Everyone who walks in the church door can be helped or hurt in what happens during the next hour. Whether saint or sinner, preacher or pew-sitter, oldtimer or newcomer, child or geezer, everyone is vulnerable and should be treated respectfully, faithfully, carefully.
No one in the church family is more vulnerable than the pastor’s wife.
She is the key figure in the life of the pastor and plays the biggest role in his success or failure.
And yet, many churches treat her as an unpaid employee, an uncalled assistant pastor, an always-available office volunteer, a biblical expert and a psychological whiz.
She is almost always a reliable helper as well as an under-appreciated servant.
You might not think so, but she is the most vulnerable person in the building. That is to say, she is the single most likely person to become the victim of malicious gossip, sneaky innuendo, impossible expectations and pastoral frustrations.
The pastor’s wife can be hurt in a hundred ways—through attacks on her husband, her children, herself. Her pain is magnified by one great reality: She cannot fight back.
She cannot give a certain member a piece of her mind for criticizing the pastor’s children, cannot straighten out the deacon who is making life miserable for her husband, cannot stand up to the finance committee who, once again, failed to approve a needed raise, or the building and grounds committee that postponed repair work on the pastorium.
She has to take it in silence, most of the time.
It takes the best Christian in the church to be a pastor’s wife and pull it off. And that’s the problem: In most cases, she’s pretty much the same kind of Christian as everyone else. When the enemy attacks, she bleeds.
I was reminded of a story we published in ONE magazine a few years back, a letter from the wife of a Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest. This are things rarely considered when there is a discussion about a married priesthood:
After ordination, my husband was able to spend much less time with our family than before. Once he became a priest he devoted much time in the evenings ministering to youth groups. Also, besides his pastoral work during the day he lectured at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Kiev, and accumulated administrative responsibilities as a vice chancellor of the Archeparchy of Kiev.
At that time I felt quite stressed because I had to take care of two young children who did not see their father much; he would leave early in the morning and would come back late at night.
I would say that this is the main role of a priest’s wife — to understand and to share her husband’s priestly and family obligations. You have to be ready to support your husband in his ministry and to be ready to go with him wherever the church sends him.
I would advise a young woman planning to marry a priest to listen well to what your heart tells you and prepare yourself for the life of service. It is a life of modesty, suffering, love and ministry to others, but one that nonetheless gives a lot of fulfillment and brings true joy into your life.
Below is a video interview with the wife of an Orthodox priest, with some similar sentiments.