On Being Friends With Pastors’ Wives
by Vanessa Rasanen
My two best friends at church happen to be the wives of our pastors. I’m not sure how it happened exactly — perhaps it’s that we’re all around the same age. Or maybe that our kids are around the same age. Or maybe it’s that as a military spouse, I can relate a bit to the frequent solo parenting we each endure due to our husbands’ schedules. Beyond that, they’re just really awesome women who I get along with, so friendship just developed naturally.
And that’s not a bad thing. Because our pastors’ wives need friends, too.
Sure, they have a built in support system with the other pastors’ families in the district, but it can also be a bit of a lonely life. They’re often far away from their family or their hometowns. They may find that women in the congregation aren’t all that eager to befriend them, or may be a bit standoffish or too formal with them.
We should remember our pastors’ wives are just like us. First off, they’re human – ahem, they’re sinners just like the rest of us. Secondly, they’re members of the congregation. They are not co-pastors. They are not called, as their husbands are. They sit in the pew. They receive God’s Word, Absolution and Sacraments alongside us. They serve us as their neighbors, just as we are to serve them, as well.
Beyond that, though, they are members of our pastors’ family, and that means we, as congregants, care for them. Per the table of duties in Luther’s Small Catechism, we owe our pastors a great deal:
Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel. 1 Cor. 9:14. Let him that is taught in the Word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. Gal. 6:6. Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the Word and doctrine. For the Scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn; and the laborer is worthy of his reward. 1 Tim. 5:17-18. Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy and not with grief; for that is unprofitable for you. Heb. 13:17.]
SC Table of Duties
And so we do care for our pastors’ wives. We help them when they fall ill. We watch their kids when they need a break. We take them for coffee when they’ve had a rough week. We pray for them. We listen to them. We laugh and chat with them.
Yet, friendships with our pastors’ wives must be different. On one hand, we should never feel such discomfort as if they will judge us more harshly or think less of us upon discovering we are less than perfect. Psssst, they already know we have flaws. They won’t be surprised. They don’t want us to tiptoe around them, shielding them from the real us, afraid to let our pristine, Pinterest-perfect facade down. They want us to feel like we can be real and genuine around them.
But there is a flipside to this. Due to their husband’s vocation, friendships with members of the congregation can’t be boundary-less. Some topics are off limits — such as any grievances with our pastors. Duh. We also can’t expect them to be completely open and honest about everything in their life. While other friends may come to us to vent or seek advice about marital issues, our pastor’s wife may not be as likely to do so. It’s not that she doesn’t trust us, or that she doesn’t like us enough to do so. It’s that she’s respecting our relationship with our pastor, and doesn’t want to affect that through our friendship.
Some may try to equate being friends with our pastors’ wives to befriending the boss’s wife or the commander’s wife in the military. There are similarities here indeed, but there is one major difference to keep in mind. We take caution regarding friendships with the wives of those who hold authority to avoid any perception of inequality or favoritism. Yet there is no benefit to be gained by befriending our pastor or his wife. We don’t earn brownie points by doing so. We don’t get a cushier seat in Heaven. I’m not sure what bad perception could be earned by befriending our pastor’s family. If nothing else, you gain some good friends to have over for dinner or swap babysitting with.
So while our friendships with our pastors’ wives can’t quite be as intimate or as close as they are with other friends, we shouldn’t let this deter us from befriending them at all. They need friendship, community and companionship as much as anyone else.
Photo credit: “Summer Chat” by -Kenzie- licensed under CC BY 2.0.
As a pastor of 30+ years I can say some degree of accuracy that neither pastors nor pastors’ wives have any real friends. Friendships with some of the boundaries that you outlined are not real friendships at all. They pass the time, but they don’t really fill the void. You cannot have friends among members of the congregation. Love them dearly, yes. Friends, no. The same holds true between fellow pastors and their families. Talking shop always dominates the conversation, and no pastor in his right mind will be himself. I’m not whining. Pastors and their wives learn to depend on each other and their extended families, if they have them. We do just fine without friends.
I would say that as a pastor’s wife, be it less than 3 years, my closest friends have come from those who don’t attend my church. But even then it still took me a while to put down my barrier (that I didn’t know I had) to let them in. I have many positive relationships with church members, they would have my back and I would have theirs, so I’m not quite sure how it would be an empty relationship. I strive to allow my church family become my extended family, if they will let me. I have no choice. Other than my husband and my dogs, they are all I have here.
