Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Missus & The Missus Dominicus

The bishop shall be the husband of one wife - or, if you will, the missus dominicus is to have but one missus. And as Fr. Luther discovered with "Kitty, my rib" he who has found a good wife has found a precious treasure, indeed. This is true for all men, but perhaps even more true for the parish pastor. For few professions have as their prerequisite that one "manage his own household well." For example, you can get quite far in politics, or as a carpet layer, or in the plumbing business with a lousy home life. Not so among us, at least not for long.

Thus, I am most grateful for the Lord's gift to me in my wife and children. I could not ask for better. Like it or not, fair or not: the Frau Pastor and her brood have a lot to do with how well the pastor is received in the parish.

All that being the case - what's up with this trend I've seen in installations and ordinations lately to make the wife (not so much the kids) almost a co-ordinand/installee? In one place the wife comes up right after the installation vows to be introduced effusively by the Officiant (to much applause), right in the midst of the service. In another, the ordinand sits with his wife in the front pew rather than in that lonely chair near the chancel steps. In yet another the wife puts the stole on the ordinand - (I am not making that up - there are pictures out there to prove it, but charity precludes posting them here). In all places (it seems) it has become "Pastor Schickelgr├╝ber and Sally" in the installation/ordination sermon.

I think I get what these well-meaning folks are getting at: like I said, the missus can really help a given missus dominicus to swim or sink at a given parish. So, they figure, she ought to get a little credit at the Big Show. This is taken to a greater extreme in the PLI culture of a "ministry team" - indeed at PLI camp, pastor and wife are expected to show up for the training - and no kids allowed, even nursing infants (I am not making this up, either.).

But I think the introductions during the installation, the sitting with the wife during the ordination, the "and Sally" in the sermon actually backfire and put more pressure on pastoral wifery. It all reinforces the ultimately unhelpful idea of the "ministry team." My wife is not in the ministry anymore than my mom was a meat cutter or on a "meat cutting team" because my dad worked at Econofoods. The ministry team mentality just serves to make the wife even more of a lightening rod for the pastor's failings in his calling - as well as setting expectations for the wife's life in the parish that are unrealistic and unhelpful, especially to the introverted and just plain not-interested-in-teaching-Sunday-School-thanks-anyway.

The good pastoral wife is a good wife. That's what the Bible says: the bishop should manage his household well, not that his wife be his "ministry partner," whatever that might mean. And the calling of Christian wife and mother in the fishbowl of the parish is calling, difficulty, and pressure enough for one woman. In a small parish, like the ones I serve, the pastor's wife is as likely as not to be pretty involved - all the people who are actually in church on Sunday morning end up being pretty involved because there are few hands to do the work. But the work she does is that which she would do in her parish were she married to a farmer rather than a pastor. At least that's the ideal - for her own husband will himself be tempted to load her with duties she shouldn't have to shoulder: and I'll be first to intone mea culpa on that score. Which is all the more reason to publicly demonstrate that this woman is a wife, not part of a two-for-the-price-of-one sale.

Of course, this could all be avoided by following the traditional rubrics of an ordination or installation. . .


PS: Speaking of ordinations - recently, I heard this one for the laying-on-of-hands blessing verse and I find it hard to beat, though I'd like to see your best shot in the comments.

"I am sending you to them, and you will say to them, 'Thus says the Lord God.' And whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house, yet they will know that a prophet has been among them."


  1. "And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins." -- Luke 1:76-77

    Better? I don't know. As good, I think so.

  2. I completely agree. The wives shouldn't put up with this. They are wives to their pastor-husbands and mothers to their children and members of the congregation. Period.

  3. On the SET form used by Synod, there is something (I forget how its worded) about your wife... I replied that my wife's role in the parish will be as wife to her husband, mother to her children, and a baptized child of God who will participate in the life and work of the congregation as she is able and gifted, just as any of the baptized children of God will.

    When being "interviewed" for a call, I was asked about my wife's "ministry" in the parish. I reminded them of her calling as wife to her husband and mother to her children and suggested that if they desired specific things from her other than these, perhaps a job description might be prepared and a salary attached. Needless to say, I did not get the call.

  4. They are also spiritual daughters to their pastors, ie., their fathers in Christ. In this way, it would be traditional and appropriate for the wife to call her pastor husband, "Father."

  5. I had a District President once say to me, after asking how involved my wife was in the church (she shows up for services), "Good. It seems that a lot of problems in parish life are because the pastors wife is sticking her head in where it doesn't belong."
    As for ordinations, I use, "Sir, we would see Jesus."
    As an interesting sidenote, the "Verification word" was "abled" - right next to a picture of a wheelchair.

  6. My wife calls me "daddy" a lot at home, and unfortunately, in public, apparently thinking this is a good way to distinguish between me and our children, one of whom is named Paul.

    It is just kind of creepy though, and more than a little embarrassing.

