereign bargain with God,
even more sacred than marriage and that you’re a terrible Christian if you don’t stick the course?

Even the terminology of ‘the ministry’ is deeply ingrained and unhelpful.
I’ve been asked at times ‘Have you been called to the ministry?’ as if there is only a special class of person who is holy enough to enter the Navy SEALS or SAS of ministry and become a Presbyterian minister. We look up to these people and expect them to be better than us then get all pissy when they let us down.

The problem is when it comes to other members of  the congregation and their ministries,if  what they do  in their daily life are even called or recognised as being ministries.
Because what the minister/or pastor is seen as ‘the ministry‘ all other ministries aren’t seen as important or even recognised as ministry. Teaching kids in school? Emptying bins? Being a housekeeper?

It’s the old line of ‘full time Christian ministry’ as well.
If a minister decides that it would be good for the church for you to become a Sunday School teacher or play guitar in the praise group he/she can use the seriousness of the ministry to over rule you and say in a sort of abusive way that you’re letting the side down if you don’t join the praise group.
Inside you might be saying

‘Well I don’t really have time for that, I work 6 days a week in my job and I want to sleep in on Sunday morning. If I join the praise group I will have to practice and there will be no more sleep ins. But Rev _____ thinks it is important and he is holy and knows the things of God so I should just suck it up and get up on a Sunday morning’

Again it reminds me of the way the pigs in Animal Farm manipulate the other animals into doing things their way. Am I being harsh? Perhaps so.

The question is why does the minister fail to see that that person has been in ministry all week in his work place, and he has been in ministry with his family when he wasn’t at work etc and that they’re not necessarily being lazy and uncommitted just because they don’t want to join the praise group or teach Sunday school?

I guess that another way of saying it is that some minister’s think that the congregation are a bunch of lazy lukewarm Christians who could do with getting more involved with the church when the reality is that the congregation are too involved with the church or the pastor’s vision of the church.