10 Things I’ve Found ‘Hard’ about Being the Minister’s Husband

fearfulWhen I say ‘hard’, I don’t necessarily mean they keep me awake at night.
Just some of them have pushed my buttons at certain times. And maybe some have kept me up at night on occasions, like the other night when something started gnawing at the back of my mind and I got restless.

Also I know that life is hard for everybody, that nobody has an easy time of it. You could have 10 Things I’ve Found ‘Hard’ about being married to a farmer, or  teacher, or a nurse or not being married, or on and on.
So this is just my angle on some things that I’ve found in particular about being a minister’s husband.

1 You can’t just talk about stuff. Or it sometimes feels that way.
Like I couldn’t  go  into specific details of things here on the blog or in a Facebook post about something in particular that we might be struggling with. It might be a pastoral issue or it might be some story that breaks your heart but you can’t share. I mightn’t feel comfortable talking to people in church about it, which is hard as I’ve always thought that church is the place where you should be able to share things that are difficult. I won’t feel comfortable talking to people outside the church as they mightn’t get understand the intricacies of church.

2 Probably tied up with this is a sense of loneliness and isolation. You might feel like you’ve no support or that nobody understands what it’s like to be a minister’s husband in your particular situation.  Even finding something like thoughts about what it’s like to be minister’s husband online is tricky. I guess that loneliness and a sense of isolation is a universal thing we all feel.

3 You don’t necessarily know how to react if you feel that people are treating the minister unfairly.
If they are judging without knowing the whole picture.
Or if you feel they’re taking the mick a bit and looking for something they need then disappearing when they get it.
The judging thing often isn’t church people, it is a feeling that there is a large segment Irish society who don’t have any time for organised religion and are ready to run over people involved in organised religion, especially church leaders. Maybe it’s the subtle threat of persecution? Even when you hear people taking the mickey out of Christians you might feel your hackles go up. I’ve heard people down at the pub saying things about the religious that they never say about  other group in Irish society
It’s hard because your natural reaction is to protect and you might be  angry, but you might feel an extra pressure to keep a lid on it what with the whole loving your enemy thing and showing grace (because we’re all sinners).

4 You can have a sense of helplessness or powerless at things that can’t be controlled.
Or maybe a better way of putting it is you’re aware of the brokenness of the world?
A minister is a bit of point person for stuff and we often want to talk to minister’s when things are hard or we’re struggling. So maybe that rubs a bit of on me? I know people are really struggling out there. I’d be a bit of a glass half empty type by  nature so hearing some of the stories can sometimes make me sad and wonder how to make things better for people.You can feel a bit powerless in the face of something like a housing crisis or unemployment, sickness, family disputes etc.  I know the Sunday School answer is to pray or Jesus, and I should do it more. But sometimes (or even a lot ) or time it isn’t that easy.

5 Sometimes you feel guilty that you don’t do more to support or help. To me it’s a bit like if you married a musician and every Sunday they’re playing a gig that you feel you have to go to as support as it’s an important gig. The church service sometimes feels like a ‘gig’.
In other ‘jobs’ you wouldn’t feel a pressure to support them when they went to work. But in Presbyterian circles with the sermon and Sunday morning worship being such a big deal you know that doing a sermon is a big deal and want to be supportive.
But sometimes you might be dealing with things in your own life like feeling low or discouraged yourself and want to stay in bed, or you might just be feeling overwhelmed and want to hide in a corner. If you’re self employed and trying to make money you might feel the pressure to work when something is on though strictly speaking you could go along.

6 Tied in with this it can be hard to worship as an ‘ordinary worshipper’. Or at least that is my experience.
For example it’s hard for me to separate the minister and the wife. During the week there is give and take in conversation, you talk a bit, they talk a bit, back and forth. Then suddenly you’re in church and you’re not having a conversation, you’re being talked to for 20mins  in a sermon. Is it your wife or a minister (or both?) giving it. I find it a bit disorientating trying to work out what voice is talking to me sometimes.

7 I think some people assume that you’re going to agree with them about certain issues based on that fact that you’re married to female minister. Maybe you’re seen as being more open minded, cool and less of a ‘tight boy’, or more of a liberal if you want to put it that way. Sometimes it’s feel like people might make assumptions that you agree with stuff that you mightn’t necessarily agree, or you might be on their side on certain issues.

8 I think it would be easier to be married to a female minister in other denominations than my own. I’m not looking to be invited to lunches and meet-ups, just more a general attitude than having a minister spouse who is a man is a normal thing. I’m not looking recognition for myself but just a church that seems to recognise it’s normal.

