Category Archives: clergy wives

To Orthodox laywomen, regarding the wives of your priests:

To Orthodox laywomen, regarding the wives of your priests:

These are the women who are married to priests:

They are just like you.

 They love and support their husbands and want them to succeed.

 They are trying to raise their children in the Faith they love.

 They are managing their families’ health and household needs on a daily basis.

Sometimes they are engaged in ministries or careers with a strong sense of calling, where they work with a great feeling of personal fulfilment and regular awareness of  accomplishing something worthwhile.  Sometimes they are working ill-paying, soul-deadening jobs, full time or part time, just to make ends meet in their household.

 They are just like you, but often their lives are not just like the lives of most of you.

 They live in a fishbowl, like the wives of a politicians. But without all the glamour.

 They are sent to live, more often than not, far away from family and friends, like military wives.  But not always with guaranteed housing or income.

 They have husbands who are on 24 hour call, like the wives of emergency responders.

 And besides all this…. indeed, before all this…. they live their life, and direct the life of their family, around the matrix of the services and life of the church. Almost like monastics, but they have to balance as much fullness of liturgical life as possible with the same balancing act  other women do with work and family.

 They are in the social life of the parish, but not of it in the same way as the other women in the parish. They are often expected to be at every event in the parish, from midweek services (whether or not they have to go to a regular job) to food festivals to Sisterhood meetings ( whether or not they can afford a babysitter); but then at those events, the fact that they are outsiders to the established cliques can become palpable.

 They don’t want you to be their BFF and close confidant, but they don’t want you to ignore them either.

 They really, really don’t want you to talk about them behind their backs (does anyone want that?)  They really, really want you to treat their children as kindly as you (hopefully) treat other children in the church. As kindly as you would want your own children to be treated by other adults in the church.

 They really, really, don’t want you to complain about their husbands, to their faces or to anyone else.

 They do not want special entitlements. They don’t care if you address them by titles such as presbytera or matushka or pani—unless you are making a point of not doing so.

 They just want their husbands not to be treated like hired help. They just want their families not to live in abject poverty, scrambling to work several jobs and get to services too, while many parishioners live a more than comfortable lifestyle without making decent regular contributions to the church finances or bothering to attend services if something more interesting comes their way.

 Make no mistake: the wives of priests have chosen this life, for themselves and their children. It can and ought to be a good life, but they know it can be terribly challenging and stressful. They want to be at services. They want to contribute to the ministry of the parish in teaching church school, singing in the choir, helping at fundraisers or in some other way. But they want to be able to choose which of those they do and how much they do, the same as you do, so that they can keep their life and family in balance.

 They probably pray for their parish and its members every day. Maybe more often, if you are one of those who criticize their husbands or are unkind to their children.

 There is good soil everywhere, and some people who are open to sympathize with the priest’s wife just don’t know how best to help her. If you are one of those, here are some of the ways:

  •  Make her and her family welcome when they first arrive. Tell them about your life, about the neighbourhood and community. Let them know that you are without agenda and that your care for them is unconditional.

 

  • Pray for her and her family. I know this is an obvious piety and invisible, but it is powerful.  You do not even need to tell her, unless you think she would appreciate hearing that you keep her in your prayers regularly – not just when some kind of crisis or unpleasantness has happened in the parish.

 

  • Be open to finding a way to deliver some of those prayers. She may need babysitting, or prepared meals offered during a time of particular stress. Helping wrangle children in church, in a tactful and friendly way, can be a big one for a priest’s wife with several children and often responsibility in the choir as well.  Have a care for her normal human pride as you do—you don’t want to make her an object of ‘charity’ in the condescending sense, but to treat her as a member of the family who just needs a little help from you.

  •   Show appreciation. Gifts at Christmas or Pascha demonstrate that you don’t take them for granted, but a personal note detailing your appreciation of specific things the priest and his wife have done in the parish can be even more meaningful. The cake will be eaten gratefully this week, but a warm and sincere note may be tucked away to look at again in future days.

