From the blog The Orthodox Clergy Wife by Presbytera Anonyma, a solid list for the priest-wife-to-be. A brave woman, as this list illustrates.
Before you head off on your husband-search to seminary or to a choir concert featuring eager young men in black singing liturgical music, make your way through the following checklist:
Do you love being at church? A lot? Not just on Sundays?
Have you established a prayer rule and regular confession? Now is the time to do this, before husband and children come along to complicate your routine. Also, you will likely have to find a new confessor once you move to a new parish, and make it a priority to go regularly, possibly traveling some distance. Be ready for your prayer rule to change, too. Every seminary does things a little differently. Don’t be surprised when your husband starts changing things around so what is done at home matches what he does in chapel.
Can you wait patiently for services to start, or for your husband to finish chatting with parishioners after the service? Are you ready to train your children with the same patience? PK’s (priests’ kids) say that the thing they remember more than anything else about growing up is always –waiting- at church!
Can you handle living in somebody else’s house indefinitely? While many churches now offer a housing allowance, a lot still own a parish house where the priest and his family will be expected to reside, often right next door to the church where parishioners can observe your gardening skills or lack thereof, or drop in when you least expect it. I’ve heard from some people this was a painless process and for others a very stressful one.
Do you find yourself content to be second banana? Can you stand happily beside someone else who is in the spotlight, whether it is your husband or whether it is already-established lay leaders in the parish you move to?
Are you ready to deal with expectations about the way you and your children dress, the amount of money you spend on your pets, or the kind of recreational activities your family chooses? I know parishes that have tried to dictate the number of children a priest could have.
Are you prepared to work part- or even full-time, at least temporarily, to make ends meet in a parish that can’t or won’t provide their priest a living wage? Do you have a marketable skill that will help you find work that you will enjoy? I have some rather strong feelings about this that I will avoid commenting on right now (the word of the day today is screed). It is enough to say that one parish decided to pay their priest just enough so he didn’t qualify for food stamps any longer. He couldn’t feed his family any longer, but the parish wasn’t “embarrassed” now that their priest wasn’t on the government dole.
Do you have interests to pursue outside the church? These can give you a much-needed break and change of perspective.
Have you thought about the ways in which you will contribute to the life of the parish—and the ways you won’t? Can you be firm but polite about your decisions? Do you know what your gifts are and aren’t? If you aren’t sure, are you willing to give something a try when asked, but turn it over to someone else if you find you are not the right woman for the job?
Will you remind your husband that you and the children are also parishioners, and ensure that he gets a weekly day off; that the phone will not be answered during family dinner; and that barring emergencies, milestones in your children’s lives will take precedence? My last pastor was a saint in this regard. Matins, Vespers, Vigils, or Liturgies every day but Monday. As a result I didn’t call him on Monday unless my arm had just been chopped off or my children were in a Dickensian moribund way.
Can you gather your strength to move your household away from your familiar surroundings at short notice if the bishop decides to reassign your husband to a new parish? We’re a big family with lots of children in school. This is a concern the wife and I talk about often.
Do you have a network of family and friends to whom you can turn, even if only long distance, to confide in? Can you keep a balance of friendliness to parishioners without favoritism or making any of them ‘special’ above others?
Are you any good at all at holding your tongue? You will be offered opportunities to do so almost daily. It is not only what you say, but what parishioners THINK you said.
If these all sound a little daunting, they are. Clergy wives face challenges that their parishioners scarcely ever think about.
The good news is, a lot can be learned as you go along—in fact can hardly be learned any other way. What is mainly needed is open eyes and a good attitude. Seminaries are now making a point of helping seminarians’ wives to look ahead and prepare for life in the parish. Seminary is also where you will meet other women who will be undergoing similar experiences, and with them you can help build supportive relationships for the future.
Still think you might want to be a priest’s wife? One thing left to do: start praying.
And never stop.