In my previous posts I’ve mentioned the fact that your Pastor’s family may live FAR away from extended family. True, this is not always the case. But the closest I have lived to my parents since I got married was 2 hours. When you add the “every-single-weekend” demands of Pastoral life, you can understand why an honorary extended family means so much!
Sometimes it can mean the difference between the Pastor’s family feeling like they are truly “home” or feeling like outsiders.
(Reminder to self – kid gloves on, tread gently here cuz this could get touchy!)
Most of us long for some sense of community. We want to feel connected – VITALLY connected – to people and events around us. It’s important for us to know others miss us when we are unexpectedly absent from an event.
This is especially true for someone living in a Pastor’s family.
I’ve said before that the members of a Pastor’s family prefer not to have extra expectations placed on them simply because they happen to be related to the man in the pulpit. But they want to “belong” in your church. They want it to feel like home and this desire is magnified significantly if they are a long distance from siblings/cousins/aunt/uncles/grandparents/etc.
Can you imagine leaving all of those familial bonds behind – and leaving friends as well – to come to a new place because of dad’s new job and then discovering that they had a list of expectations you were to live up to AND that they had no intention of building a relationship with you?!
I’ve spoken with so many Pastor’s wives and kids who have been there. It hurts. They are spoken to warmly in the walls of the church building and complained about if they don’t speak to every single church member when out in the community (never mind that those complaining didn’t speak first – apparently members of a clergy family are expected to speak first!). I’ve heard stories of holiday’s spent alone because the Pastor’s family can’t travel on Easter (or on Christmas if it’s on a Sunday) and it just doesn’t seem fair to constantly ask extended family to travel to see you!
MAJOR CLARIFICATION – the type of lukewarm welcome I just described is not at all what we’ve experienced in my hubby’s current ministry. We are, after all, in the midwest! Midwesterners are some of the most amazing people in the area of welcoming newcomers to the community! The weekend hubby candidated at the church, he was offered the position and accepted on the spot. Before we left that Sunday, I had collected several phone numbers from people who wanted to help expedite the move on the “arrival” end. One “new friend” offered to coordinate food for the day of the move so that my family and the movers would have sustenance.
We showed up at the house on December 30, 2009, to a spread of food that was overwhelming!! (One thing you should know about Baptists – we like to eat and will use pretty much any gathering as an excuse to do so!) On the way into town, one of the other mom’s in the congregation wanted to know if we had plans for New Year’s. I laughed. We were, after all, moving into a new city on DECEMBER 30. Plans? Uh, no. I responded “I’m pretty sure we’re free.” She then invited us to hang out with them at their home to ring in the New Year.
Since then we’ve had bonfires at friends homes, watched various sports events in their living rooms, hung out “just because”, filled a snow day with a visit to or from friends, engaged in a game or two of Mexican Train dominoes, hung out at a local restaurant after Wednesday night choir practice, and, in general, felt pretty loved on.
There are a few older people in the church who have lovingly reached out to my kids, too. Whether it’s the older couple who have been married more than 60 years but who have the enthusiasm of a couple MUCH younger or the widow who is a former Pastor’s wife who is just genuinely happy to see my kids, it matters a great deal. When any of my kids is involved in a performance – whether it’s a school, the summer youth theater or a community choir performances – there are certain people that my kids know will be there and will speak to them after the performance is over. I know this is the case because my kids tell me they are looking for them to be there. And you know what? They almost always are!
Let me get down to brass tacks now that I’ve rambled a bit. Invite your Pastor’s family over just to “hang out”. Include them in a family holiday celebration if they are far from relatives (this one is ESPECIALLY important to me around Christmas – I’m just a big kid!). If you visited a church for several weeks in a row and didn’t feel welcome, would you keep going back? My guess is probably not. The simple fact is your Pastor’s family doesn’t have that option. Oh, I’ve heard stories of Pastors whose wives attended a different church. Those Pastors never stayed in that particular place for very long!
Most church people are good-hearted individuals who want to take good care of the Pastors and there is a simple way to do that. Take care of their families as well. Build relationships with his family. Especially his wife. She needs friends and connections or she will start to lean VERY heavily on him to make her feel connected and her frustration with her LACK of connectedness to the church will land on him, putting him in a tough spot! (Believe me, I’m speaking from experience!) Don’t get me wrong, my involvement in local performing arts activities has given some very dear friends outside of our congregation. But I have a special place in my heart for my “church family”.
December 30, 2012, will mark our 3rd anniversary in Iowa. There are times I cannot believe it’s already been that long because we are still discovering new things about our surroundings. There are other times that I cannot believe it’s been “only” three years because I have connections with some members of my church family that make me feel like this has always been home.