This is part of a series on clergy couples and their stories. Andy and I wrote a book about being a clergy couple and all the insanity that goes along with it called Yoked: Stories of a Clergy Couple in Marriage, Family, and Ministry.
As I write this, it is on the anniversary eve of 9 years of partnership with Ben Robbins. It is nothing short of a privilege and a blessing to be the silent and not-so-silent witness to an amazing person.
As a clergy couple who serve different churches, each as solo pastors, it has been incredibly important to remember that Ben is a child of God first, my beloved second, and a teaching elder a distant third. Throughout our first year as ordained pastors our identity to our congregations has been a consuming force. Each of us are in designated positions where the congregations have recently stated their desire to change who they are as communities of faith. In our attempt to help serve them in this way, we have learned an immense amount about what it means to shift how you see yourself in others eyes and how you see yourself before your Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.
Ben and I both attended Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and during our time there folks constantly asked us, “are you going to co-pastor a church?” Whether asked separately or together, our answer was always initially the same, “no, we need our space.” This stance has served us well as we went about attending seminary together and finding our newly married identity as well as our soon-to-be pastoral identity. It also guided how we went about the search for our first calls. We needed time to discern what kinds of roles we were willing to take on and what best described our gifts and skills.
In our current positions, it has been a true haven to be able to come home to a partner who not only knows what the look on my face means, but can put the pieces together as to who in my congregation might have put that face there. He is then able to ask the valuable question, “do you want to talk as a colleague or as a partner?” This allows me to take on either role that I choose with him on any given evening.
On days when we try to be “off” and attempt to carve out space that has nothing to do with our professional roles, and all to do with who we are called to be as partners/beloveds/creatures, I find it quite the challenge to make sure that I am not talking “shop” when we are trying to be on a date. Because my partner is so accessible and willing to have boundaries that are fluid, I find myself suddenly doing the hard work of not talking about church.
Ben is fantastic at reminding me that church will always be there, that we are cherished yet disposable servants of an institution that does not seek to look out for our covenanted life together. He reminds me that WE are in charge with caring for each other and seeking a life that is in service to the Holy One, whether we are teaching elders or not. I am thankful that on my most joyous days and my darkest days that I can call upon Ben to be my colleague in ministry that spurs me on to accomplish great things in the kin-dom of God, as well as the person who says each night, “you are more than enough, and I am blessed to be a witness in your journey.” Alleluia!
Sarah and Ben are both PC (USA) teaching elders in Western Pennsylvania. They can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com as well as on Twitter @saraherobbins or @bwrobbins.