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.