#Yoked: Vocational Niche

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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. For the rest of the wonderful series, click here.

I did not go to seminary to get my MRS degree. I had spent my formative years in the pews and plastic molded chairs of Southern Baptist congregations, where I often heard that women’s worth came from being a wife and mom. While I deeply respected both of those choices, I wasn’t sure that either was for me. I also didn’t think Jesus loved me any less for my uncertainty.

At Candler School of Theology and at Oakhurst Baptist Church, my faith community during seminary, I was surrounded by people who were more interested in my development as a minister than my fulfillment of others’ expectations. I also learned what it means to be Baptist in the historical sense, and I celebrated that Baptist principles freed me up to diversify my definition of family. It was like my lungs were finally fully expanding, and I wasn’t sure how to channel all the energy I had previously used to justify my call to ministry on its own terms. (Thank goodness for my weekly appointment with a group of fabulous women and a karaoke machine.)

All this is not to say that I didn’t date. My friends encouraged me to pair up with a particular classmate for the entertainment factor: they thought we looked like a couple on a Precious Moments Bible. On my second outing with Matt, who was on his way to becoming a pastor in the United Methodist Church, he and I realized that we had gone to Space Camp a week apart in the summer of 1988. That coincidence made the room go fuzzy for me, and I knew instantly that I was in trouble.

Matt and I married after spending a very difficult first year of full-time ministry several states apart. We both loved our jobs, but I was the one to move since I was ordained and Matt was still two years away from the bishop laying hands on his head. With no professional prospects, I joined Matt in a part of Alabama dominated by the Church of Christ. We were optimistic (ok, naïve) about how eager the UMC connectional system would be to accommodate a two-call, two-call-system clergy couple. It soon became evident that I was to be the trailing spouse, no matter how committed Matt was and is to the equal importance of our ministries. In marrying Matt, I had vowed my willingness to itinerate, no matter how firmly I believed in congregational polity.

I had a hard time finding my vocational niche in Alabama. Moderate-to-progressive Baptist churches are few and far between. I was scared to find a position I liked, convinced we’d get a call from the district superintendent the following spring that it was time to pull up stakes. I loved Matt more than ever, but I was resentful that my professional options seemed so limited by circumstances beyond our control.

I eventually landed a job in a toxic setting. Oh, there were signs the size and weight of falling anvils before I put my name on the dotted line, but I was so relieved to be in paid, full-time ministry that I chose to ignore them. It was a brutal eight months, and at the end I was forced to resign. It was a turning point. I never wanted any colleague to go through what I had just endured. Suddenly I had not just a ministry, but a mission: to promote congregational and clergy health. I also had a renewed understanding of my own strength, Matt’s dogged support, and our ability not just to get by but to thrive when one of us was un- or underemployed.

I became trained as an intentional interim minister, consultant, and coach. I built up an ecumenical network of ministry partners. I no longer saw myself as the trailing spouse. Yes, we live wherever Matt is appointed. But the security of the connectional system has provided me – us – with opportunities to become versatile and to take calculated vocational risks. I love what I do, and new ways to do it keep unfurling in front of me.

This shift in outlook had another, very surprising outcome. I was now able to envision the future, not just wait for it to happen. And in a sacred moment, I saw our child – the one who wasn’t just yet to be conceived, but also yet to be conceived of, at least by Matt and me. I now wear the badge of Mama as proudly as Pastor. Not because anyone told me I must, but because it was my earnest desire and is my greatest joy.

After a well-timed pause between ministry positions that allowed me to focus on nursery preparation and gestational diabetes management, I followed my son back to work. I enrolled him in part-time church daycare, and then a part-time staff opportunity opened up at the same congregation. Now L cruises past my office door in the Bye-Bye Buggy, smiling and waving to let me know he’s having a blast with his friends. On the weekdays we’re not at the church, Matt (who, as a solo pastor, works mostly from home) and I take turns caring for L. When I’m locked away in my home office, coaching clergy or preparing for retreats, I hear muffled music, laughter, and bouncing balls.

The early days of our clergy coupledom were so anxious compared to these. I marvel that adding a third person to the mix has made things easier in some ways. I know it won’t always be this seamless. But for now I inhale deeply, thankful for every aspect of this life that has been shaped by a God who has a sense of irony, inexhaustible patience, and unbounded grace.

