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

A couple of things with links…

A post here from two years ago has suddenly started to get passed around, and in two days passed the 1000 view mark– several times of anything I’ve ever had on this blog till now! The post is this one, which I guess has an appeal well beyond Orthodox clergy wives: Three words your priest hates to hear

The other thing? as I went backstage to goggle at the surprising stats of my old post, suddenly backstage at WordPress there appeared a new coat of many colors  on what used to be the plain black bar at the top of the screen.  I can only suppose the owners of WordPress are waving the flag in jubilation at the Supreme Court decision today.

So in response to that, here’s the official Eastern Orthodox position 

and here is a collection of articles on the topic

Self-appointed eye doctors

Been to the eye doctor lately? What about amateur freelancers who come up to you and stick their finger in your eye because they think you have a problem and think they can fix it?  Dear Self-Appointed Eye Doctor: Common sense should tell you that if you want to make a person ‘see’ something,  poking them in the eye is entirely counter-productive. The more you protest that you only want to help get that splinter out, the more the other person’s abused eye will swell shut. Persistent poking from a self-appointed eye doctor will only result in the patient at long last crying “CUT THAT OUT!” Many a patient will, patiently, allow you to ‘practice’ upon them, even if that is something to which you have no entitlement, and often demonstrably have a considerable deficiency of expertise in. But it is time somebody told you in the clearest of terms: you need to cut that out. Perhaps you declare that you have reason to be concerned for these patient patients. Well, let’s relieve your mind: most of them have no particular need of a self-appointed eye doctor. Most people already have a number of ‘physician-consultants’ who have earned the right to practice upon them by long acquaintance—and by waiting for them to –ask- for advice. Such trusted and supportive people are usually quite able to deal with the patient’s ‘case’ without any kibbitzing from outsiders like yourself. Everyone has at least an occasional splinter  in their eye, but more often than not these will work their own way out if left alone.  If they do not, and the patient’s long-time, trusted, experienced physicians find the surgery too delicate or complex even for them, most of us can toddle along on our journeys anyway, splinters still in place, without tripping up too terribly badly.  That is why, in the parable, the Lord does not bother to address the splinter in the criticized person’s eye, but reserves His censure for the seriously vision-impaired busybody who sticks his finger in other people’s eyes. It is time for you to examine the beam in your own eye. If you do not cease your unlicensed practice, your ‘patients’ may become impatient; and you may discover that suddenly they too have become self-appointed eye doctors, poking their fingers in –your- eye. A very iffy situation, as the damage you have done to their eyes would be sure to impair their vision to work on –your- case. As Professor Kirke said to the Pevensies in the Narnia books, We might all try minding our own business. The first principle for any would-be physician is, after all, Do no harm.

Interview on Motherhood with Matushka Julianna Schmemann

Words from a Presbytera from Greece

Here are some translated excerpts from a speech by a Greek Presbytera. They don’t so much address the title “Wives of Priests as Heroic Women”, but hopefully a full translation will appear sometime in the future.

2013 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,400 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Families are Fragile

“The passion of self-love stands out as the family’s worst enemy. Egoism is a dangerous enemy. When a married couple does not want to yield to each other in anything, each morbidly guarding his or her own pride; if each continually counts the times that he or she did something for the family, then that family will little-by-little fall apart. If couples easily give place to anger, argue over trifles, and cannot peacefully live with each other’s close relatives, then they themselves feel wretched, and their children absorb their bad example. How hard it is to bring up children by our own example!  True ascetic labor is required of parents in order not to consign their children to the education of television, internet groups, or the streets. That is on the one hand; on the other hand, children must not be tortured with excess care. After all, super-care leads to infantilism, introversion, and sometimes even rebellion against parents. The family is a school of love.”

this is from an article “Married Life and Ascetisim”by Fr. Gleb Kaleda on the Good Guys Wear Black site.

It isn’t specifically addressed to clergy families; but  clergy families, in addition to the same asceticism of self-sacrifice undertaken by everyone who chooses Christian marriage,  voluntarily undertake a particular asceticism that is guaranteed to be their companion throughout their ministry.

I don’t mean the asceticism of keeping the fasting rules, or going to church regularly. I mean the asceticism of standing in the spotlight, or goldfish bowl if you prefer, where you are a visible target who cannot escape. There will always be some who are willing to take the potshots, and others who take you for granted or stand idly by, holding the coats of the shooters, like Saul at the stoning of St. Stephen.

Those taking the shots or participating by their failure to help, sometimes include people people in the parish, sometimes people you counted on as friends; sometimes hierarchs and fellow clergy, even occasionally those outside the church.

But sometimes, these people are not ultimately the cause of breaking the fragile families of the thus-exposed clergy. Always, invisible, guiding the hands that pick up the stones, are the true enemies, the unseen forces of spiritiual warfare. It is good to know that we also have invisible allies in the saints and angels– we have to work hard to remember that sometimes. 

I have heard far too many cases of clergy divorce– priests or deacons, and even in the lesser orders. The words from the article by Fr. Gleb above do get to the heart of it– egoism is the root of the cracks that appear in the marriages of clergy as of others, cracks that can be exploited to blow apart the union, and leaving the children with a sad remnant of family and faith. And egoism is a particular temptation to anyone that stands in a leadership position– least of all the priests and deacons.