  • Stand up publicly for the priest and his family. This is a big one—in fact, in the end, the one that will matter more than anything else.  It will possibly result in more trouble than you really want. But, dear layperson, it is the right thing to do. As the saying goes, for evil to succeed, it is only necessary for those of good will to do nothing. Through prayer and persistence, it is possible that you may help to initiate a change in the culture of a priest-eating parish. There are such places, but I believe in most cases it need not be entirely hopeless—if only some of the laity will have the courage to speak up when the priest is criticized, the wife is gossipped about, the children are mistreated. It is easier to nip such things in the bud when they are small and at the first offence, rather than wait till there is a crisis. Be the first to raise your hand to vote in a raise for the priest, the first to dare rebuke the gossip.  The priest and his family cannot be the ones to make the difference in such cases—it is the laity who affect the atmosphere parish, especially when the priest is new to them. If you speak up…. others may follow, and the priest’s family will be buoyed up by the swell of support they feel from that.

There are already in many parishes people who do all these things and more  for the priest’s wife and her family, God bless them—we have several in ours.  If you are a priest’s wife and have such people in your parish, let them know you appreciate their appreciation!

I realize this blog is one that mostly preaches to the ‘choir’, as it were, of other clergy wives. These thoughts come from the things I have heard from many of them over the years.

 And here’s the trick with this post  which I have addressed not largely to priests’ wives, but to laywomen in the parish: your priest’s wife can’t really be the one to forward or post an article like this one to the people who really need it, or it becomes a kind of passive-aggressive dig at their husbands’ antagonists. So do share it with other clergy wives, Orthodox or not—there is a great sisterhood of common experience out there. And perhaps if you have friends in other parishes who are not clergy wives, who are understanding and sympathetic laywomen, and indeed to men in the church as well, maybe they too can share it around without being accused of having a vested interest.

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The Introverted Priest’s Wife

The following is a somewhat edited version of a reply I made to a private communication from a reader of this blog a couple of years ago whose husband was contemplating seminary:

Dear Introverted soon-to-be clergy wife,

I have complete sympathy for your introversion and the need to get home from church sooner than your husband wishes. I and some other clergy wives I know are very much in the same boat.

We are a one car family and live 20 minutes drive away from the church. If I truly need to go home I do, and he either calls me to come back and pick him up later or gets a lift from someone else. Or I make a run to the store for needed things  while he is seeing people who need to see him after church, and pick him up when he phones my cell.  When the kids were the right age, and I could see people were just blathering on at him about nothing much, I trained them to go up to daddy and flutter their eyelashes and ask to go home (I am not kidding! 🙂  Parishioners love those cute kids and are willing to let the priest go, when they would not take the same thing from his wife!)

These may not be options for you at this time, but are worth remembering for the future…:-) . (If he gets a lift home from someone else, however, it must be arranged before you leave, and it must not be a female person!)

There is not only one way to be an effective church wife; your first priority is to do whatever you need to do in order to make your home a castle that he can come to, to be with you and your children when church is over.  You can’t do that if you are depleted by too much church yourself.

The social conversations that ‘never end’ do need to be reined in or he will find himself burning out very quickly, as he cannot tend to the needs of many parishioners (including his own family) when too much time is spent on the one person who happens to be talking to him at the moment.

Being a priest’s wife does NOT mean being a single mother or pseudo-widow. On the contrary, the priest’s family is meant to be a good example to all of the congregation, and in this era of broken and dysfunctional homes, they need to see how good he is at taking care of his own wife and children and respect the boundaries. But he and you together will need agree beforehand what those boundaries are;  and he will need to be the one to make clear pro-actively to the parish what those boundaries are. Remember– he picked YOU to marry before he got started on the seminary track! And remember that you and your kids are just as much parishioners as anyone else and just as much in need of the priest’s attention– in fact more so!

