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Commentary: It's not easy being a minister's spouse

5/29/2003 News media contact: Linda Green · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn

NOTE: A head-and-shoulders photo of Connie Davis Rouse is available at

A UMNS Commentary By Connie Davis Rouse* By Connie Davis Rouse*

"Some were called, some were sent and some just went," a friend stated during his usual round of "preacher bashing." While I do not necessarily agree or disagree with his assumptions about ministers, I do think that his analogy might adequately define the call of the minister's spouse.

Perhaps that is why there are so many failed marriages in the clergy-spouse community. I am not necessarily speaking about divorce. I am talking about ministers and their spouses who smile and converse when members of their churches surround them, yet barely speak to each other in the privacy of their homes. I am referring to ministers who ignore the problems in their own families by busying themselves with caring for the families in their congregations. I am pointing to those clergy who barricade themselves behind the computer or some great theological project to pretend their problems away.

Yes, many of these couples remain silently committed until death for fear that divorce might affect or bring an end to the clergyperson's career. Silence is traded for whatever honors or privileges the spouses perceive they receive from being a minister's spouse, and sadly, they stay, too afraid to get counseling, too afraid that the secret might be revealed. However, longevity does not necessarily make a successful marriage. Love does, and when love no longer abides, the marriage is a failure.

Before I married my husband, I never considered that I might one day become a minister's wife. In fact, the only thing I didn't like about this wonderful man was that he was a minister.

It wasn't that I had committed to a life of sin, but I simply had no trust in "good church folk." Nothing I had heard from preachers' kids about their lives seemed appealing. My personal interpretation of the church's treatment of ministers and their families was horrible. My limited assessment, looking from the outside, was that they were constrained and controlled, not by God, but by "good church folk."

I, on the other hand, was creative and free, so being married to a minister was definitely not a life for me. Unfortunately, I fell desperately in love with the guy. Then the heavens opened up, and he said the magic words. "You are perfect just as you are, and you don't need to be a minister's wife. Just be my wife."

So, I "just went." I "just went" with my large baggage in tow, filled with insecurities and dysfunction from childhood. I "just went" with this patient and loving man who gave me the support and freedom to be me, thereby giving me the space to grow and learn at God's pace, not his. At times I have sought counseling, for I have felt broken and hurt, but I have grown and been richly blessed, and at the end of the day, I still love God, my husband and most of my church members.

Being a minister's spouse is not always easy, whether you were called, sent or just went. It is difficult at times to keep your identity or to even know what that identity is. It is especially hard for those of us who "just went," unprepared for what we were to embark upon. And for those who married bankers and lawyers that were called to the ministry after the marriage, the experience can be devastating. I have learned, though, that God does not always direct us down paths of ease. Yet, if we trust, God's grace will be sufficient. God will take a mustard seed of faith and turn it into a vineyard.

Ministry is extremely stressful. Coupled with the joyous occasions, ministers are there amid times of sorrow. They work in a world in which the joys often seem few and the sorrows are many. It is no wonder that so many of our marriages fail, for the burdens that we carry upon our shoulders are so great. That is why it is imperative that ministers do not, nor do they allow their congregations to, place unfair expectations upon their spouses, who may not have been called to this vocation.

If it is perfection that clergy seek, then spouses will surely fail. However, if it is partnership and commitment based on common and realistic goals that will be mutually beneficial to both partners and to God, then the result can be a nurturing environment that will foster respect, trust and love for years to come.

In the words of the late James Cleveland, "Please be patient with us. God is not through with us yet. When He gets through with us, we shall come forth as pure gold." Or if your minister's spouse is anything like me, polished brass! Yet, by the grace of God, we will indeed come forth. And that, my Christian friends, is good news for the family of God.

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*Rouse is a freelance writer, columnist for the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate and member of Disciples United Methodist Church in Greenville, S.C.

Commentaries provided by United Methodist News Service do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of UMNS or the United Methodist Church.

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