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Online survey seeks responses from clergy spouses

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*

Nov. 4, 2008

Kim Coffing

The voices of clergy spouses are often not heard by the church.

To remedy that situation, the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women has posted an online survey on its Web site. The confidential survey will help church agencies determine how they can best support the needs of clergy families, according to Kim Coffing, the commission’s staff executive for education and advocacy.

For years, she explained, the commission "was hearing of the pain of clergy spouses, who are predominantly women, who had offered leadership gifts and skills to the church and were, in general, not compensated for those."

Spouses who had troubled marriages often "found they were totally without support," she added, because the denomination’s annual (regional) conferences didn’t know if or how to help.

The survey is a collaborative effort of the commission with the denomination’s boards of Pensions and Health Benefits, Discipleship and Higher Education and Ministries. Survey findings are expected to be released at the beginning of February.

Clergy spouses are concerned about confidentiality, worried about jeopardizing the pastoral appointments of their spouses, and stymied by a lack of resources available to them at different levels of the church, Coffing said.

Five years ago, the commission did attempt to reach clergy spouses. But response was "minimal" to a survey of clergy family members sent out to annual conference commissions on the status and role of women.

"What we did learn from that survey was there is a lot of pain in our clergy spouses’ lives, and there’s a lot of pleasure in being a clergy spouse," Coffing reported. "We were hearing of the need to tell their story."

This survey, she believes, is the first being coordinated by church agencies that have relationships with clergy families.

The survey gauges the spouse’s level of participation in various programs of the local church, asks respondents to rate the support they receive from the denomination and encourages them to tell the church about the experiences of clergy spouses.

Among the survey’s questions:

  • What do you see as your children’s greatest challenges and/or rewards as being "preacher’s kids?"
  • How isolated from or connected to the church do you feel?
  • What expectations are placed on you as a clergy spouse in the local church?

Because clergy spouses often only receive information through clergy members, notices of the survey were sent to bishops, district superintendents, annual conference leaders and the Women’s Division, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

The Commission on the Status and Role of Women also worked with the Board of Pensions to send postcard notices to a random sampling of 1,000 married clergy members. Another 300 postcards were mailed to racial ethnic clergy "so that we could have a healthy sampling from our racial ethnic clergy spouses," Coffing said, adding that those voices were missing from the responses in 2003.

Those who cannot access the online survey can contact the commission by Nov. 20 to receive a hard copy. The commission’s toll-free telephone number is (800) 523-8390.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Commission on the Status and Role of Women

Clergy spouse survey

Board of Pension and Health Benefits

Board of Discipleship

Board of Higher Education and Ministry

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