If you end up at a parish with a church house next door, this will simplify going home somewhat; but at this point it is more important that your husband understand and support your needs in this area and work with you to see that both of you agree how best to balance the church work with the family life.

I recommend you both read the book Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend. I understand this book has been used at some seminaries in preparing priests and their wives, and there are a number of related and specialized volumes such as Boundaries in Marriage.

It is important to deal with this before you get to seminary let alone to a parish assignment. My suggestions here may be useful, but ultimately only the two of you working together are going to be able sort this out so that it doesn’t come round to bite you later on. God bless and guide you on the road ahead!

– PresAnon

How to fail at being the priest’s wife

You know my sympathies are with clergy wives. You know my default mode is to give the priest’s wife the benefit of the doubt. But if you saw my last post, you know I don’t believe anyone is exempt from messing up. And on this subject as so many others, clergy wives are just about invisible, the advice addressed to them non-existent. These points are only my opinion. It is the opinion of a priest’s wife with long experience. Well, long but not that broad. I think I have said before, we have been in our present parish a very long time, and it is a good parish. A very good parish. But I have been in parishes not so good. I have seen times even in this very good parish that were not so good. I know other clergy wives in parishes not so good. It can be rotten, and I sympathize, because in the past I have had some of those trying experiences.

If you are new at being presbytera or matuschka or khouriya or any other special title meaning priest’s wife, or if your husband is currently in seminary or thinking of going to seminary, it may help you to think about these points. If you currently find yourself in a not-so-good parish or in a crisis of some kind, they may help you to pause and think about the next steps to take. I can’t help you with specifics about steps to take in your own diocese or jurisdiction—every situation is different. But I will share with you some observations that you can think about as you seek to find your own path. No-one sets out to fail at being the priest’s wife, do they? But they do.

Very often that failure is tied to their husband failing as a priest. I know, nobody wants to talk about priests failing. But they do. Maybe sometimes it can’t be helped. You probably know all that stuff about dysfunctional family systems—if one member of the family is mentally and emotionally unhealthy, then it is pretty hard for the other members to stay on track. Sometimes it is the clergy wife who is her own worst enemy and the main cause of shipwreck in her husband’s ministry. Remember, my default is support for the clergy wives. But after several decades of failure, success, pain, sorrow, joy, anger, and all the rest, I can tell you what I’ve been and what I’ve seen. Clergy wives may have no control over the gossips in the parish or their finances or the power struggles in the parish or with the bishop, but they do have free will and the choice not to go blindly ahead with bad decisions. Like anyone else, clergy wives have control over no-one’s behavior but their own—and not always that much of that.

So here, in no particular order, is a list of things that I think will contribute to failing at being a presbytera.

1. Don’t want to be a presbytera in the first place. I don’t know how women in this situation get to the place where their husband is ordained, but they do. If you want to fail, convince yourself you want to be a clergy wife, even though every fibre of your being is crying out NO. Talk positive to other people. Don’t mention to your husband that you don’t want to do this thing. Don’t seek out help from clergy couples or the bishop or your confessor or the dean.

2. Want too bad to be a presbytera. Be the one in the driver’s seat while your husband hangs back. Get over-involved in his theology classes, and open your mouth with the answers when people ask him a question.

Let’s assume you get there— wanting too little, too much, or just enough, you get there anyway. How can you fail at being the priest’s wife once you are already there? After all, you get the honorary title automatically when he gets ordained, right? Well, here are some more ways to fail:

3. Don’t act respectful to him in public. If you aren’t acting respectful in private, that’s bad enough. But it only takes once for a parishioner to see you disrespecting your husband for them to decide they don’t need to respect him either.

4. Act entitled. Be seen being involved with demands for a raise, for instance. Don’t help out with the ordinary tasks like the kitchen cleanup—you’re too busy being spiritual, doing the choir stuff or sitting in church praying or something.

