This week is “Mutuality Week” on Rachel Held Evans’ blog, exploring and celebrating the idea of gender equality in marriage and ministry. I figured I’d join in the fun… :)
I attended my first ordination as a toddler, blonde hair done up in pigtails. My aunt was being ordained in the church where she still serves today. I was too young to remember it, but there is photographic evidence I was there. Growing up, I never thought twice about women not being equal to men, especially in the church. After all, my aunt was a minister – anyone who thought God didn’t call women was just silly.
I was blessed to be part of a family and a church that upheld that same thinking, and embraced me when I recognized the call to ministry in my own life. I found a place to serve that supported me and recognized that calling as well, ordaining me in 2010. In my friendships with other women in ministry, I recognize that not all women have had such a positive experience and have had to fight many more battles than I. Though I have had my own share of struggles in ministry, no one has ever questioned or challenged my calling based upon my gender (at least to my face), and I have never felt the need to defend it. I am called – I KNOW I am called – and that’s that.
What has been more difficult to explain is my double-ministry marriage. Yes, I am both a minister and a minister’s wife. My husband and I are both ordained ministers, and for the majority of our engagement and marriage (thus far), we served in different congregations. It always made for awkward conversations with strangers…
Stranger: So, what do you and your husband do?
Me: Well, I’m the children’s minister at X Church, and he’s the youth minister at Y Church.
Stranger: That’s nice…so, where do y’all go on Sunday mornings?
Me: … Well, I go to X Church, and he goes to Y Church.
Stranger: … Oh.
I know that, for some people, being in different places on Sunday mornings is unheard of. I’ve actually had a seminary classmate go off in class about how that’s a horrible thing and she would never consider doing that to her family, forgetting that my husband and I had made that choice. For us, though, we were following our callings, which happened to be in different congregations. (We decided early on that serving on the same church staff was NOT for us – I have a high respect for those couples who can, though!) Sure, it made things crazy at times, and with church lunches and extra services and youth/children’s events our schedules were quite packed, but it worked for us – particularly in times of difficult church politics, when it was nice to have someone to come home to who was not immersed in it.
We’re still figuring out our callings, though. My husband has realized that he feels better suited to chaplaincy ministry, and while I know I’m still called to the local church, I’m still discerning where and what that looks like. In looking for new positions, it’s been difficult. Which job do we follow? Can we find a place that will have opportunities for both of us? In our marriage, we’re doing our best to make sure the other is supported and encouraged. Right now, we’ve agreed that my call will take priority, even if it means moving. We’re focused on finding a church where I can serve, and once that is figured out, my husband will find a job, whether it’s a chaplaincy job or an interim job until something else opens up.
I remember reading something a few years ago by Ruth Bell Graham, where she talked about how she had felt called to be a missionary in China, but her boyfriend/soon to be fiance/eventual husband (Billy Graham) essentially told her she couldn’t, that she was to support him in his ministry. (I don’t remember where I specifically read that, but here’s an article that says something similar.) I respect the choice that she made and how she supported him (and even challenged him), but I can’t help but wonder – who could she have been as a missionary in China, or elsewhere? Now, my understanding of God’s will is that it’s not confined to one path and one path only…but, still, what if they had explored such a calling together? Why did her calling have to change so drastically when they got married, but not his? I know that “what ifs” can’t change anything, but I still grieve a little for what she had to give up.
Our marriage isn’t perfect…and 2.5 years into it, we’re still figuring it out (and will be for the rest of our lives). But, I’m grateful for the mutual respect and support that we have as we each find our way in ministry. Much like ministry, marriage is a calling, and while the balance between those callings can be difficult at times, for us, it’s worth it.