Dear Esteemed Matriarchs,
As one half of a clergy couple, I have a quandary. I performed a wedding last year for a member of my spouse’s church, when my spouse could not. The couple has faced some challenges, and the church member reaches out for help by text messaging both of us. I have been very careful to take the “back seat” in these exchanges, offering prayer and never offering to meet or offer care in person, which I feel is my spouse’s place as the church member’s pastor. I wonder if this doesn’t feel odd to the person in need, however, since we never spelled out our pastoral boundaries at the time of the wedding. Do you think that’s worth doing? Is it likely to sound meaningful? I would certainly save it for a time post-crisis.
Texting Prayers (but no more)
I think it’s totally worth doing, and by your spouse as the pastor in this person’s life. I’m sure your spouse can beautifully and clearly communicate that you filled in for the wedding last year, but that on-going pastoral care is the purview of the pastor, who is, in this case, your spouse. Would you consider inviting your spouse to establish a new boundary and say, “You are in our prayers, but I’ll be the one fully present to you as your pastor” as you stop texting?
Best to you,
Jennifer at An Orientation of Heart
Dear Texting Prayers,
I think your pastoral boundaries are healthy and most appropriate. Since the couple you married are part of your spouses’ church, your spouse should be the primary giver of pastoral care.
It could be beneficial to share your pastoral boundaries with the couple, and your reasoning behind them. I would discuss this with your spouse and see if they feel you need to communicate your reason with the couple.
Blessings on your continued ministry.
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2 thoughts on “Ask the Matriarch ~ Clergy Couple Quandary”
In cases where someone from my husband’s parish has reached out to me, I have always spoken with him before responding. He would offer me the same respect. Neither of us has hesitated to allow the person in need to receive care from the pastor that they seek.
That said, we’ve also promised one another–and make this promise known to the one seeking us out–that, unless the individual refuses to permit it, we will speak openly to our spouse (who, of course, is their pastor) about the issue that they’ve brought to us.
No one has ever refused that permission.
This doesn’t mean that we will force ourselves into the individual’s life or circumstance. Instead, it means that the person’s primary caregiver (their pastor, not their pastor’s spouse) is as aware of their situation as is the pastor that they sought.
In nearly fifteen years of ministry, I can’t recall a single instance where my husband was approached by a member of my parish, but I have been approached by his members a handful of times. Every time, it has been by a woman who (1) know the history of abuse that I received in my first marriage and needs to talk about her own relationships, or (2) has female health or pregnancy issues that they need to process and are uncomfortable doing that with a male pastor. (Men seem to have no such hesitation sharing their issues with me!)
I agree with all the comments above. I would also add, that for whatever reason, this couple might be more comfortable speaking with you than your husband. It doesn’t mean your husband isn’t a good pastor or pastoral caregiver. Sometimes personalities just don’t mix. I have on occasion provided pastoral care to members of another congregation (not my husband’s) when they and the pastor didn’t “gel,” but always with the other pastor giving consent, and with the parishioner knowing that the other pastor consented.