5. Or on the other hand, rush to fulfil every unreasonable expectation of the parishioners that you run the women’s group, be at every service, meeting and gathering for every sub-group in the church, direct the choir, teach the Sunday school etc. etc. If you are going to fail, the surest though not always the fastest way to do it is to forget the meaning or even existence of the word balance.

6. Open your mouth with your opinion on every topic possible. Especially political ones. And personal ones. Personal topics are political, and political ones are personal. Be sure to be daringly politically correct, especially if your parish has a lot of people who are more conservative than you. Because they are just mean old fogeys, and you are better educated and you –know- you are right, even if you are supporting ideas that your own Orthodox hierarchy have spoken against. This goes double for anything you do on the internet.

7. Or suppose you are on the more ‘traditional’ end of the spectrum, and some of your parish aren’t—you can still fail as presbytera, it’ll just be via a slow smolder instead of a sudden explosion—all you have to do is never miss an opportunity to correct every little thing about the way people don’t fast well enough, don’t make the sign of the cross right, don’t make their children keep quiet in church. Self-righteousness comes in both flavors, but it’s basically the same thing.

8. Make friends in the parish. I know, this one is controversial. Maybe it depends how you define ‘friend’. But I know many tales of clergy couples who found the way to failure through having confidants and close buddies in the parish. So if you want to fail, pay attention to this one. You can get other people in the parish all jealous and resentful and complaining that you play favorites; you can lean on somebody you thought you could trust only to have them turn on you in a public meeting.

9. I suppose we take it for granted that the priest’s wife will mostly be in church. But strangely enough, I do know of some (usually the ones that were never too keen about being presbytera to begin with) who really are hardly there at all, and clearly not very interested in church, pursuing their own careers and hobbies instead. Definitely a good way to fail.

10. The invisible failure is not praying. Even non-failing presbyteras fall for this one from time to time. I don’t think I’ve ever completely quit praying myself, but sometimes I just don’t keep with the routine. That’s a fail.

These are all I can think of at the moment, but they should be plenty to get you to failure. I invite other clergy wives with experience to chime in on this topic with anything that might be useful for your fellow presbyteras. As I said, these points are my own opinion from my own experience; yours may differ, and it is worth having some different voices here.

A couple of links

A thoughtful and serious response

http://orthodoxwoman.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/a-response/

to a previous post on this blog.

https://presbyteraanonyma.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/so-you-think-you-want-to-be-a-priests-wife/

and an article about a parish helping support seminarians:

http://oca.org/news/headline-news/chattanooga-parish-first-to-respond-to-one-percent-giving-in-support-of-the

To a New Priest and Clergy Wife

This excellent post from Fr. Richard Rene’s Mysterion Blog is titled “Letter to a Newly Ordained Priest”, but he addresses the  letter “Dear Father and Matushka”

I found the following bit of particular significance for clergy wives, and I hope to follow it up with a more detailed post of my own on the topic of friendship here on Presbytera Anonyma:

“In the area of parish life, I am still learning, but there are a few hard lessons that I already know well. First, don’t try to be your parishioners’ friend. My wife and I fell prey to this temptation, and heartbreak was the result. In addition, the people whom we befriended are less committed now than they were, partly because of the hurts incurred in crossing those boundaries. It just doesn’t work. Take it from me.”

read Fr. Richard’s  full post here

The Plight of Mrs. Priest

The original article is titled “The Plight of Mrs. Pastor”, as it comes from a Protestant lawyer/church conflict mediator, but it all is pretty much the same for an Orthodox presbytera.

Depression and other such challenges are rampant among clergy wives of all sorts of faith groups.  As this blogger putsit:

the  “ugly reality of the church…it is filled…FILLED with flawed, broken people who behave badly and who desperately need the Spirit of God and each other.  Those people hurt ministers.  That is a fact of ministry.”

Read the rest of his blog post here on the blog so nicely titled “The Church Whisperer.”

Maturity in the Parish

You do know that the word presbytera means “elder”?  A feminine elder.

