Had the choice been mine, I probably would not have decided to be a minister’s wife. In the early imaginative years so important in the life of a teen-ager, I was going to marry a doctor. How differently it worked out. My best friend married the doctor, and I fell hopelessly in love with a minister. Looking back, I realize it was not so much that I choose the role as that Someone choose the role for me.
Being young I was only partially aware that my life as a minister’s wife would be different from that of most women. I would not only be married to a minister, but I would also be wed to his job. And I would not be able to escape from it, for the objectives of his high calling were too important and the job too challenging: namely, winning souls to Christ, strengthening and deepening the spiritual lives of his parishioners, and, in every way possible, enhancing the moral tone of the community.
In the first years of marriage, the minister’s wife faces many adjustments and new commitments. If her husband’s work compels him to travel, as was true in our early marriage, she must adjust to being left alone frequently. I never enjoyed saying “Good-bye,” nor did I ever really get accustomed to being alone; but I had to learn to accept this understandingly. After all, it is a part of the commitment. It has been a great encouragement and comfort to receive an occasional letter telling me that God had a special place for “those who stay by the stuff,” or to have someone clasp my hand and say, “You have a real share in your husband’s work.”
My husband’s one long pastorate began when he was invited to be a guest minister for one year in a large downtown church that had a long and illustrious history. Instead of one year, we stayed almost twenty. Because the church was well established, I missed many of the experiences—both valuable and amusing—that make such good reading when related by other ministers’ wives. They can tell of situations they faced or opportunities they had in a small, new, perhaps rural church where they were really needed to make things go.
The church we served was not only well established; it was also well run. I did not have to assume leadership, as many ministers’ wives have had to do. Was I then to be withdrawn and inactive? Not at all. Neither I nor my friends in the church wanted it this way. After all, there was the women’s organization with its many committees on which to serve, the chairmanship of a prayer and missionary circle to fill, the work of a deaconess to do.
My husband and I have always believed that the claims of the home have priority. Our home, I should explain, was nine miles from the church, so it was not the “goldfish bowl” type of parsonage. While this gave us a measure of privacy, I am sure we missed much in the way of fellowship with parishioners and were deprived of many an opportunity to entertain those who would have been a benediction to our home.
Always an early riser, my husband customarily left for the church at five o’clock in the morning. As he became busier and busier, I discovered that one way to help him was simply to be understanding about the duties that kept him away from his home and family. At least I would not add to his many pressures by putting him under strain about leaving his family alone so much. If the wife of a minister can give him the assurance that she is doing her best to carry on at home in his absence, she has done much to give him rest of mind and heart.
Our children, like those of most ministers, have been able to say a prayer from the time they learned to talk. The first was usually a lisping table grace, and it was not always easy for us to keep a straight face. When our eldest child was very small, she formed her prayers at the table with her head bowed but with her eyes wide open, peeking through the spread fingers of little hands with which she covered her face. One day, quickly viewing all she saw spread before her, she began thanking the Lord “for our potatoes and our carrots and our bread and butter.” Then she stopped suddenly and, not wishing to be impolite, said: “Oh, pardon me, Lord, we don’t have any butter.”
There are varied opinions as to how much a pastor’s wife should entertain. Carolyn Blackwood, in her book The Pastor’s Wife, quotes answers she received on a questionnaire, “How Much Entertaining Should the Pastor’s Wife Do?” Some replied: “not any”; “little if any”; “her friends, if she likes.” Others said: “A little entertaining at the manse is nice.” I believe the woman who marries a minister should realize she must work hard to excel in the art of entertaining. Usually it is easy to do well what one likes to do.
In my entertaining I never had to fear that I would be criticized for trying to outdo others in our parish. I was in a Scandinavian congregation where entertaining beautifully, yet with exquisite simplicity, was the natural thing. In fact, I was the pupil and the other women were teachers.
Bare-soled he waits,
Bowed hare-headed, stripped to the heart,
Eyes narrowing, hands to his face against the heat,
Hissing, the dust-dry leaves and cobwebs shrivel
Baring the thin curved thorns woven with gold
And the black-elbowed branches
Wrapped in a web of flame.
(An incandescence brighter
Than burnished mountain under a burnished sky.)
Wondering, he waits
In the hot shadow of the smoking Voice.
Observes no quivering flake of ash
Blow down-draft from the holy blaze,
None glowing on the ground.
Shrinking, himself, before the scorching blast,
He sees the unshrinking thorny stems—alive,
Seared but still strong, uncharred, piercing the fire.
Enveloped now in burning, ardent Speech,
He feels the hot sparks touching his tinder soul
To turn him into flame!
“Fools,” it is said, “rush in where angels fear to tread.” Soon after getting settled in the parish where we were to be for so long, I decided it was time to entertain the church board for dinner. I would have forty guests, twenty of them charming and experienced hostesses. That was a big order for anyone, I thought—and by the time the evening was over I realized how big. I ask: if the gravy had to be spilled all over a man’s suit, why did it have to be that of the chairman of the board of trustees?
If I were asked how I have helped my husband as a minister, my answer would probably differ from that of other ministers’ wives. Anyone familiar with my husband’s preaching would quickly agree that I could be of little or no help in his homiletical efforts. Oh, I can point out an awkward gesture, or suggest that he passed up several good stopping places in his sermon—but no more.
Yet no matter how excellent the preacher, there are always those to keep him humble. Sometimes a little child can do it. Our small daughter often noticed that her father buried his head in his hands while sitting on the platform waiting to preach. Finally her curiosity led her to ask, “Daddy, when you’re on the platform getting ready to preach, why do you always put your head in your hands?” He answered, “Why, darling, I’m asking the Lord to help me with my sermon.” She looked thoughtful for a moment, and then pursued, “Well, why doesn’t he do it?”
How could I best help my husband carry his heavy load? By being understanding and patient in regard to his work, for that work always had to come first.
Although twenty years as a pastor’s wife have taught me many things, now, after five years away from the pastorate, I discover that I am still facing new adjustments and still learning lessons. I am not the only one who has to make adjustments, of course. No husband can travel over 2½ million miles by air alone and sleep under his own roof only three weeks in a year without a deep concern for a wife at home.
Let’s face it, perhaps I am lonely. But am I going to feel sorry for myself? How dare I? Instead, I am going to be happy about each pastors’ conference held in another land. I am going to try to realize what it means to the missionaries to have a time of refreshment and renewal in a mountain retreat in India.
It has been my privilege to accompany my husband on some of his missionary journeys. Since our children are married, it is no longer necessary that I stay home. But when I must be alone, I shall continue to read Paul’s word in Philippians 4:11—“I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”
There is no other way. And I would want no other, for I am happily married to a minister and enthusiastically wed to his job.
Edith A. Rees is the wife of Dr. Paul S. Rees, who since 1958 has been vice-president at large of World Vision, Inc., and who for twenty of his thirty-eight years in the pastorate served as minister of First Covenant Church of Minneapolis. Mrs. Rees attended Asbury College.
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