For starters perhaps we should begin with the subject of the “role” of the priest’s wife. Please hear this loud and clear: there is no longer a standard defined “role” for the spouse of a priest. There are as many roles as there are spouses of priests! This in no way denigrates the traditional pattern of clergy spousal service, formed honorably through the centuries. Many spouses of clergy find this role to be the best one for their life in a parish. The difference is that spouses of priests today are often as well or even better educated than their husbands. More and more from choice and economic necessity, clergy spouses have their own careers. Many are themselves seminary graduates or have experienced the intensity of seminary life. They understand parish life exceedingly well. They are well read. They also have their vocational call from God and undoubtedly a very large portion of daily grace to fulfill their calling. This article is an effort to “lighten their load” in terms of their social position in the parish. It can indeed be a heavy one. This is where I put my trust in God’s providence and the compassion and understanding of the spouses of priests! However, I do speak from 40 years of service with hundreds of Orthodox churches in all jurisdictions. Here is some of what I have learned from the wives of priests:
1) Most of us are thrilled to be here. This isn’t just a job. God has called our spouses to this endeavor and we share that conviction and our own sense of prophetic calling.
2) Our personal interest and way of serving God may not coincide with the traditional activities of parish life or they may very much coincide with these. We’ve learned not to lose our lives by trying to meet the expectations of scores if not hundreds or thousands of families. We try to remain true to our personal vocation of loving, serving and worshiping God according to our own unique personhood.
3) Please don’t ask us to take messages home to the priest. Speak directly to our husbands. We have learned that triangulated messaging and behavior is unhealthy for everyone.
4) We do not have secret information we can share with you. Our spouses don’t tell us everything. We wouldn’t even want them to! Clergy who keep confidences are clergy who can be trusted.
5) We are not unpaid employees. Please don’t assume that we are part of a two-for-one deal.
6) We want to be involved. We love the Church. But we need the freedom to choose our own way of contributing and participating, just like everyone else.
7) Please do not assume that our children should be better behaved than everyone else’s children. Ours have their ornery, rowdy, impolite and rebellious moments just as all children do. Expecting a higher standard from them is an unfair burden that can seriously damage our children’s love for the Church.
8) We have a life both in the parish and outside the specific boundaries of the parish. We are often heavily engaged in our own careers and in nurturing our families.
9) Our homes are our homes. We will gladly welcome you as guests. But even if the parish is providing housing, that does not mean that we don’t value and need our privacy.
10) Please remember that like you, we are a work in progress, in need of God’s grace and your patience.
Finally, please remember: When our spouse became your priest you became our family and our home. We live where we live and worship where we worship because of you. We will grieve with you, rejoice with you, live among you, and worship God with you. We hope that you will welcome us as family, friends, and fellow pilgrims.