mhAUBt8This week’s question comes from a RevGal whose husband is feeling isolated. What can she do to help him create a support network?
Dear Matriarchs,
I’ve been a solo pastor in a small town for three years. My husband and I had a deep conversation over breakfast this morning, in which he described his growing sense of isolation. As I listened, I realized how much I also miss conversations where I don’t have to guard everything I say. My husband has had a difficult time finding other “clergy husbands” in our area to connect with, partly because there aren’t very many married women in ministry around here, and even fewer whose husbands are not also serving with them as co-pastors. My husband has his own career and interests outside of my call as a pastor. He’d like to talk with someone about topics other than church once in a while. (Frankly, so would I.)

So here are my questions for the matriarchs: How do you (and your spouse, if you have one) deal with isolation when you serve in a small community that doesn’t necessarily share your values and interests? For pastors whose spouses are not also “in ministry,” how does your spouse find a support network that is safe and allows deep friendships to develop?
RevGal and Rev’s Spouse
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What suggestions do you have, dear Matriarchs?
Dear RevGal and Rev’s Spouse,
I understand isolation. RevGals was formed in 2005 in part because several of us were lonely for good friendships. Finding each other through blogs became a lifeline and still is for me.
You’ll need some intentional steps to find friends for you and your spouse because adult friendships take more work than school friendships where similar interests and similar age abound. Maybe go to festivals or events out of your small town and talk to people? Maybe plan a week with old friends you’d like to keep up with? You’ve got better ideas than I can think up.

Friendships make life interesting and happy. Being able to talk freely, laugh at goofy stuff and be yourself is a gift for clergy and everyone else.

If I may suggest praying about this, without sounding deadly pious, I’ve prayed many times for God to help me find friends. I don’t trust my own ability to “see” people who may be lovely friends for me and my family. Praying for God’s help focuses my search, helps me realize I am not alone and gives me inspiration to seek out a wide range of prospects.

Rev. Sally-Lodge Henderson Teel
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Dear RevGal and Rev’s Spouse,
I wish I had an easy answer to this question – it is something I have struggled with since the beginning of my ministry, and still struggle with now, 20 years in. Even though I now live in a very diverse and vibrant community with many opportunities for social engagement beyond my church, I find I simply don’t have the time and energy to invest as much as I would like in this type of pursuit; most of my social energy seems to be taken up already with church engagements. I find that when I do have the time to do something else, the last thing I want to do is go out and be with more people! (and I say this as an extrovert) Yet my need for deep friendships beyond my congregation remains. 
[This is true for my husband, too. He and I are co-pastors, though, and his issues and needs are similar to mine (though as a true introvert, he has even less social energy left over after church involvement). I will leave that part of your question to other matriarchs who have spouses who work in another field.]
As to the question about dealing with isolation, here are some things that have worked for me over the long haul, (even though I recognize this is an area of my life I still struggle with):
1 – Get away. Get out of town, whenever it’s appropriate. In the first years of my ministry, I served in a tiny town (1100 people) in a very rural area, where most of the people my age had moved away and the people who remained (regardless of age) had little in common with me in terms of values or interests (other than the people in my congregation, who were wonderful, but were not the people I wanted or needed to meet my social needs). I made a regular practice of getting out of town and going as far as I had to go to be with actual friends (in my case at the time, that was at least three hours away). I built this in to my monthly schedule, going out of town at least once a month, for at least two nights at a time. My congregation came to expect, respect, and understand this.
Even now that I live in a place I love, surrounded by opportunities for interesting activities and relationships, I still make a habit of getting away to be with old friends (though now it is on an annual basis and not a monthly one). It is amazing how energizing and sustaining even one brief annual get-together can be. I also make sure to use upall of my continuing education time each year, and I find that to be a good time for engaging in deeper conversation and relationship with colleagues (some of whom I now count as friends).
2 – Digital connection. I know it’s not the same as physical presence, but for me, digital connections have been crucial to my mental, emotional, and social well-being during a season of my life where I don’t feel I have time for much else. Sometimes the only time in a week I have for investing in a non-church, non-family relationship is at5:30 on a weekday morning, or 11:30 on a weeknight. Those are not typically times I would feel like going out to meet a friend for a chat, but I can text with my friend who I know is also up that early/late, or I can send a message to my friend who will respond when the time is convenient for her. The flexibility of the digital world has also made it possible for me to stay connected to other female clergy who have similarly erratic and demanding schedules. (And yes, RevGals has been a big part of this for me!) 
3 – A little time can have a lot of impact. This is something I have to remind myself regularly. I have a tendency to think that the most important relationships require a significant investment of time – and that’s the thing I usually don’t feel I have. Over the years, however, I’ve come to see the value of small investments made consistently over time. This is actually something I’m trying to practice in many areas of my life, but it applies to friendships as well. Friendship for me doesn’t have to mean carving out an entire Friday night for dinner and a movie – it can mean brief, but regular, connections. A couple of texts a day, for instance. Or one longer Facebook message a week. Or a standing monthly pedicure date. 
4 – Recognize that now is not forever. When I was in your shoes – a solo pastor in a small town – there were times I felt the isolation so overwhelmingly that it was hard to see that I would ever feel any other way. But now is not forever. There are things you can and should do to make sure both of you are finding the relationship connections you need while you are where you are, but, unless you foresee spending your entire ministry in this particular community, you can trust that you are likely to eventually find yourself in a place that may feel more hospitable, with more potentially kindred spirits. I now look back on my first years as a solo pastor in a small town with a kind of wistfulness – there was a pace and space and silence in my life that I miss these days!
I know it’s hard. It is so good to be proactive about this for yourself, and to encourage your husband to be proactive about it, and to encourage each other and partner with each other in building those non-church friendships. And thanks for raising this important question. I’ll be so interested to see what the other matriarchs have to share about this!
Stacey aka earthchick –
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Dear Rev Gal and Rev’s Spouse,
Ministry can be lonely at times especially in a small community. My prayers are with you.
I served a church in a small, isolated community when I was a mother with small children and my Air Force husband was traveling and even deployed part of the time. It was a challenging time, indeed.
I had a delightful, loving congregation who was very supportive. Even so, because I keep healthy pastor/parishioner relationship boundaries, I found myself lonely and tired.
I found camaraderie in local clergy (male and female), Air Force friends and neighbor friends. But my greatest source of support was found online and via technology with my long term family and friends who lived out of state. 
I know that may not sound very comforting but I knew I needed to keep close contact with my “soul friends” who knew me best.
I made it a priority to use my vacation time to visit family and friends.
I now live in a much larger community and have good friends locally but I still find my greatest support through online connections with friends.  And my most treasured support for the last five years has been the incredible clergy support that RevGalBlogPals has brought. I commit most of my Study Leave time to RevGalBlogPals conferences and retreats. It makes such a difference to meet new clergy/lay friends in real life.
Blessings on your search for community.
Rev. Kelley Wehmeyer Shin
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Thank you, Matriarchs! Lots of great ideas for creating support networks for pastors and beloveds.
Let’s keep the conversation going! Add your ideas and strategies in the comments below.
Do you have a question about ministry life or a frustration that is sapping your energy? Send it to us at askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com and we will give you our best.

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Rev. Sharon M. Temple currently serves as Designated Pastor of the delightful Brookmeade Congregational Church United Church of Christ in Nashville TN.  She blogs at Tidings of Comfort and Joy and contributed an essay to There’s a Woman in the Pulpit.

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