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.
Back in the days when we were newlyweds, I was serving as a pastor and my husband was in seminary, and we dreamed big dreams. We dreamed of a larger family (though my husband wanted many more kids than I did), we dreamed of moving across the country, and we dreamed of starting a new church.
Fast forward a few years, and we have lived into the dream of planting a new church but it hasn’t been easy. It has been nothing like we imagined it would be. Neither has the journey for our family been anything like we dreamed at the time.
We have one child, our son AJ, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. We are planting a church, but serving two other churches part-time in addition to planting this new church. We did move across the country, but with a two-and-a-half year stop in Oklahoma in which we bought a house, then felt called a year later to move, after our son’s diagnosis and discovery that the resources for our son were few and far between where we lived.
When we moved to the Seattle area, we naturally began connecting with other families that had children with disabilities. We found that we shared similar experiences in terms of church—not all churches are welcoming of people with disabilities. Sometimes our children are too loud, too mobile, and too disruptive. We have been asked to take our child (who was four at the time) to the nursery where the babies were. We have also been told our child was not welcome in childcare because the workers were not trained for autism (we always answer, “Neither are we”). So many families of children with disabilities have also not found church to be a welcoming place.
We also found families of typically developing children that had another family member or friend that had a disability and knew some of the challenges we faced. We also found adults with disabilities, their families and friends, and the vision of Open Gathering, our church, came to be—a worshipping community that gathered together, where a child running around and yelling, or another child dancing, or an adult asking serious questions that might seem silly to others would all be welcome, and not only welcomed but included and valued. As we prayed about the vision for our church and who we might be, we know that our own experience helped to shape that vision and continues to frame its future.
We still don’t have it right all the time. We have had times where one of us is wrangling our child while the other is leading the music or prayers. Several times this fall our son has slept through Open Gathering because we meet on Sunday late afternoons and he didn’t sleep well the night before. One of the common issues for individuals with autism is sleep disruption. Our son AJ has not slept well for the past few months, and because he is a PK (pastor’s kid) of course he often does not sleep well Saturday night into Sunday morning.
Parenting is tough. Pastoring is tough. Planting a church is tough. Combine it all together, and throw in sleep disorder and autism and we struggle at times. But I don’t see how we could follow this call to this particular community without us both being clergy, both understanding what we are doing and why we are doing it, and feeling called by God to this work. We believe in this vision for our church because we are both clergy, because we are both parents of a child with a disability. The dream has changed, but it is still there.