With the increasing role of male clergy spouses across many denominations, our roles have not been clearly defined. I remember asking people I trusted who have been clergy wives for advice on how to fill the role of a good clergy spouse. I was told such things as “learn to play the organ,” “sing in the choir,”and learn to “knit and sew.” Additionally, I think that historically, there has been an expectation that you pay for the pastor but get the spouse for free. Clergy spouses were expected to choose a local ministry and serve the local church in a well-defined manner. I was heavily involved in the United Methodist Church prior to meeting Shelly, my wife, and after having a whirlwind courtship, we married. At the time, she was an editor for our local newspaper in Lubbock, Texas and the inaugural editor for Lubbock Magazine. I was doing my trial consulting work and teaching, as an invited instructor, at Dedman School of Law at SMU in Dallas. Things were good. Prior to our marriage, Shelly joined our local church in Lubbock and was baptized. She had become an active part in the life of the church. And she became beloved in that congregation. I was not so beloved. I had irritated some of the local folks by my outspokenness and had been shut out from some local church participation. On the other hand, my outspokenness lead to my being asked to step up into Conference Leadership. For several years, I was the Chair of the Deploy Team, one of the four teams that facilitated ministries in the Northwest Texas Conference. I became the Conference Disaster Response Coordinator, CORR representative, COSROW representative and a Global AIDS Fund Ambassador. I attended various trainings for each of those areas. As a result, I caught the eye of the General Commission on the Role and Status of Women and The General Commission on Religion and Race. I placed my name into the Jurisdictional Nominations pool and came out a Board Member to GCORR. I serve on the Legislative Committee and the CORR Action Fund Committee. I was a monitor in General Administration at General Conference 2012. I spoke on the topic of The Church and the Death Penalty at GBCS’ Living Faith Seeking Justice in 2008. I’ve been a guest speaker in the North Texas Annual Conference and The Kentucky Annual Conference. I am currently serving as the United Methodist Representative on the Racial and Social Justice Task Force, an integral part of Churches Uniting in Christ, an ecumenical movement that the Methodist Church has been part of since 1962, before we became the United Methodist Church.
Shelly announced her intention to enter the candidacy program with the intent to seek ordination about five years ago. She hit, and we hit, so many obstacles in that endeavor we thought it might never happen. Our marriage was strained, our finances in shambles and logistics seemed impossible. But, a year and a half later, we took the giant leap. Coming to Perkins was an exciting time for both of us. I had been teaching at the top of the Hilltop at the Law School. Shelly would be down Bishop a short walk at the School of Theology. I envisioned hand-in-hand walks across the beautiful campus, picnic lunches on the lawn in front of Dallas Hall, and becoming an active part of campus life. Well, as it turned out, the only campus life we have is at Curtis Elementary with our two boys. Between Shelly’s class and work schedules, my trial consulting work suffered, as I needed to stay home more often than usual to tend to our sons while Shelly took long hours of classes and continued the work of a local pastor: visiting shut-ins, hospital visits, sermon preparations and teaching and pastoring. There was no time for me to be taught, through on-the-job training, how to be a clergy spouse. Perkins didn’t offer a non-credit course or workshop for this role. And I don’t know how to knit, sing or play the organ and would be a poor student in each of those areas.
Since Shelly has started her internship, we have both had more time to reflect on my role as a clergy spouse. I continue my General Commission work, as well as teaching and consulting in my death penalty cases. But now, I’m teaching two Sunday School classes. I am also involved with a burgeoning after school program in which I drive the church bus and teach (and wrangle) our 50-plus attendees. I have started an ecumenical movement in Weatherford, modeling the Churches Uniting in Christ Vision and it has great potential. I’ve been able to teach at Trinity UMC in Denton, Lovers Lane UMC in Dallas, Preston Hollow UMC in Dallas, Christ UMC in Plano and have a an upcoming date at Trinity UMC in Arlington. I also serve as a. Early Response Team Member in the event of Disasters and A Rapid Response Team member through GBCS’s immigration program.
But this week, my role of a clergy spouse came clearly into focus. Everything above is relevant and important. However, I now see the greater purpose of being a clergy spouse.
A couple of days ago, the wife of a homeless couple the church has embraced tearfully told me her story. I listened and responded. A little while later, a member poured his heart out to me about the trials and tribulations his family is facing. I listened and responded. I attended a death bed visit to a dying member’s home. I listened and responded. And when my wife has a tough day or is struggling with a sermon or a lesson, I listen and respond.
And each of those responses is not necessarily verbal. More times than not it is a hug, a squeeze of the arm, a pat on the shoulder. It’s not about Open Hearts, Open Minds or Open Doors. It’s often about Open Ears and Closed mouths.
I am quickly learning that the role of clergy spouse is to show love to the church and its members, to love my wife and kids with all of my being, and to stay in love with God. Everything else is simply window dressing.