#Yoked: Pulpits and Pews

Yoked magnet

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.

WimberlysThe 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

#Yoked: Blessed To Be A Witness (Part 2)

Yoked magnet

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: sarahrobinsonrobbins@gmail.com or benjaminwrobbins@gmail.com as well as on Twitter @saraherobbins or @bwrobbins.

#Yoked: Blessed To Be A Witness (Part 1)

Yoked magnet

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: sarahrobinsonrobbins@gmail.com or benjaminwrobbins@gmail.com as well as on Twitter @saraherobbins or @bwrobbins.