Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Secret Lives of Pastors' Wives: Perks

Often times I hear pastors' wives complain. Complain about everyone's expectations of how they should act, complain about about the lack of money, complain about how often their husbands are at church, and complain about ___________ (insert gripe here). Our current church is the fourth one we have served in since being married. I don't think that we have been involved in freak-of-nature churches. They have all had some good and some bad. However, I really haven't "too" much to complain about. Yes, there are some irritating people (aka heavenly sandpaper) at church, but those people are at all churches. Frankly, they are everywhere--not just at church. We knew how much Robert was going to get paid when we agreed to go to a church and he didn't go into the profession to make tons of money, so that hasn't been an issue. My husband has a good concept of priorities and boundaries and he has put his family before his job, so that hasn't been a problem. I have had moments of frustration with being married to a pastor, but really not too much to complain about. I'd be frustrated on occasion if he were a doctor on call, or a businessman who traveled, or a police officer who risked his life each day. There are gripes, complaints, and trade-offs in every occupation.

What no one ever talks about is the perks...and there are a lot of them. Let me describe a few that we have had over the years:
*In Texas, we had an older couple in the church who babysit a 9-month-old Adam ALL DAY LONG for free while we prepared to move to Missouri. They also fed us lunch and supper. They helped us with a million little things like home improvement, meals, etc. and we just a huge source of encouragement for us. They are now in their 80s and we still get a Christmas card from them every year.

*In Missouri, we needed to travel from SW Missouri to Abilene, TX and while we had a 4 door sedan, it was a compact car. Our boys were a year old and just shy of 4 years at the time. We had a church member voluntary loan (and insist) that we take his new Suburban to Texas. We had enough room to pack all of our baby paraphernalia and ride in comfort. This same person was an ER physician. Once my husband had bilateral pneumonia AND influenza at the same time. Our infant and preschool-aged sons also had double ear infections and bronchiolitis. I was overwhelmed with breathing treatments and medication schedules. Dr. Church Member (CM) came over to our house every day for a week, giving Robert antibiotic and steroid shots. He then had to wait around for about 30 minutes to make sure that Robert didn't have a reaction to the megadoses of drugs. Robert would have easily ended up in the hospital if it hadn't been for our friend doing housecalls and going above and beyond the call of duty, all gratis. He was ministering to us in significant ways.

*In Louisiana, we had church members give us their vacation/retirement cabin in North Carolina for a week so that we could have a vacation. It was a beautiful modern log cabin with three bedrooms, a stocked kitchen, all sorts of video/DVD equipment and movies, and a huge wraparound porch all on rolling hills with a stream running through the property. It was in the middle of nowhere on the NC/VA border, but a very short drive to Boone. It was one of our best family vacations ever! The kind where you come back actually rested. We slept late, napped, canoed, swam, fished, and just enjoyed time together. We picnicked on a large flat rock in the stream. The boys were pretty young and spent one entire day throwing rocks in a river. It was a free respite. Our only requirement was to sign the guest book and to pray over the house for the next people who would stay there. You see, these people used their vacation home as a ministry and offered free throughout the year to ministers and their families. What a blessing!

These are some big examples, but there are a million other smaller perks. We got discounted dental visits in Texas. We got free veterinary care in Louisiana from a church member and paid cost for meds. I had to see a CM cardiologist in Louisiana and he didn't charge for the full EKG/stress-test workup, even though I had insurance. We've had church member as realtors and they have given us discounts on their percentage. We've had people keep our kids for free so we could have weekend getaways when our kids were little and we had no family living near. We've had people house and host us at their houses when we have gone back for visits. We've gotten gift cards, tickets to concerts and sporting events, meals paid for, and surplus from people's gardens. We've been taken to the river, to New Orleans, to state parks, and on other grand adventures by people in our churches. We've had people bring meals when our babies were born or when I had surgery. We've had people offer to run interference or take on jobs that weren't theirs during tough times. My kids have gotten to hang out for the day playing video games with Ten Shekel Shirt. Jeremy Camp came over to our house and took a shower after playing a concert.

In addition to things that church members have done for us, we got a free week at a bed and breakfast in Amish Country, Ohio through Pastors Retreat Network. This was a weeklong retreat for spiritual renewal that was absolutely awesome and is supported by donations. Churches have paid the way for my husband to get to do mission work in Belarus and Nicaragua, as well as sent us both to conferences and times of renewal and rest.

So there you have the secret scoop--the stuff that no one tells you. There are many little and big perks to serving in ministry. Sure there are irritations, as with any job, but there are so many incredible ways that we have been blessed by too many people over the years to even count.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Secret Lives of Pastors' Wives: A Different Kind of Easter

Jesus' crown

It's Easter morning at 9:21 and I am still in my pajamas and now sitting at the computer to type in my blog. This is radically different from Easters past. I have been married to a pastor for about 18 years. (We've actually been married for almost 21 years, but for a couple of those he was an insurance adjuster and a full-time seminary student). We have done the mega-church thing. Did that for almost 7 years. At one time being in a mega-church was our dream. The pinnacle of ministry success. Not so much anymore.