    We may have to talk.

  7. I do think it's hard to apply a "one size fits all" description to the role of the pastor's wife.

    It is absolutely wrong for pastor's wives to be treated as co-ordinands, to place stoles on their husbands, and to be treated as part of a "ministry team." It is also wrong for the pastor's wife to be expected to play organ, teach Sunday School, etc. - especially if that is not her area of expertise.

    But on the other hand, all wives are "helpmeets." The meatcutter's wife probably knows a thing or two about T-bone, which brand of cleavers retain their sharpness, and which wholesalers are crooks. Nowadays, however, most women are themselves in a career, and the helpmeet role is fulfilled by someone else - perhaps even leading to workplace affairs.

    I've seen a trend that I don't find salutary - the subtle shift from the seminaries highlighting the pastors' wives to lauding the role of the female church professional. As politically incorrect as it may be, a professional woman cannot be as able a helpmeet as a wife who doesn't have a career of her own - even if that career is a church career.

    The St. Louis sem recently had a publication depicting "call day" on the cover. It used to be these images were of candidates and their wives - and for older couples, their children as well. The family may be excitedly looking over call documents, or perusing a map together. The recent St. Louis publication, however, had a couple of candidates in collars paired up with a couple of deaconess candidates in uniform. No wives were to be found.

    The pastor's wife - if she is suited for it vocationally - can be a huge help to her husband. Some women may confide in another woman (at least initially) rather than going to the pastor. A female parishioner who has not been in church for a while may feel a call from the pastor to be a scolding, whereas a call from the pastor's wife to be more gentle, a call made from sisterly concern rather than a "delinquency call."

    However, nowadays, we're taught that such feminine help to the pastor is to be considered "ministry," it is a paid position, it requires seminary training, and it provides another feminine presence in the parish to provide sensitive parochial assistance to the pastor - a paid professional who is not his wife.

    I do believe there are subtle ways in which the pastor's wife assists him in the parish - perhaps even without his knowledge. Like it or not, the pastor's wife is not just another Jane Doe. She is "one flesh" with the parish pastor.

    Certainly, the pastor doesn't share confidential information with his wife, nor does he burden her unnecessarily with parochial matters, but she is to be his helpmeet. That means she is going to have more of a finger on the pulse of the parish than the average woman in the pews - unless she deliberately avoids being the helpmeet and opts to be a secondary breadwinner or professional church worker in her own right.

    There is a reason why the ministers' wives also have qualifications laid out for them in 1 Tim 3 - qualifications that are not yoked upon wives of meatcutters and plumbers in the parish.

    Pastor's wives are not ministers, but they minister to the ministers. I think we run the risk of falling off the other side of the cutesy PLI team ministry horse when we try to say the pastor's wife is no different than anyone else's wife. The pastor's wife is a unique calling, and I could see situations where a man's wife might impact whether or not he should receive a call to a specific parish, or even to the ministry itself.

    I think Jesus really meant that "one flesh" thing. I think the seminaries do not do a service to future pastor's wives by not preparing them for a radical change in their life and vocation.

  8. Robert Preus had a delightful habit during the ordinations I attended with him. He would simply walk forward, put his hand over the head of the man, and say, "Do the work of an evangelist" and then he returned to his place with the rest of the pastors.

  9. Dear Br. Latif:

    My Anglican friends have this custom. It was odd at first when Mrs. D. referred to her husband as "Father." But now that I'm in the ministry, I see the reason for using the title instead of the first name.

    My wife does make more of an effort to refer to me in the third person as "Pastor" rather than as "Larry" - as use of the first name can be interpreted by parishioners as an invitation to also address the pastor by his Christian name.

    In communions in which it is most common to address the pastor as "Father" and in those communions in which the parish priests are married men, it probably doesn't sound odd at all.

    And, of course, the title "Father" is a confession against women's ordination. The title "Pastor" can, an often is, used as an honorific for women impersonating the pastoral office. I find it interesting that, for example, in the ELCA-dominated Society of the Holy Trinity (STS), pastors are *never* addressed as "Father" - not even in the common Lutheran sense of being a "father confessor" - as in the STS, the "father confessor" has been truncated and gender-neutered to simply "confessor."

  10. his is taken to a greater extreme in the PLI culture of a "ministry team" - indeed at PLI camp, pastor and wife are expected to show up for the training - and no kids allowed, even nursing infants (I am not making this up, either.).


    My wife brought our nursing child to PLI event. Along with other pastor's wives. They used the cry room at the church and nursed as needed.

    Once again, when she went to her own PLI wives event (there are events for pastors and spouse ,pastors, and spouses) she brought our child and nursed as well.

    So...I don't think you are making this up, but maybe when you were enrolled, things were different. The past few years, there have been plenty of nursing moms.

