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What do you want? (clergy-spouse edition)

What do you want? (clergy-spouse edition)

Perusing one of your typical let’s-get-an-article-in-the-paper notices concerning the ordination of Roxane Gwyn to the priesthood in Fuquay-Varina / Holly Springs, North Carolina (it sounds like it was a hoot by the way), I spied the following in the interview.

Q: Traditionally, wives of ministers have had certain expectations on their involvement in their husband’s churches. As a female priest, how does your role affect your husband?

A: The Episcopal Church has no expectations of spouses, whether male or female. Already, Owen is a vital part of Trinity’s life right now. I don’t think they will need him to bake any apple pies.

I do like how she flipped the question back on the questioner, but I’m also interested in hearing hear your responses to her assertion that there aren’t any expectations put upon clergy spouses, be they male or female.

It’s been my experience that nothing is necessarily expected at a formal level – that is, nothing is articulated in particular, written down – but that a spouse often will be the one who at least:

… raises young children in the pew, often as a solitary activity;

… takes the emotional edge in moments of her or his spouse’s professional frustration;

… watches the priest-in-training working out a theology and place to stand and has “heard it all” to the point of knowing what’s going to be said next from the pulpit;

… takes the phone calls from people who conflate the rectory with the church office;

… witnesses the accolades and backslaps heaped upon the priest, and witnesses the priest going on sabbatical and to conferences (and will often think, Call me when there’s a budget-funded diocesan clergy-spouse retreat); and

… would be looked at in a funny sort of way for going to the next church over.

Ours, thankfully, is not a system that expects the spouse to be astronomically engaged like, say, Victoria Osteen. But to suggest there aren’t any expectations at all (not even a few tacit assumptions?) might be taking it too far.

Your ideas?


Added by John B. Chilton. You can enter ideas anonymously here:

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One requirement that seems to be pretty standard these days (among those I have spoken with) is to require the spouse to participate in the interview process. As long as the spouse is being evaluated, and also, the relationship between spouse and candidate is being evaluated, there will be expectations for the spouse. I think there should be some work done around this issue in terms of best practices.

Would other professionals – teachers – doctors – nurses – social workers – accountants – golf pros – coaches – real estate agents – personnel managers ever be required to bring their husband, wife, or partner along on an interview ? And how is this even legal?

Perhaps evaluating the spouse is important to see whether the “couple” would be a good fit, but it seems to be an area of tension for many who are involved with the deployment – I mean “transition” process.

Peter Carey+

John B. Chilton

A parish should be thrilled if it gains an active member of the parish. Some parishioners expect more “even” in the Episcopal church. There’s trouble if a spouse not teaching Sunday school every year or making some other level of commitment inside the parish.

In my experience, there are a different set of expectations for clergy-spouses in terms of “fellowship”. Anything social event that the clergy is expected to attend the spouse is expected to be there, too.

Yes, it’s a double standard — spouse husbands aren’t expected to meet the same expectations.

Ann Fontaine

Depends on the age group at the church, I think. Older parishioners have different expectations of the wife than younger ones. I do think the church is much more open to husbands doing whatever they want – helping or not, being of another religion, etc. Wives- I think there is still expectation.

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