Corra May White Harris (1869-1935) , herself a minister’s wife, offered this description of the sexual hazards of the ministry in a popular fictionalized autobiography, A Circuit Rider’s Wife (1910) :
" When we hear of a minister who has disgraced himself with some female member of his flock, my sympathies are all with the preacher. I know exactly what has happened. Some sad lady who has been "awakened" . . . by his sermons goes to see him in his church study. First she tells him she is "unhappy at home," . . . finally [she] confesses she is troubled with "temptations." . . . He sees her reduced to tears over her would be transgressions, and before he considers what he is about he has kissed the "dear child." That is the way it happens nine times out of ten, a good man damned and lost by some frail angel of his church."
Other women in the congregation can fall in love with your husband
Perhaps one of the most difficult jobs in the world, that does not come with a salary is that of being a minister's wife. And many unsuspecting women marry ministers, feeling called by God to be part of a spiritual team, wanting to help their husbands, and be part of God's call to reach the world for Christ.
It comes as a shock then to find that with all of that love in your heart for people, that people in the church can be downright mean! You find that women in the congregation expect you to attend every single function of the church, and fill in every unwanted vacancy just because "you are the minister's wife." They also may frown on you if you work outside the home.
How you dress, how you act, how your children behave and dress, and look, are all under the magnifying glass. You find that many people who are upset with your husband will not come right out and tell him about it, but they will refer to the "minister" in your presence in a negative way, knowing that you overheard what they said, and hoping you will pass their criticism on to him.
How about the fact that if you make a good friend in the church you are in trouble for not being close friends with EVERY one in the church? OR if you have an opinion that might be different from your husband's you are in deep trouble if you voice it publicly. You find yourself "between a rock and a hard place."
Perhaps the hardest thing of all, is unless you own your own home, you are in the church parsonage which can have it's good points and bad points. Some parsonages are beautiful, well kept, lovely inside and out, and the congregation wants to keep it that way. However, you notice that they keep making comments like " I sure wish I did not have to pay a mortgage, like you don't have to pay a mortgage." OR " the only expenses that you must have are for groceries."
Then there are the parsonages that are so horrible you feel like you are living at the Salvation Army. The house is old, parts of it are condemned, and the furniture DID come from the Salvation Army. In those parsonages you are lucky if the stove works.
There are even some parsonage committees that think they can come into the parsonage and tell you where the furniture should go, how the pictures on the wall should be placed, and what rooms your children can or cannot play in. I know of one parsonage committee that came in while the minister and his family were on vacation and rearranged the furniture while they were gone!!!
Yes, you may get a "free house" but it is not really yours, and so you own nothing, and are not building up equity, and when you retire you have nothing to show for it.
Hopefully, churches are realizing that ministers would do much better off to have a decent salary that would allow them to purchase their own home while they are in that community. Then when they retire, they have something to retire to.
The most important factor for a minister's wife is that she be allowed the privacy that any family would like. That just because she lives in the parsonage does not mean that people in the congregation can just show up without calling and expect her to drop everything because they have.
Like her husband, she must walk a "fine line" and try to be all things to all people without getting in trouble. The best thing that she can do is to "be herself" and not try to wear "all the hats" that the congregation will try to make her wear. And to allow her children to "be themselves" without making them into perfect little robots for the congregation to wind up and turn around.
And this is one of the hazards of the ministry. Unless you have a strong marriage with a strong foundation and mutual respect and love for each other, then other women in the congregation will look at your husband as the "rescuer" and see him as a "little lower than God himself" and actively try to win him over, and cause him to leave both you and the church. It can happen between ministers and their secretaries, ministers and their choir directors, ministers and just about any women in the congregation who goes to him for pastoral counseling.
Many ministers know how to handle these types of women, by NEVER being alone with them, by always having their wives present when they visit a woman who is single or divorced, and who are frankly "not wolves in sheep'sclothing." themselves. But, then there are ministers who not only do not know how to handle these women, but actually enjoy the attention, are flattered by it, who allow their male egos to get further inflated, and who give in to the temptation of a vulnerable woman who thinks they are God himself, and who eventually, because of this, lose their families, their wives, their churches, and their careers, not to mention their relationship with God.
The position of the minister, is very conducive to these types of affairs developing. They are in their offices alone for most of the week, they are supposed to comfort and give advice to hurting people, and they are human just like everyone else, and if they are unhappy in their marriages then the ministry itself is a recipe for disaster.
If you can survive all of this, then being a minister's wife can be good in the sense that every one will know your name, even if you do not know theirs. If you are strong and have a good relationship with God and your husband, then the two of you can change lives and inspire many to turn to God and make Him a priority in their lives. Along the way, you will make many beautiful friends, and change lives for the better, and learn from those in your congregations some important lessons.
While rare, you may also be dealing with problems in your marriage because your husband, the minister, may be anything but a Christian. By this I mean, that there are some minister's wives who are being emotionally, mentally, and even physically battered and abused by their "minister husbands." And they are enduring this for the sake of their children, the congregation, or for fear that exposure would ruin their husband's career. Domestic violence can happen in any marriage and in any profession. NO ONE should stay in an abusive marriage regardless of who their husband might be in the community. Please see my information on Domestic Violenceon this topic.
Being a minister's wife is a "high calling" and a difficult one, but well worth it if you know how to protect your marriage, your family and your identity.
If you would like some help from a fellow minister's wife who knows what it feels like, please do not hesitate to contact me. You may choose either phone counseling or email counseling. Please see below.
Patricia Jones, M.A.
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