On Being a Pastor’s Family
I've been doing some calculations, and as of next week this'll be the longest single residence Andy and I have lived in since we met in 2003. We've lived here just over two years.
When you become a United Methodist pastor's family, you will find yourself on the other side of the glass, staring at all the people who have years and years of connections between them, wondering which of them is open to a new friend and which of them will subtly just wait for you to be moved.
When you become a United Methodist pastor's family, you will fill out the school forms and realize you have no local emergency contacts of parents who will pick up your sick, scared child if you are unable to be reached. If you are lucky, a few parents from church — whom you hardly know — will pull you aside, hand you a sheet with their contact info, and tell you they'd like to be named as a contact. Then they'll get to know your kids so your kids will not be picked up by a "stranger" if they fall ill. You will be eternally grateful.
When you become a United Methodist pastor's family, you'll be stuck with whatever first impression you make on the congregation. You won't be able to have the worst morning ever and solve the problem of perpetual embarrassment by simply finding another church. It's like meeting the new in-laws for the first time. If you are like me, you just show up and pray to God that he will grant the congregation understanding, compassion and a heavy dose of humor during your tenure there.
When you become a United Methodist pastor's family, you'll realize you need help on something and will dither as to whether it's too soon to ask for help from people you hardly know. You don't have any brownie points racked up, and you don't want to impose, so you'll oscillate between insisting everything's taken care of and quietly calling the people you do know for advice on, say, finding a truck to help you get those bunk beds you just bought for your new house configuration. You will consistently receive help.
When you become a United Methodist pastor's family, you will introduce your children to congregation members and pray that the ones who are especially friendly to your children will be stable persons in their lives. Your kids have had so much change already, and you'll hope the people whose names your young children remember will actually keep showing up for them. Your kids are not social novelties; they are people.
When you become a United Methodist pastor's family, you will struggle with wondering if your old life at your old church really happened at all, because it just seems so separate. And when you're able to go back and remind yourself that it did happen, or even introduce your old church friends to your new church friends, bridges will be made in your heart that will ease that gap.
When you become a United Methodist pastor's family, you will walk into your new town, new church, new community with confidence that God's purpose is being enacted in your life and the life of the community. You are not stuck trying to discern God's will for your life entirely on your own. You have a whole team working on it for you, praying for you, praying for your community. God bless the bishop and the bishop's Cabinet.
When you become a United Methodist pastor's family, you will hear the phone ring in the middle of the night — it might even be yours — hear your spouse murmur quietly into the receiver as he steps out of the room for privacy, then see him leave five minutes later, fully clothed, Bible in hand. "Hospital?" "Mmhmm." "Will you be back to take the kids to school?" "Probably not, sorry." "OK. I love you." "Love you, too." You will not ask for details; you and your spouse both respect the confidentiality necessary in so many pastoral situations.
When you become a United Methodist pastor's spouse, especially if you stay home, you will tearfully declare to your Sunday school class that you just feel irrelevant at times to anyone beyond your immediate family, and a few days later your spouse will bring home a shopping bag full of beautiful clothing in your size from a woman who happened to sit in on your class that day. "I'm not sure why this was in my office, but I think it must be for you?"
When you become a United Methodist pastor's family, you will have to become comfortable with the fact that you will reap what others sow, and sow what others will reap. You will not have a typical life in which you can plant something and watch it grow. You have to leave that to God. Be at peace with it.
When you become a United Methodist pastor's family, you will be the recipient of a whole slew of unearned appreciation and affection. And you will love them for such generosity.
When you become a United Methodist pastor's family, you will not feel tethered to a certain lifestyle, set of youth sports teams or neighborhood. This is incredibly freeing. You will be able to seek his face with a deep sense of purpose and confidence — not knowing the path, but knowing you will be supported whichever way God directs you to go.
When you become a United Methodist pastor's family, you will be blessed by a connection with other pastors and other pastors' families, relationships that seem to span the test of time and distance as you live such similar lives, miles or generations apart.
When you become a United Methodist pastor's family, even given all the stress, you will feel you've been given the gift of a calling on your life such that you could never deserve or earn.
So to celebrate our longest tenure in a single residence, I'm doing what everybody does: throwing a party with Swedish meatballs, some Bible study and piles of kids making a mess of my playroom. It's not far off from when Andy and I met — except instead of kids drawing on the walls, we had grad students. And I will say that even with these things I've learned, I wouldn't change our life calling for an instant.
Not. For. An. Instant.
We are so incredibly blessed to be living this life, to have purpose, to have a call. God's grace is like a river and we've learned to go with its flow. Thanks be to God!
Christine Hargrove and her family currently live in Topeka, Kansas. Originally posted Nov. 13, 2014 on her blog, "The Buzz About the Bumblebee."