As far as fellow pastors’ wives and families, it greatly depends on who is in your area. We have a fellow circuit pastor and his wife that lead lives very similar to ours but they are 20 years older. Her and I have had the same struggles in health, child-bearing, family, etc. we are very good friends. We talk frequently. While our husbands “talk shop” and I suppose we do to, it’s the nature of the beast. If a group of computer programmer families got together it would be no different. Our husbands also have conversations outside of church things, you know, they have hobbies that they discuss.
Being a pastor’s wife is certainly a different role. But I don’t want to be treated as such. I am just as human as the next person. I deserve nothing more than the Eternal Life offered by Christ like everyone else. No need to walk on egg shells around me. I am human, sinful, and in need of love too.
As a pastor’s kid and a pastor’s wife, I have some experience with friends, or feeling like I was on my own, and have come to a place of contentment. I do have real friends and I have awesome family. I am not afraid of developing relationships with members of church that are as close, or closer, than those within my own blood family. We are, after all, all members of Christ’s family and brothers and sisters with each other. In my mind a true friend is there when you need them. It may be for help, counsel, or just to hang out. Not all friendships are as deep as others, but that doesn’t diminish their importance. In my life I have seen the importance of being real with people. I may be guarded at times, but there are times when showing your faults is helpful too. We are in this together, called to served in our own vocations, various as they may be.
The article is well written and insightful. As a pastor’s wife of over 30 years I have had many close friendships, but that is because I am surrounded by members that do accept for who I am and more than what my husband does for a living. However, that being said, we began in the ministry at a different time and place. We weren’t held to those kind of restrictions of previous generations. I learned from my husband’s vicarage “pastor’s wife” to set my boundaries clearly. Finally, my husband allowed me to use my gifts and talents as I saw fit and let me blossom into the role, especially in the early years. He had my back and supported me as a wife and mother first, and “the pastor’s wife” second.
You’re mistaking friendship with family. Family means there are no secrets and if there are then there’s trouble in the relationship ie mother and child or husband and wife. In a friendship there are natural subjects not talked about due to social constraints. That’s with any friendship be it between two regular parishioners or pastor’s wife and parishioner. Can a friend be like family? Yes, and that means there are less boundaries between them. But it is healthy and good for everyone to have a friend to laugh, cry, and be around. This means less strain on a family and a bond with someone who can share in your joy and pain.
@Pastor Fred: oh I don’t know. I must not have any “real friends” then (I’m not a pastor’s wife) because I try not to complain about my husband with my friends, nor do I tell them everything. One can’t be 100% real with anyone other than their spouse, but that doesn’t mean you’re not friends.
I’ve also learned it’s not a good idea to complain about your pastor in any but two situations: with my pastor or talking with my husband in private. Airing grievances about pastors at church or with friends is not useful and may be harmful.
Our writer and her friends have something special indeed! Overall we hold a very romanticized view and a very poor definition of friendship. Surely, for women, this lies in the Myth of the Bestie’! BFF— Best Friends Forever! Unfortunately Best is put to the test, friendship is often conditional, and forever is a long time.
I work with Kindergarteners, and on any given day, I end up with a little girl crying because Gertrude will not be her friend. I have shed my own fair share of tears over friendships. Too often we find that wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. I may be a bit cynical! (But dang… nothing compared to poor Fred! ☺) Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the sisterhood of women. I believe we are to love and serve one another. It just seems to me, that it is rooted in the humility of counting others more significant than ourselves. Friendship is often seized in opportunity and does not have to be galvanized by the timed-pressure of forever! Friendships ebb and flow. We find them in vocation: child-rearing, husband-serving, and even in the mundane—that is where we all set-up house—even the Pastor’s wife!
The other thing that has been on my mind about this article… I want pastors and pastors’ wives to know that it is helpful for us parishioners to see you as human. We want to be your friends and work with you together. My last pastor was single but very stand-offish with most of us for so long. Some of it was his personality, but some of it was because he felt it was his role to be pastor and not friend. Personally, because of this I never wanted to go to individual confession and absolution. He didn’t trust us with his humanity so much, and I didn’t want him knowing so many details of my sins either. I’m not saying tell us your secrets, that’s not appropriate, but you don’t have to pretend everything is always perfect either. We live in a fallen world; we know it all too well.