Laura SRLaura Stephens-Reed is a part-time minister on the staff of First Christian Church (Huntsville, Alabama), a clergy coach and congregational consultant, and a regional director of peer learning groups for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Her husband, Matt Reed, is the pastor of New Market United Methodist Church. Their almost-two-year-old son is an avid reader, climber, artist, runner, musician, and all-around merry- (mischief?) maker.

#Yoked: Working (Not) 9-5

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.

Our schedules are not a regular nine-to-five. Sometimes we are able to get a day off together and sometimes pastoral care means we’re the ones called in the middle of the night. Sunday brunch together is out of the question as we serve two different congregations in two different parts of Manhattan. Our apartment often turns into a sermon-writing laboratory or place to explore our theological questions. During the summer you may find us hunched over a computer watching our denominations annual general assembly because we actually care about all that church talk. We’re church geeks. We’re pastors. And we’re married.

I’m Jes. And I’m Jim. And we are the Reverends Kast-Keat. Today one of us (Jim) is going to interview the other (Jes) about what it’s like to be simultaneously a pastor and pastor’s spouse. Here we go.

Jim: When you were first thinking about partnership and marriage did being married to another pastor enter you mind?

I knew I wanted to be partnered with somebody who shared my values of faith and wanted to talk about God at home. The questions I had in my mind was whether I wanted to be married to someone of faith (like a lay person) or whether I want someone whose job connected them to faith (like a pastor). I think I always desired someone (like you!) whose vocational livelihood was connected to the church.

Jim: Our conversations at home enrich our jobs. And our jobs enrich our conversations at home. But let’s back up a bit. When we first met in college some people found out you were a ministry major and assumed you were just studying for your “Mrs” degree. What would you say to those people today?

Jes: That was such a difficult time of my life. That was the first time I had so blatantly and consistently experienced such hurtful sexism. People need to know that it was a very conservative college that didn’t have a lot of experience with supporting women called by God to ministry. Therapy and the support of gentle friends who offered God’s healing support in my life helped me a lot. Every time someone mentioned the “Mrs” degree I was like, “Hey! Why don’t you ask me what I think God is up to my life alone!” I wanted to scream “I’m called to be a minister who cares if my partner will be a minister or not!”

As for what I would say to them today, I am much more secure now and don’t feel the need to defend my call to them. The church has ordained me and I have already defended myself before my ecclesiastical structures. So I might invite them to come and worship God and invite them to consider me to be their pastor!

Jim: Over the course of our nine years of marriage we had a season where I was a pastor and you were in seminary, then you where a pastor and I worked for a Christian publisher, and now we’re both pastors. What stands out to you from each of these three seasons? What did you enjoy most about each? What frustrated you most? And why?

Jes: One of the things that stands out to me is how much work you have done, Jim, to try your best to support my voice and recognize the privilege you carry in this field where pastor tends to be “Mr.” It’s been an amazing journey for us and lots of conversation as to what it feels like when someone calls you pastor and what it feels like when someone calls me pastor. I’m proud of our work together!

You had a great gig as a pastor while I was a seminary student and I loved being in seminary, but it was still not my favorite. It’s like people didn’t look at me with the same pastoral awareness as they looked at you. That was hard. Then we moved to New York City for my call and you worked in Christian publishing. That was better, but I could see you wanted more. Then when you took this call at another church that opened us up to some depth in our own relationship. I think since then we’ve experienced the most happiness in our marriage because we are both doing what we want to be doing in our work.  We both have an identity of pastor where we are not overshadowing each other and yet our congregations are connected so we do get to share similar language. I really love what we are doing right now!

Jim: That’s a great segue into my next question. Some clergy couples work at the same church, but not us. We work at different congregations (you’re at West End Collegiate Church and I’m at Middle Collegiate Church) that are part of the same system (the Collegiate Churches of New York City). Why does this “separate but connected” set up work so well for us? What are the biggest advantages and disadvantages?

Jes: This set up works really well for us. We’ve never felt called to be co-pastors. I think, if we are honest, it’s because we’re both big personalities and I’m not sure that would be the best for our marriage or the church. We have our separate identities and separate communities we’re called to, but united in our role as ministers and can support, cheer, and encourage each other from our different places of leadership. I really love what we are both doing now! As far as disadvantages? I really don’t see disadvantages to our current situation. It really is ideal to who we are as a couple and as ministers.

Jim: What’s the most helpful thing about being married to another pastor and what’s the most annoying thing?

