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.
It’s not like we didn’t know what we were getting into – or did we?
A few months ago my wife Sarah felt called to stop pursuing her PhD in Christian Spirituality, and began looking for a call back into parish ministry.
As Sarah discerned what that looked like for her in the North Shore of Chicago, she had the chance to preach at a friend’s church. Caleb is pretty used to coming to church with me, and so that morning he and I followed our regular Sunday routine and drove to get bagels. As I was paying for our food, he suddenly flopped on the ground and started screaming.
I knew that scream. And you probably know it as well. He was screaming and looking up at me with that look that says, “WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME!?” I knew I had a few seconds to point his face and mouth away from me. I had just barely turned his head…and then he threw up. All over the floor at Einstein’s Bagels on a busy Sunday morning just barely missing a gentleman’s shoes.
I immediately called Sarah, who was walking out the door, and asked her to lay out a change of clothes for Caleb.
I should mention that I was on my way to pick up the Executive Director of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians (and my good friend), Brian Ellison. He was the guest preacher at my church that morning. As I pulled up to the hotel to pick Brian up he noticed that Caleb was only wearing a diaper. “Yah man – this is just how we roll on Sunday mornings.”
I dropped Brian off at church, then went home to change Caleb into new clothes, grab a new tie for myself, and made it back to church. Luckily, Caleb just had to get that out of his system, and he was fine.
That was when I realized that this clergy couple thing wasn’t going to be easy. Thankfully, Caleb was fine and all was well. But if he had kept puking…if he wasn’t okay…Sarah was on her way to preach, I had responsibilities at church that morning…good lord!
A few weeks ago, Sarah started full-time at the congregational church in town serving as an associate pastor. Our roles are similar, our churches are in the same town, and I’m sure that we may not fully appreciate how sweet we have it. Our churches are 1.5 miles from each other. And we have a 3 mile commute to our home. And Caleb’s daycare is exactly halfway between our home and our churches.
So, we have it good. But it doesn’t necessarily make it easier. Sometimes it’s the schedules, the negotiating evening meetings and programs, the stress of church work. Other times it’s trying to figure out something as seemingly simple as a babysitter. But then you realize it’s not so simple because you need someone from 8pm to midnight on CHRISTMAS EVE because churches have evening candlelight services late in the evening, and no, we didn’t want Caleb up until midnight on Christmas Eve because you can only imagine how that would have made Christmas Day.
This past Sunday was Sarah’s first sermon at her new church. And of course, one wants that first sermon to go over well. So, let’s just say there was some stress in our house Saturday evening and early Sunday morning. Makes sense – I was probably the same way, the first time I preached at the churches I’ve served before.
As we were getting dressed and ready (and trying to convince a 3 year old that he really should want to put on his clothes), I asked, “So…is there anything I can do to help?” And of course, she suggested a simple, albeit TERRIFYING idea: “Maybe just read my sermon and tell me it doesn’t suck?“
At 8:00am. Exactly two hours before she would have to be standing in a pulpit and preaching said sermon.
I said “sure” and read the sermon. And just like I thought – it was good. It didn’t suck. And so I told her it was good. That it was a great first sermon at a new church. And then as we kept talking, I continued to tell her it was good, but maybe she could add this, and maybe…just maybe…she could take out that part. And well, those 3 paragraphs…yah. Just delete those…
And it all worked out. I got a chance to offer some thoughts about her sermon, just as she has done for countless sermons of mine (well, let’s be honest, I’m an associate pastor, and we get to preach, like, twice a year? Palm Sunday and the Sunday after Christmas?? So, I probably could count them). She’s been a huge help to the formation of many of my sermons and so it was fun to be able to do so for her.
She preached a great sermon that morning – and got wonderful feedback.
And then there’s the realization that we aren’t going to be able to sit together, or be together, in worship.
Now, part of that just comes with the territory of being a pastor, and needing to be up front (although, I worked in a church where the pastor sat in the congregation with his family during the parts of the service he wasn’t leading…I kind of like that idea). But, as pastors serving two churches, it will be an extremely rare occurrence that we’d be able to worship as a family like that.
I’ve mentioned that before to people and I’ve been told, “Well, you get, like, 6 Sundays for vacation and study leave, right? You could sit with your family then.” And then I just smile, and look at them kindly, and think to myself, ”Oh. That’s so sweet. You think that two pastors are going to go to church on their vacation. Bless your heart.”
We are just getting started experiencing the life of a clergy couple. I’m sure we have much to learn from some of the other folks who have contributed to this blog series.
I know that it will be difficult – but I also know that I’m so happy that Caleb has not one, but two, amazing faith communities, filled with people who will watch him grow up and will help teach him in Sunday School and be there for him. I’m glad to have a partner who gets the frustrations of a pastor, and can offer me some empathy when I need it, and offer me advice when I’m struggling, and generally offer me a kick-in-the-pants…well, most of the rest of the time.
Adam Walker Cleaveland* serves as Associate Pastor at Winnetka Presbyterian Church, while Sarah Walker Cleaveland** serves as Acting Associate Pastor at Winnetka Congregational Church. Adam spends his free time drawing, while Sarah has recently taken up woodworking. They live in Wilmette, IL with their amazing 3-year old son, Caleb, and their lab-pit mix, Sadie. You can find information about them at their respective websites: adamwc.com and sarahwalkercleaveland.com.
Postscript: **Sarah and I have very different styles of ministry – some of that might be evident in this photo. This was taken at the presbytery meeting when she was examined to be approved for ordination. She’s dutifully paying attention…and I’m taking a selfie.