Category Archives: pastors 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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So You Think You Want to be a Priest’s Wife…

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.