Edit Feb. 10: This has been the most popular post ever on PresbyteraAnonyma. Clearly the items covered here resonate with the experience of many. The reason I started the blog to begin with was precisely because there is so little by way of support and networking for Orthodox clergy wives. It is so good to see that there are now some attempts being made to provide seminary programs, for instance.
Please feel free to add to the discussion here or elsewhere. For instance, the post has been picked up by Byztex.blogspot.com, and the blog author (who is currently a seminarian) and commenters there have added much more excellent food for thought. –PresAnon
So you think you want to be a priest’s wife…..
Before you head off on your husband-search to seminary or to a choir concert featuring eager young men in black singing liturgical music, make your way through the following checklist:
v Do you love being at church? A lot? Not just on Sundays?
v Have you established a prayer rule and regular confession? Now is the time to do this, before husband and children come along to complicate your routine. Also, you will likely have to find a new confessor once you move to a new parish, and make it a priority to go regularly, possibly traveling some distance.
v Can you wait patiently for services to start, or for your husband to finish chatting with parishioners after the service? Are you ready to train your children with the same patience? PK’s (priests’ kids) say that the thing they rememember more than anything else about growing up is always –waiting- at church!
v Can you handle living in somebody else’s house indefinitely? While many churches now offer a housing allowance, a lot still own a parish house where the priest and his family will be expected to reside, often right next door to the church where parishioners can observe your gardening skills or lack thereof, or drop in when you least expect it.
v Do you find yourself content to be second banana? Can you stand happily beside someone else who is in the spotlight, whether it is your husband or whether it is already-established lay leaders in the parish you move to?
v Are you ready to deal with expectations about the way you and your children dress, the amount of money you spend on your pets, or the kind of recreational activities your family chooses?
v Are you prepared to work part- or even full-time, at least temporarily, to make ends meet in a parish that can’t or won’t provide their priest a living wage? Do you have a marketable skill that will help you find work that you will enjoy?
v Do you have interests to pursue outside the church? These can give you a much-needed break and change of perspective.
v Have you thought about the ways in which you will contribute to the life of the parish—and the ways you won’t? Can you be firm but polite about your decisions? Do you know what your gifts are and aren’t? If you aren’t sure, are you willing to give something a try when asked, but turn it over to someone else if you find you are not the right woman for the job?
v Will you remind your husband that you and the children are also parishioners, and ensure that he gets a weekly day off; that the phone will not be answered during family dinner; and that barring emergencies, milestones in your children’s lives will take precedence?
v Can you gather your strength to move your household away from your familiar surroundings at short notice if the bishop decides to reassign your husband to a new parish?
v Do you have a network of family and friends to whom you can turn, even if only long distance, to confide in? Can you keep a balance of friendliness to parishioners without favoritism or making any of them ‘special’ above others?
v Are you any good at all at holding your tongue? You will be offered opportunities to do so almost daily.
If these all sound a little daunting, they are. Clergy wives face challenges that their parishioners scarcely ever think about.
The good news is, a lot can be learned as you go along—in fact can hardly be learned any other way. What is mainly needed is open eyes and a good attitude. Seminaries are now making a point of helping seminarians’ wives to look ahead and prepare for life in the parish. Seminary is also where you will meet other women who will be undergoing similar experiences, and with them you can help build supportive relationships for the future.
Still think you might want to be a priest’s wife? One thing left to do: start praying. And never stop.