I have been blessed by friendships with various pastor’s wives. (As with most of my other friendships) The sad thing is when they leave, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t invest in the friendship in the first place. I f any one needs a friendly face, it’s the pastor’s wife.She has followed her husband into a totally new community.She needs the help of locals.
Hmmm…friendships. As a pastor’s wife for the last 17 yrs., I am thankful to have friends within our congregation. I can’t imagine not forming friendships within our congregation.
Yes, friendships w/in the congregation can be awkward at times, esp. when members are not happy with pastor/husband of mine. Thankfully, in the few instances this has happened, my friends/their families have been able to separate my husband’s office from his person, and they haven’t held their grievances towards pastor against me(for the most part ;)). In my mind, this is what any friendship among Christians is like.
My friends within the congregation and I share the same confession of faith through the good times and the bad. We members within the congregation need each other, and I think it would be a lonely thing not to befriend anyone at all.
That being said, I am shy. To some in the congregation, I may seem stand-offish at first, but that is because I have experienced people wanting to be my friend for all the wrong reasons. On the flip side, I’ve had congregation members that I’ve wanted to befriend tell me directly that they don’t socialize with the pastor or his family.
Therefore, through the years I have learned to be cautious when choosing friends in the congregation. It just comes with the unwritten job description for pastor’s wife. I’m o.k. w/ that, b/c I know there are plenty of other people with jobs that require this of them, too(ie– those in law enforcement, education).
As a pastor wife for 29 years, though very active, I feel very alone. It’s not only the wife or spouse that feels that way. The pastor more so. Who is the pastors pastor? And when the spouse has a complaint with the pastor, who can they go to? Noone.
Often times us spouses who are weekly left a pew widow hear all the remarks. On top of that of their is more than one pastor wife in the congregation, boy howdy. You cant even be friends with them as often time they want to outshine you and engraciate themselves upon the parishioners so that they become the awesome Pastors spouse so that pehaps their hubby can be the lead pastor if your hubby should possibly entertain moving to a different church. With or without the pastors voluntary consemy or knowledge.
So, we only have one place to go. On our knees and to God and God alone. He is trustworthy and won’t betray us. He works on things for us. And when He miraculously intervenes on our behalf we become very highly treasured and favored above the rest. We then in turn can pay that forward and bless others through Him. That’s if they believe your miraculous story of how God has provided a specidic need. Otherwise, they will pick apart your every praise and intention and possibly accused you of privately favoring a singular member who might have secretly “blessed” you. One can’t win when it comes to humans. So, we must keep our eyes, words, trust and confideme in God and God alone. He will never let us down, though it may feel like it because we want tangible evidence.
So, it gets to be very lonely, especially when you move to try and find friends who will not suck you dryer but will lift you up and love you no matter your faults. Oh, many don’t think us pastors wives have faults. Haha.
They want us to wear masks and when you will not conform to that maskly mold, then Lord have mercy, cause the saints sure won’t, so I’ve been told.
I can only be who I am snd noone else. That is a daughter of a living, poqerful God in heaven who knows all my sins, thoughts and faults and who still loves me no matter what. He at least os forgiving and it won’t hurt my hubby’s reputation.
So, if anyone out there would like to be myn”true” friend? I am taking applications privately within. I was counseled by an elderly pastor wife when I became a pastors wife myself. She said, “Always dress nice, but not nicer than your church members. Always look good, but not too good. Always keep your figure. Never speak up about any of your ideas or thoughts, you don’t want to outshine your hubby. Learn how to cook tasty, easy, on the spur of the moment meals that you can wow the crowd with and satisfy there appetites. Not too rich though,you don’t want them getting tummy aches.” Last but not least she said, “Always, I repeat always, make friends outside of the church. It will keep you sane.” “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”
Out of all her words and advice I attempt to succeed at close friends on the outside. Though I haven’t managed that well wit moves and deaths of close some young close friends. Oh, and as for keeping my figure? The elder pastor wife never laid out specifics as to size, shape or form. I’ve managed to keep my pear shape since I got married. Oh, and my humor. That’s been the greatest of all. Laughter to live. ;) I am still taking apps for friends. Can’t have enough.