This is not about the women’s ordination debate, though. This is about spiritual maturity. Or, since it is easy to mouth pieties while still acting according to our own will,  maybe we should just call it ordinary, everyday maturity.

The canonical age requirement for priestly (presbyteral) ordination is 30. That may or may not be strictly observed in various Orthodox churches these days, but the normal seminary training track should get most candidates fairly close already– high school, undergraduate  degree, M.Div. It does seem that many candidates are now coming to seminary later, too– having married and started a family, worked to earn some of the vast amounts of money gobbled by higher education, and perhaps even spent time acquiring skills or qualifications that will allow them to ‘tentmake’ like the Apostle Paul, helping them defray some of their seminary costs and not making them dependent on a parish for their income.

Presbyters are to rule their own households well. That is of course a job for two working together, the priest and his wife. It’s great to have some years of marriage under your belt and the kid-raising started before you have to begin leading a flock. It takes maturity to train other people, little or big, into their own maturity.

Fortunately, you will learn as you go, too. Because the fact is, people in general aren’t as mature as they used to be. No, really. A Discovery Channel article cites research that confirms what we can see all around us every day, in the workplace, in the social media….yes, even in church sometimes.

….many modern adults fail to attain this maturity, and such failure is common and indeed characteristic of highly educated and, on the whole, effective and socially valuable people,” he said. “People such as academics, teachers, scientists and many other professionals are often strikingly immature outside of their strictly specialist competence in the sense of being unpredictable, unbalanced in priorities, and tending to overreact.” (emphasis mine–PresAnon)

YOW!  Highly educated people are particularly susceptible to  being ‘strikingly immature outside of their strictly specialist competence.’  When I read this, the first thing that came to mind was the opening season of the soapy TV medical drama  Gray’s Anatomy. Those interns were highly educated all right, but they spent so much time on their studying and training that they had never had time to just grow up properly.

But what about clergy families? As I said above, many are coming to seminary after being in the work world for a time, which is a great thing. There’s just no real substitute for life experience. But the other main resource for priests and their wives is the more experienced clergy and -their- wives– firstly at their home parish, then at seminary, then hopefully in the deanery or among neighboring clergy from other jurisdictions.

Peer friendships are necessary and extremely vital. But the limitations of such are that it is possible to end up pooling ignorance and just reinforcing each other’s inexperienced ideas. That’s where help from more experienced clergy couples comes in.

There is a certain amount of practical experience allowed for in parishes near the seminaries, and a few summer internship offers. We could use many more of these, but the truly fortunate priest will  be able upon graduation to spend some years as an assistant to an older priest before taking on a ‘captaincy’ of his own. There is generally  less pressure on the wife & children of an assistant priest, too, giving them time to adjust to the clerical life. If I could wave a magic wand and make it all happen with the gobs of money it would take, I would want every family leaving seminary to have that kind of apprenticeship experience for a few years.

One more note on the topic of maturity: you will find that just like everybody else, many of your parishioners are less mature than might be desirable. I thought the bit about the highly educated lacking maturity in the article above was really something to keep in mind. You may find your parish is full of farmers, plumbers, or retail clerks who have been earning a living since well before you finished high school. I wish someone had told me early on not to discount the everyday wisdom of these kinds of people.

There are no guarantees about any individual, of course, but some ‘less-educated’ people may actually have a more reasonable outlook on reality than the newly-graduated from some academic discipline…even one like theology.

Educated or not, mere years should be entitled to respect. They have wisdom that we don’t. This goes against the grain in our youth-worshipping culture, but it is Christian. It is traditional. It is Orthodox. The babas and yia-yias may certainly be troublesome at times, but we dismiss them at our peril.

It will take humility  for a seminary graduate to listen humbly to what these people have to offer. The priest has the difficult job of balancing that with his call to teach authoritatively on behalf of the church and lead as shepherd. For once, I think, the presbytera’s job is somewhat simpler, if still difficult; for when confronted with many parish situations, the best thing to do is often to just refer people to her husband, their pastor. That too takes maturity.