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.
One of the most astounding experiences of my adult life was watching Sarah take those steps from “Ready to Receive a Call” to being ordained. It had been something I had looked forward to witnessing for nearly a decade – since before we were married, since before we were dating even. When she made the decision to pursue ordained ministry, I knew that I was going to love watching that journey happen. It was a honor to see that unfold from beginning to end – all the trial and work and worry – the road to “reverend” was full of all sorts of twists and turns.
For those first years, at least, this was a journey that I thought I would simply be watching as I assume most partners do – as one pursuing another vocation, and that she would be the ordained one in the family. Little did I know that the same would be meant for me. Another blessing – that I would be able to witness this in a supportive role, but then in a participative one. It was not the plan that I would also attend seminary – but we all know what they say about plans…
Even now, it’s hard for me to even imagine myself ordained on my own. How could I have done this if not for Sarah blazing the trail? To me, she seemed born to do this – sometimes for me it seemed like I fell backwards into it. The call for me was not one of internal evaluation, but external observation. Other people identified in me what I wasn’t sure I saw myself, and for that I am very grateful.
My first call started about 3 months after Sarah’s did, in an adjacent presbytery, and in a very different context. The challenges and worries of her urban congregation in their big building were not the same as my little church on the hill somewhere in the Pennsylvania countryside. One of my first lessons and biggest hurdles was the transition one makes from ‘pastoring’ to being a pastor. As someone who has worked in churches in different capacities – mostly with youth and children – this realization meant actively trying to see myself the way others saw me – I needed to trust that what they saw, what they needed me to be in their lives and the lives of others…it was who God made me to be.
The rest of the adjustment was what I guess you might call a “pastoral lifestyle x 2”- meeting and hospital visits, difficult parishioners, budgets, problems, opportunities and blessings. The first funeral, the first wedding, the first baptism – It was wonderful to witness those things happening for your spouse, and unique to see them as one who gets to do the same, in my own way. You speak the same language, have a similar shorthand – you witness your world getting smaller and smaller as you figure out how this person knows this person worked with that person: an inter-web of Presbyterian craziness.
What is hard, of course, is navigating those differences. Even as someone who does the same thing, I can’t really know what it’s like to be Sarah, because I’m not in that situation every day. I see parishioners being polite and smiling, happy to see the pastor’s spouse, interested in what’s going on at ‘my church’. But, of course, the stories and fears and emotions we pore over as we eat dinner at 9:30pm can be much different. It’s at these moments that a little dance commences. In some situations, you need a colleague. In others, you need your spouse, your best friend. (If anyone out there knows all the steps to this dance, don’t Bogart them – feel free to send me the link). These moments can bring both marital blessing and strain. And like many clergy couples who serve separately (at least, I assume), I wonder: would this be easier or harder if we served the same call?
Either way, it is wonderful to have a partner such as Sarah. I thank God for the call, and I am blessed to be a witness, too.
Sarah and Ben are both PC (USA) teaching elders in Western Pennsylvania. They can be reached at: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org as well as on Twitter @saraherobbins or @bwrobbins.