9 I don’t know how to phrase this but I guess that you could sometimes covet what other churches seem to have, because if you had just a little of what other churches had it might make the life of your minister and church easier?
For example, you might think of some small town in Northern Ireland that might have a pile of Presbyterian churches nearby, all with decent toilets and a hall and you might get annoyed that you’re sitting in a major city of Ireland with the Sunday school meeting in mouldy, damp rusty storage container. The reason is that stuff like maintenance or upkeep of the building can add stress to the minister, which might stress to the life of the spouse.

10 This hasn’t been a problem so much out west, but in the past I’ve felt judged by default by people who believe that women shouldn’t be church leaders and that men and women should have certain roles. I assume that if someone believes that it isn’t God’s will that a woman should be a minister then they’d also assume that the husband is in the wrong as well, because he hasn’t been doing the whole head of the household thing or something. As I said, not a problem here but there have been times when I’ve felt like that before.

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?  

 

40 yrs

As I found out yesterday it is 40 yrs since our denomination, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland decided to start ordaining women.
Someone pointed out to me  that in those 40 years less than 40 woman have been ordained, so using my amazing mathematical skills I’ve worked out that…er…. less than one woman a year has been ordained.

Something I thought might be interesting to do is to take a Google map I’d made last year with each Presbyterian congregation marked on it and change the blue marker to red if there was a woman minister there at the moment that I knew about (so there may be some missing). As you can see there quite a few blue markers and not many red.

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.

Lady Thatcher and Paul

So former PM Margaret Thatcher has passed away, an event which I don’t have much of an opinion on truth be told.
I was too young to really care about who the PM was or about politics at the time.
She seems to be a little like Marmite, you either loved her or hate her but I don’t remember much about her except for a funny style in clothing which some people thought classy.
And she called murderous General Pinochet of Chile a friend, and said that any man who was still on the bus after the age of 26 yrs of age was a loser. So discard all I’ve just said, I firmly in the ‘not a fan’ section.

My thoughts are also on how we had a woman leading the country (two if we count The Queen) and having  a certain authority over men and women all over the country from every stage of their lives and yet there are still lots of churches in the country that can’t imagine having a woman leading in church as an elder or as the pastor. Or not that they can’t imagine it, but rather it’s not allowed in the Bible.

This doesn’t really much sense to me.
In 1 Timothy 2 you have Paul telling people in the church are told to pray for all those in authority, the Margaret Thatcher’s and Queen Elizabeth II’s of this world.

Further down you have Paul saying that he doesn’t allow women to assume authority over men.

I’ve heard different people say that Paul is not arguing from a specific time and place but is actually using an argument from the beginning of creation, an argument for the way humans are fundamentally designed and made to be and relate to each other in a perfect world. So even though culture says women can do lots of things these days God’s eternal, never changing Word says that women can’t be in positions of leadership in the church.

So if that is the way things are supposed to be in a world that God perfectly designed with women never assuming authority oven men then how can some churches be  happy with a female Queen or a female PM having authority over men?
It doesn’t make much sense to me.
Can a Christian who firmly believes  the Bible teaches that women shouldn’t assume authority over men (because that is the way God fundamentally created things to be) ever sing the British National anthem with a line such as ‘Send her victorious, long to reign over us?’ Because I’ve known lots of people like that in my time.

Or how can they pray for a woman in a position of authority over them such a Margaret Thatcher? Are they saying that ideally only a man should be reigning over us?

a little whine for my stomachs sake

‘Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.’ 

 It has struck me how often we have disobeyed the clear teaching of God’s Word by avoiding wine and drinking the water Paul tells Timothy to avoid.
There is nowhere that says that this command is just for a certain time and place  so we should stop drinking water and get  the Shiraz in  instead.
If all Scripture is God breathed and useful  we wouldn’t want to be thinking that certain verses somehow don’t apply  to us today. And if Paul tells Timothy that he doesn’t allow women to have authority over men and this hasn’t changed why should should we deny this command to stop drinking water and drink a little wine in the same letter?

Now, where’s my corkscrew?

road trips and stuff

I’m disorientated, we’re just back from a road trip to ____ via_____ with a stop in ____ all through the traditional Irish weather of grey murk and mist with a spot of mizzle thrown in.

We’re thinking about the future and where we might be ‘called’ to so we went to check out a place or two. It has been a fairly unsettling process so far. Or that might be just my perspective. What are you supposed to do and how are you supposed to do it?

