Session 3: Clergy Couples, Sacrifice, and Rewards
Preparation: Read Chapters 5 and 6
Opening: From Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (London: Hogarth, 1929):
"I took down one of [the women’s books] at random. It stood at the very end of the shelf, was called Life’s Adventure, or some such title… It seems to be her first book, I said to myself, but one must read it as if it were the last volume in a fairly long series, continuing all those other books that I have been glancing at. …For books continue each other, in spite of our habit of judging them separately.”
1. Lois Evans, founder and former president of the Global Pastors’ Wives Network, suggests that the stories of ministers’ wives have not changed as much as most people think. Writing for readers of the Memphis Commercial Appeal on January 22, 2007, and drawing on data provided by the Associated Baptist Press, www.Pastornet.net, and other sources, she tells us that clergy partners today need more listening ears and support: 80% of pastors and 84% of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their roles; 80% of pastors’ spouses feel their spouse is overworked; almost 40% of pastors polled said they have had an extramarital affair since beginning their ministry; 50% of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce; 80% of pastors’ wives feel left out and unappreciated by the church members. … reported in 2001 that 56% of pastors’ wives had no close friends in the church.
Evans closes with this appeal: “Pastors’ wives sometimes engage in an unattainable quest for perfection, often isolating themselves and losing a sense of reality along the way. Often these women, looked up to as leaders, are reluctant to approach members of their congregations for help. So next time you see your pastor’s wife, be sure to offer some words of encouragement. She may need them more than you know.”
If Evans’s data is valid within and beyond the evangelical fold, how might we explain the persistence of problems that Dodie Wilbur and Minna Eliot struggled with more than a century ago?
2. Many ministers’ partners today have careers or find other paid work away from the church. In what respects has this been a positive change from Dodie and Minna’s era? Has it had any negative aspects (e.g., the effect of masking ministers’ unsustainable salaries, or feeding resentment from members who feel that the partner should put the church first)? If the spouse or partner works in full-time employment, does that fact subtly affect the congregation’s idea of an appropriate professional salary and benefits package for their minister? How does a congregation know what appropriate salary and benefits are?
3. If the minister’s spouse is a man, is he expected to entertain the congregation’s members? As more and more women fill pulpits in churches, large and small, are congregations certain these women are getting equal pay for equal work?
4. What value is there in knowing such intimate details as Tucker provides concerning the physical and emotional problems Dodie and Minna experienced?
5. Were you surprised that the Unitarians’ publishing house was disseminating the racial purity tracts of David Starr Jordan?
6. How did the episode involving the Stuarts affect your opinion of Dodie? Of Etta?
Closing: From Nancy Mairs, Carnal Acts: Essays (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996):
"What I’m trying to do is normalize … pain, making it seem not rare and tragic but natural and manageable. Of course you feel pain if you or someone you love has MS, pain made up of sorrow and anxiety and anger and discouragement. But pain is not necessarily a sign of trouble. In this case, it’s simply an appropriate response, indicating emotional health. And the presence of pain in a family doesn’t have to mean that the family’s in trouble, disintegrating under the pressures of living with chronic illness, ready to fall apart at any moment. That’s one possible story, but there are plenty of others."
Suggestions for Further Reading:
Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, “The Hysterical Woman: Sex Roles and Role Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America,” Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 197-216.
Tucker, “The Economics of Power,” and “Women’s Place in a Manlier Ministry,” Prophetic Sisterhood, 129-136.
UU World, XXIII, no.3 (Fall 2009) [ “Gospel of Inclusion” Issue]; XXIV, no. 1 (Spring 2010) [“Can We Change?” Issue] ; XXIV, no.2 (Summer 2010) [“The Welcome Table” Issue]