A few months back, I wrote a post about how you can support your pastor’s wife. In it, I mentioned that because the role of the pastor’s wife comes with so many challenging aspects, there could be a field manual for women about to square up with the task. In place of a field manual, though, I thought I’d offer more insight via a few dedicated blog posts. Here’s the first of three.
While difficult, marrying a church worker is definitely worth it. I wouldn’t change the fact that I married my husband, a pastor-turned-Navy chaplain, for anything. I don’t want you to feel scared off by this series but rather equipped so you avoid entering the situation blindly—which can have hard results.
And it’s also helpful for people on the outside to get a vivid picture of what this life entails. For edification. For empathy.
A good starting point is this: the process of attending seminary.
Oh, boy. Here we go.
So. If you and your spouse are fresh out of university—as so many first-years are—attending seminary will likely be the most intense real-life experience you will undergo as a couple up to this point in life. The reasons are multifold, but let’s concentrate on three: (1) disruption, (2) relocation, and (3) culture shock.
Most people jump straight into careers after college (or trade school or even right after high school). But this is not the way for the seminarian—and often, not for his wife either. Like those who decide to go into law or medicine, the seminarian tacks on extra years of education—four or sometimes five, if he takes the opportunity to study abroad or wishes to pair a terminal degree with his MDiv.
In addition, a seminarian’s vicarage placement (their internship year) happens in the third year of seminary, and this usually means another move. As you can imagine, these four-ish extra years, plus the timing of vicarage, rather interrupt the usual flow of a burgeoning career.
Take my experience: I did zero work in my chosen field for four years following my college graduation, working instead in part-time administrative roles to pay the bills. And then, when I finally got my foot in the door of my field during our fourth year of seminary, we only had a year left before my husband would receive his first call and we’d move again.
I ultimately switched career paths many years after seminary, and other life happenings—having children, one with disabilities—took priority. Talk about disruption! But I am happy and fulfilled in life now, despite the frustration of navigating professional challenges at the time.
I know my story isn’t every wife’s, but it is, I think, fairly common. The frustration is real. But it’s also not the end of the story. Hold on tight.
I’m Sorry, Where?
As with vicarage, which is only one relocation, the first call out of seminary can take a new pastor and his wife anywhere in the country that needs a shepherd. An-y-where. You get some say in where you’d like to be, but ultimately, your first call is in the hands (and care and consideration) of district presidents and others at the seminary.
You could end up somewhere problem free, well funded, and prone to perfect weather. Or you could end up in a struggling congregation in tornado alley. Or in the middle of the desert. Or in the faraway, icy northern states where your eyeballs are at risk of freezing in winter.
Or you could end up back in your literal hometown as I did. At a church not even half a mile down the street from the (decidedly non-Lutheran) one you grew up in. Two blocks away from the house in which you spent your high school years dreaming of how you’d leave and never come back.
“Ope,” as my Midwestern friends would say.
Placement is rarely going to be what or where you expect. But it may just be where you need to be. Not only your husband—you. God doesn’t discount you in this process, so look for the good blessings and lessons that await amid all this unexpectedness.
But—I’m from California!
Can you guess how weird it was to relocate from the West Coast to the middle of the country? Super. I was twenty-two years old, facing the reality of leaving behind my friends, saying goodbye to my family, and closing the era of my college years to move to a place I considered repressed, boring, and decidedly un-beachy. The culture shock was totally unreal—but I also walked into the transition with an attitude of resistance.
It’s hard to shift gears from everything you know and love to a whole new setting. It is too easy to declare yourself a fish out of water and remove yourself from the potential new friends and support system of people going through the exact same transition as you because you’re uncomfortable or angry with the change. I know I did this. I let myself stew in my dislike of seminary life for the first two years when I could have been making much more of it.
It’s funny to look back now. I’ve come to love St. Louis, and I’m grateful we ended up back here for a while. We’re leaving this summer, and I’m honestly going to miss it. How unfortunate that in my initial stubbornness, I missed out on a lot—not the least of which included my mental well-being. But at least now I have some wisdom to impart: don’t do as I did. Even if St. Louis or Fort Wayne is not exactly your jam, the way you adjust to seminary culture shock correlates to your level of peace with the time you spend there.
If you believe that God is going to use your husband through his ministry, to which seminary education is a crucial element, make sure you also believe that the Lord has not forgotten about you in your discomfort, sadness, or anger. This big life change isn’t all about your husband. And you are not an afterthought. Remember that God has joined you with your husband—and that you are a crucial element of this vocation as the one person your husband can turn to for help, love, wisdom, and support.
Welcome to the life, ladies. It’s the hardest and best thing you will ever do.
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