I was trying to think of an analogy but couldn’t come up with one. I was thinking along the lines of ‘It’s a bit like being a married to someone in the Army when you have been wondering about pacifism‘.
Perhaps you could add ‘It’s like being married to a woman officer in the army wondering about pacifism and knowing that you’re going to be posted somewhere else not being able to control where you might be posted next
So you not only have questions about the organization you have links with and how they do things sometimes but you’re doing things slightly differently to how they have been done by virtue of being married a woman. Also the woman might come from a different culture to the main centre of culture, if that makes sense.

In one respect our church allows more freedom in the process of finding a church when a minister has finished their training as you won’t be sent to a specific parish by a bishop or some high ranking committee. So if you have always loved the country and grew up in the farm you might be able to find a rural congregation that fits in with your natural gifts and outlook on life. You won’t have a bishop sending you to an inner city parish.

But on the other hand there is a weird zone in which you don’t know if it’s good to be pro-active and set your heart on a place/s as the congregation mightn’t want you. Do you wait for them to call or do you go knocking their door? There is also the fact that you will have less options if you are female as some congregations wouldn’t consider having a woman as their minister as they believe that Paul in the Bible doesn’t allow that. So if there are say 20 congregations that needed a minister,maybe 10 of those might see a female name and automatically rule them out or think them less than ideal or a second choice.  I would be reluctant to class that as sexism but I’m not sure how to term it. It is hard whenever you know our church officially ordains both women ministers and elders but doesn’t seem overly pushed about it. Even in a congregation that mightn’t be completely closed to the idea of having a woman minister you wonder if the preference would still be for a man. What if the woman decided to have a family for instance? That might disrupt things and the swing of church life might be broken up. It might just be easier with a man. I’ve a feeling the next while is going to be tough going.

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 15th of January

So in a sense we made it, we got to a milestone in that from today , the 15th of January H__ could have her own church, a church in which she is the minister and I am officially the ministers wife.
This could happen soon or it could be in another year, it may not happen at all but it theoretically could happen, she is someone ready to be called. What does that mean? What lies ahead?
I don’t think it’s been an understatement to say that I’ve been completely dislocated by this whole experience of moving to somewhere that was in some sense chosen by people I don’t know, it was something that I was prepared to do but I never really settled and if truth be told I liked living in Dublin. Belfast has been a struggle,perhaps I resented different things too much.

I never really liked Belfast even when I was a student in Queens, I know lots of people love it but we just haven’t gelled at all. And I’ve been a nightmare to live with, I’ve withdrawn from people and being unemployed (or strictly speaking self employed) means that I’ve been hermit like.

So part of me wonders what the next move will be like? What will happen now that we’ve more of a say in our options? Yet also we’ve also less options because there are some churches that disagree with women ministers and won’t be interested. The major fear is that our next move will be as hard as this move was. That freaks me out. I’d like home of sorts, not just a house. So 15th January, you’ve been marked, a little stone alter of blog words has been left. Exile was tough, I want a home.

Image

the perfect space

In many ways this is tensest time of the week for me, that time just before church when I decide to go, or that I should go or sometimes force myself to go. Some weeks I just don’t go.

No amount of deoderizing will stop the cold sweat I will get from going to church, especially if H___ is leading. It is always that heavy sweat as well.

Why the sweat?

It’s the thought of the people, of the uncomfortable interactions with strangers and the more familiar, the thought of chats afterwards with thos who might say
‘So any joy on the job front?’ or ‘So are you off anywhere nice on holiday?’ etc. etc.

Perhaps it is because I feel extra exposed being married to one of the ministers, the person who has been leading the service and preaching the sermon, the person who is brought into the whole church equation.

Perhaps it is also because church halls are the least uncomfortable, inhospitable spaces  I be in each week. The spaces we worship in are all the wrong colours , the seating uncomfortable and too close for someone who likes his own space and feels claustrophobic.
The way I can’t sit beside my wife like most other people who go to church but have to watch her from afar.

My holy friends have become increasingly righteous is saying ‘Well that’s the beauty of the church community, you can’t choose your family members, you have to love those people who you would not naturally gravitate towards…’
but the tense, cotton cutting sweat has little to do with that.

Anyway, I should get ready. The Perfect Space by The Avett Brothers is what comes to mind.

‘I wanna have friends that I can trust,
that love me for the man I’ve become not the man I was.
I wanna have friends that will let me be
all alone when being alone is all that I need.

I wanna fit in to the perfect space,
feel natural and safe in a volatile place.
And I wanna grow old without the pain,
give my body back to the earth and not complain.