Jes:  I really do love being married to another minister. I even think about the recent news of Marcus Borg’s death. We were able to share that together. We shared our stories of what his work meant to us. If you were of a different profession you wouldn’t understand why his death impacted me. He and his work moved us both in our professional and personal life. We shared that together!

Most annoying in this is making sure we don’t talk about theology or ministry all the time at home. We love what we do and we love our churches so it’s too easy for us to talk church. We have to put a cap on church conversations and seek non-ministry hobbies together (like our recent hobby of cross-stitching! Which you are more patient with than me.)

Jim: What do you think the future holds for the Reverends Kast-Keat?

Jes: We dream a lot. That’s one of my favorite things about us. We are creative people who come together and amplify our creativity! I see a Doctorate of Ministry in my future. I could see you getting a PhD. I could see you teaching theology full-time. I see me as a senior minister somewhere. I see us having a child and enjoying our expanding family. I see us laughing, crying, listening, forgiving, loving, growing, and beholding the mystery of God in our lives. I pray for God’s grace to be upon us as ministers and as a couple daily. Cheers to this yoked life!

Jes: Anything you want to add, Jim?

Jim: Yes. And I’ll say it in thirty seconds or less: Being a pastor is stressful. The work often follows you home, there’s always a sermon looming on the horizon, someone is always looking to you for help or guidance, and Sunday keeps on coming every seven days! I’m lucky to have a partner who can share so much empathy and solidarity with the work I’m called to. And I hope I’m able to offer the same to you. Whatever the future of our ministries look like, I’m excited and honored to share it with you.

Jes: Same!


#Yoked: Pulpits and Pews

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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: Co-Pastors

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.

My husband and I were given an incredible gift before we ever began our ministry together in our first church. Even though it isn’t anything I can hold in my hands or look at, this gift has had a profoundly positive impact on my ministry.

Almost eight years ago, my husband Jeff and I were in our last semester of seminary. We had been in conversations with a lovely church in rural Iowa, and we were hoping to be their co-pastors. As first-time ministers, we had no idea what ministry would look like in an actual church. As first-time co-pastors, we had no idea what it meant to share a ministry (apart from the idealized way we pictured it in our heads). As soon-to-be first-time parents, we had no idea what it meant to be parents at all, let alone what it meant to be co-pastors with a newborn child.

Our congregation had never had a clergy couple before. In fact, the entire region of our denomination where we serve had never had a female minister, or a clergy couple in their history. How would compensation work? Who would oversee which ministries? When things got tough, who was in charge?

The search committee came to talk to the congregation about the necessary next steps before extending a call to us. During the course of the meeting, the moderator of the church (someone who had been brought in to help with the search) said, “The most important thing you can do is be flexible. They are new to this. They are discovering their individual gifts and how they work as a team. You are learning how to have co-pastors and shared authority. Be flexible, and it will all work itself out.”

Be flexible. I can’t even begin to tell you how much of a gift that has been to me. And my church has lived it out. For the first three years of our ministry here, we needed that flexibility desperately. We were finding our voices, our gifts, and how we worked together. We were learning that things we once thought were weaknesses were places of great joy and energy. Some areas that we thought would be strengths, weren’t nearly as strong as we had thought. Other things needed to be a team effort, and we had to learn to communicate often and openly with each other in order for the whole thing to work.

My classis (regional governing body) has given us this gift, too, by listening to our voices, not making assumptions about how our team ministry works, and by including us in important conversations. I am grateful beyond words for this flexibility and generosity. It has enabled my husband and I to minister with joy in the same ministry context for the past 7+ years.

Just a couple of years ago, I had a phone call from a church that was considering extending a call to a new clergy couple. The person excitedly talked about how they loved these two candidates. They told us that even though they didn’t know how co-pastoring would work, they saw that it was working in our church. When he asked me how it would all work out if they called a couple, too, I was so thankful for the opportunity to pay it forward.

“Be flexible. Give them the opportunity to discover their strengths individually and as a team. When they find their balance, your church will be greatly blessed to have them.”

As a type-A, perfectionist who loves to have straight forward answers for how things work, I’ve had to let go of my neat and tidy hopes and dreams for co-pastoring. No two clergy couples function in the same way. No two co-ministries are divided the same. No two churches considering a clergy couple are in the same boat. Flexibility is a gift that has given me the opportunity to find my voice as part of a clergy team and to serve with a joyful heart.