We planted Tapestry church 2.5 years ago. It is an intentional small community. When we grow to a couple of hundred people, we will purposefully split and form a new church. We don't want to get big. Our strength is in the fact that we are small. Everyone knows everyone. It's quite evident when we have visitors. And we do have visitors...a lot! There have been times when our visitors have outnumbered our regular members/attenders. Part of our appeal is the small intimate community. Of course, it is a drawback for others who would prefer to come and sit anonymously in a large church. I have been at that place in my life as well. There are other churches in the community to fit all sorts of needs and preferences.

We also meet at night. We have no morning service at all. I LOVE that! Since we moved from the deep south to the frozen tundra I have worked full-time for the first time since our boys have been born. I relish my weekends and my time with my family. Sunday mornings are now a day for sleeping late and hanging out with my family. A real Sabbath...in a pastor's family. Imagine that! My husband is good about studying and preparing his sermon during the week. Usually he may spend an extra hour or so tweaking his powerpoint or printing out bulletins (we have no secretary), but usually he's not running around in a panic. He heads up to the school where we meet at about 3:30 and I go up between 4:30-5:30 depending on various things. Our service is at 6:00 and we have to be out by 8:00. He does not spend all of Sunday at church anymore, coming home exhausted.

In other churches, he might have to attend as many as 4-5 services on Easter: sunrise service, the three usual Sunday morning services, and maybe another evening service. He'd be at home for a couple of hours for lunch and that was it. When the kids were little, I had to get them ready and dressed extra fancy all by myself. Invariably, someone would have an exploding diaper or spit up sour milk on me and it was back to the drawing board. I was rarely in a worshipful mood on Easter morning after getting everyone dressed, putting them in carseats, lugging around diaper bags, and dealing with chocolate bunny overdrive. In addition to Easter morning, there were also always cantatas and Maundy Thursday and/or Good Friday services. It was a busy, busy week. Sometimes in our busyness I think we can overlook the reality. We can neglect to take time to consider it all. We can forget to be amazed...and humbled...and loved by the miracle of Easter.

Jesus hung between two thieves.

Just this morning I was telling my husband that while I am so thankful today for a risen Saviour, I am also thankful for a real day to celebrate that. Not a day full of religious obligations and spiritual busyness, but a day to contemplate, rest, and rejoice. Yes, it does feel weird not to go to a sunrise service. Even though I am very much not a morning person, that was always one of my favorite services. Robert discussed having a sunrise service with our leadership team and everyone was in agreement that we would just be doing it to do it. We're not about activity for the sake of activity. It's also nice, since we have a large percentage of college students at our church, that they can go home and spend the weekend with their families and still make it back to worship with us tonight. That wasn't part of the original grand plan to have church at night, but it has worked out so well that way. People can boat, fish, travel, and still make it back for church in the evening.

Our budget doesn't increase for Easter. We don't spend tens of thousands of dollars on an Easter cantata. On a personal level, nobody really buys new clothes for Easter because we are a very casual church...and it's still too cold to wear springish clothes anyway. We don't have extra programming. No Easter egg hunts, no new banners, no Easter lilies. During Holy Week, we do one big service project together (one year, painting at the Salvation Army Hope Center; this year, serving a meal at Place of Peace), we have a quiet reflective Tenebrae service that involves candles, a guitar, bass, and drums, and then our usual Sunday evening service. Jesus will be celebrated indeed! However, no one will be too exhausted or obligated to participate in the celebration.

Another thing we have had is various members of church do different interpretations of the events leading up to Jesus' crucifixion. There were two stations each week with the scripture and some artistic means of representing it. These ranged from sewing to painting to photography, etc. It has been so meaningful to have different people demonstrating different scriptures in various ways. It also gets so many more people involved in leading worship. We'll have all 12 stations tonight to look at once more in chronological order. Can't wait!

Today the Pam of the past would have a beautiful new dress, would have already been to a sunrise service, sitting in a second service, and preparing for Sunday school, while having her mind otherwise thinking about how she was going to get lunch ready in time. Instead, earlier this week I have been able to thoughtfully contemplate the sacrifice of Christ, His love for me, and the debt He paid. Today, as the sun streams through the windows, I have been rejoicing at the fact that He defeated death. In a little bit I will start working on lunch (I just have to do the sides because Robert is home to smoke a brisket!) and then I'll take a nap. We will end the day in joyful celebration of our risen Saviour with our church family this evening. Simple church...what's not to love?

Blessed Easter to you and yours!