    Mark Louderback

  11. Fr. Beane,

    Those are good comments and a needed balance to my post. As I said, I thank God for my wife and children and how they do, indeed, "grease the wheels" of this pastor's acceptance in the parish. And your comments about the Frau Pastor and some of the things that will come her way are also worldly wise. One reason my wife is so good at being the Frau Pastor is that she saw her mom do it for all the years of her raising.

    It's your Big Conditional Sentence I was stressing: "If she is suited for it vocationally." Some are and some are, and for different things, and it's a pity, as you noted, when we try to fit them all into a one-size-fits-all mold.

    Helpmeet, as you note, has a lot more flexibility than "ministry team." In the former there's room for the shy introverted wife who mainly keeps to herself and provides a silent but steadfast example of Christian feminine virtue, as well as the outgoing gal who gently curbs the gossip at card club. In the latter category, only the Mrs. Osteen's need apply. And thus, once again, the old and traditional roles of husband and wife prove more beneficial than the new-fangled "equality."

    As for deaconesses replacing a lot of the old Frau Pastor role, I'd go even further. The office of deaconess (at its best - when it is not a sop to pacify the women's ordination crowd) seems to be replacing the role of older, wiser women in general who used to visit the sick, send flowers, counsel the younger women, etc. And again - that's at its best. At it's worst it's a lot of well-meaning young ladies having their pockets emptied by educational bureaucrats who not only indulge but stoke their desire to major in Greek and Symbolics.


  12. Mark,

    I'm glad to hear that that was your experience with PLI. The story I alluded to comes from a friend who was recently very much encouraged to leave her nursing child with family so that she could focus on her team ministry retreat with her husband. I reckon, as in all things, different retreats with different leaders are a mixed bag.


  13. Dear Mark:

    I don't know much about PLI. Is it common to hear the term "pastor's spouse" at these events? It seems like a rather provocative term (like when Scaer used to employ the term "clergypersons" with tongue in cheek).

    My best "nursing child" story is the time when my wife was nursing my son (who was snuggled in a Maya Wrap) at the communion rail. I communed her and had no idea at the time that she was nursing.

  14. HRC,

    Yeah...it does sound curious to me, but maybe it was the particular conference. Generally, I think PLI accommodates nursing moms and I would bet that most of the leadership there would echo this.

    Now, I WILL say that the tone of your post is (sorta) right and this is an interesting tension that is in PLI. Sometimes there is the push for wives to participate in ministry--to be doing something: Sunday School, cake ministry, taking communion to shut-ins--the normal things that women in PLI congregations do.

    But also there is also the push of "Don't feel pressured to be who you are not."

    So...I do think that can be a tension. (which is reflected in the normal life of a pastor's wife as well)

    But overall my wife liked PLI and liked being a part of it. I think having spousal involvement in some sorta retreat has got to be helpful. And then, we had a pastor in my group whose wife didn't participate. So, you know, different strokes.

    I mean, surely you can see that the demands of a wife whose husband works at Econofoods is quite different from a pastor's wife.

    (chuckle) I must say that I cannot resist the obvious comment: you have a friend in PLI? Wonders never cease... ;)

    No, I jest, I jest.

    Father Hollywood,

    Do you mean like "Pastor's spouse" as compared to "Pastor's wife" sorta thing? I really couldn't tell you that. If the terms were used, they were used interchangeably.

    That is to say, someone might say "spouse" and then "wife" in the same breath. You know, with us they act as synonyms so you don't have reason to make a distinction.

    I must say, I don't have a nursing story to top that one. But seriously -- who would? ;)

  15. Mark,

    "Friend" is Gottesdienst-speak for "spy." Loose lips sink ships, Reverend.



  16. Now I have heard a first hand report from a wife who attended a PLI event that included "helpmeet" tips for wives in the bedroom, complete with lingerie table... I thought it sounded like a great ministry program, but my wife thought otherwise.
    +Mason (my alias)

  17. Kind of puts a whole new spin on "fair linen," no?

  18. Mason,

    There is no doubt that as a part of the pastor's wives retreat, there is discussion about sex. My wife told me that one of the presenters at this all wives gathering had a table with bras on it that she used as a focal point for discussion.


    Now, who exactly is he spying for? Double agents, triple agents...you never can be too careful. ;)

    I asked my wife about nursing and she says that she thought they really bent over backwards to support the nursing moms. That's just one opinion, but hopefully it will be the experience of all spouses who come to PLI.

  19. Mark,
    Sounds great! With such an all-encompassing approach to leadership, the future of the church looks bright. I'll pick up such culturally relevant shades. :) To be honest, I could care less about the break out sessions of PLI. My concern is that once the life and vitality of the church, which is the real presence of Christ (not merely an idea or a doctrine on paper), is dependent upon the charisma or leadership of the pastor, then we have already lost the battle. It reflects an odd strain of neo-donatism. Now the real question: how do I get signed up for this gig?


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