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.
I look out at the congregation and see my husband sitting a few pews back. He holds our two-year-old girl in his lap, and our four-year-old boy fidgets beside him. Our six-year-old girl skirts across the isle to join her favorite teenagers. The service begins.
I hear “Mommy!” and squirming from the youngest, then her toddler feet thundering down the isle. My husband swoops her up and she emits a loud wail. As he walks her out we continue to hear “I want my Mommy!” from the lobby. She quiets down and he tries returning a few minutes later.
Someone taps my husband on the shoulder and says, “It’s ok. Just let her go.” So he does. She wanders down the center isle, glowing with independence. She comes toward me in the pulpit, stopping on the way to circle the baptismal font a few times. She inspects the lectern and peers over one side. As I talk from the pulpit, I hear some giggles from the congregation – and not because I’m saying anything funny.
I begin the prayers, and she now heads for me. She tugs at my skirt. She leans over one side of the pulpit, then the other. She does a little dance in the front of the church. In between prayer words I glare at my husband to get her out of here. But he looks calm and collected. I don’t know he’s been given the go-ahead to let her roam freely. We are still navigating the waters of what’s acceptable for children to do or not do at this church, but seeing as almost every compliment I received after that service had to do with my youngest daughter’s role in it, I gather they are ok with all this.
In our last church, it was my husband who was looking out at us from the pulpit.
I was the one sitting next to the fidgety then-toddler boy, holding the then-newborn girl while the then-four-year-old girl skirted across the isle to her friends. At that time, it was my husband’s prayers that were interrupted with “Hey, there’s Daddy!” Compliments after the service often had to do with our little son’s face peeking out over my shoulder – my husband’s ‘mini-me.’ I was the one walking out with screaming babies during the service, attempting to find the balance of parenting the pastor’s kids. And, I was the one receiving those gracious taps on the shoulder saying, “It’s ok. Let them be.”
Having one of us in the pulpit and the other of us in the pews is a change from our first setup. Before we had kids, and even through nearly the first two years of my eldest child’s life, we worked at separate churches. My husband was a solo pastor and I an associate, at churches about 10 miles apart. We loved coming home and telling each other everything after our long Sundays were over, and at that time, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
When the kids entered our lives, though, having two separate churches became vastly more complicated for us to manage – and more importantly, less fulfilling. Something about it started to seem empty, lacking. For a while, I took on part-time ministry that was not Sunday-based, and while caring for newborns, this was optimal.
When my husband began a PhD program, I became the preaching parent. For this season, I am the one entering the pulpit most Sundays. I am the one watching my family navigate childhood and parenthood in the midst of a congregation, while I try to keep my cool and focus on my job.
Now that we’ve both experienced being in the pew and in the pulpit, we’ve come to a new vision of our future as a clergy couple.
Ideally, in our next call situation, we’d BOTH like to parent in the pew and preach from the pulpit. We’d both like to hold our children, chase them down the aisles, and receive that gracious tap on the shoulder from a kind church member. We’d both like to reflect on scripture as it connects with the life of a congregation, and to preach and pray while our children dance in the center isle.
And the beauty is, we’re already getting a taste of that life right now. In my current call as a transitional pastor of a small church, we are already sharing both parenting and preaching. Every month or two, I call on him to fill the pulpit in my stead, so that I can be in the pews once again. I get to enjoy holding my children – and running after them – and I get to hear a stellar preacher, who just happens to be my husband.
We’re parents, we’re preachers, and we’re partners in the messiness and fulfillment of our shared lives.
The Revs. Kiran Young Wimberly and Alex Wimberly ministered in Northern Ireland between 2007 and 2013. They are currently pursuing graduate studies while also looking after a church outside of Princeton, NJ. Kiran hasn’t blogged in a while, but if you’d like to look at one of her projects, check out her CD at www.celticpsalms.com