#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

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: 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.

#Yoked: Getting Into It

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.

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-SarahAdam 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.