If you are considering a clergy couple, give them the opportunity to be flexible. If you are part of a clergy couple looking at your first ministry placement, give yourselves the flexibility to learn who you are once you are in your first call. Flexibility provides the space for growth, discovery, and unified vision. And when those things are in place, amazing things will happen.

008April Fiet serves as co-pastor of a congregation in rural Iowa alongside her husband Jeff. Together they are raising two fantastic, school-age children, which keeps life fresh, fun, and a bit chaotic at times. April enjoys running (at a snail’s pace), karate, baking bread, reading (theology and children’s books), crocheting, and taking pictures of nearly everything.

#Yoked: Waiting in the Wings

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.

Seminary doesn’t prepare one for being the Pastor’s spouse.

We married in June of 2005 and entered seminary in September 2005 all with the hopes of serving in ministry together for most of our lives. During the six years of seminary (yes, six years that led to four degrees) we worked alongside one another in a new church development meaning we had freedom to develop unique ministries in a church setting and watch them grow. Our desire to serve alongside one another grew as well. We recognized that we complimented one another well; my strengths were his weaknesses and vice versa.

Seminary prepares one to be serving in a brick and mortar call – four walls and a steeple.

The new church development grew to be able to hire my husband as full time, but I’d still be working outside the church and continuing to volunteer my time. I didn’t like those dynamics so I struck out on my own, finding an opening at another church that eventually didn’t end up lasting long because our first child arrived.  And then the search for ordained, installed first-calls began.

Seminary didn’t warn us that calls are this hard to find, much less yoked calls.

We decided to follow each other if we felt God truly was calling us to serve somewhere, even if it meant the other had to wait a bit longer. The call came in the midst of a lot of searching on both counts. We both felt called there. It would be different; a small town, small church, solo pastorate instead of associate like we thought we’d be heading toward, small presbytery, politically polar opposites. We felt wanted and that God called us to this place from interviews, visits, conversations, and references – you get the gist. We moved and then things changed. Promises made to the trailing spouse, me, were broken and the presbytery even intentionally put up roadblocks to make the promises impossible. Still, we felt called here. Mason was the only Presbyterian pastor in town, so I was still his primary source of support, which I loved. After all, we’d been ministry partners for 8 years at that point so it was second nature.

Seminary doesn’t prepare the spouse for separation anxiety.

The first call ended and a second call was extended and accepted. Now we’re in a church and city that fits us much better. There’s a problem, though: I’m still waiting. I’m still the trailing spouse. And, I’m no longer the primary source of ministry support. In short, I’m feeling replaced.

It’s hard to be the trailing spouse, still waiting in the wings, hoping that one day that call will arrive for you, too. It is what God’s planned for you, also, right? Trailing and waiting makes one question his/her own call to ordination and sometimes even to ministry altogether. It’s made even worse when you move and your automatic friends are the colleagues and other presbytery clergy couples who talk shop all the time. “My time will come, right?” “Maybe soon I’ll also be talking shop with them, too?”

It’s hard to be the one excited for your spouse but also be jealous of the new relationships he’s forming. The fact that you’re not the one required to be at the nightly committee meetings is great, but it’s also hurtful, too. Planning for liturgical seasons that you two used to do together now doesn’t happen since he’s doing that with his colleagues. Rejoicing that you’re the one not having to get up and preach at the 8:00am service doesn’t quite gloss over the pangs you feel during the ordination and installation of elders at the 9:30am service and the deacons at the 11:00am service.

Seminary doesn’t quite prepare one to be “just the spouse” or the “other PK parent,” and it doesn’t teach us how to give pastoral care to ourselves or even colleague spouses who are hurting as they await a call. But, seminary does prepare us for the waiting because if we don’t learn anything else while undergoing our studies, we learn that God’s timing is not our own.

ToddsKatie Barrett Todd is the very proud preacher’s wife of Rev. Mason Todd, Associate for Youth and Families at Eastridge Presbyterian Church in Lincoln, NE. Katie is a Candidate, Certified Ready to Receive a Call and has been for a few years now. She’s currently spending her time awaiting her call by serving in youth ministry (of sorts) to her two kids Luke (3) and Lilly (21 months), and writing resources for Union Presbyterian Seminary. Katie and Mason both graduated from Union Charlotte in 2011 with MDiv/MACE degrees. Katie blogs (um, every once in a while) at www.walkingemmaus.com.