A Needed Gift

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“A needed gift!” was indeed the resounding refrain from the 80+ pastor’s wives who gathered in Toronto, Ontario this past September 23-25th for the fifth CRC Pastors’ Spouses conference, hosted by the amazing team at Sustaining Pastoral Excellence (SPE). Our theme was “Face to Face: Becoming Brighter and More Beautiful” and together the guest speaker, Ruth Vander Zee and worship leader, Ruth Ann Schuringa, were used by God to usher us gently, but passionately, into the waiting arms of our Heavenly Father, challenging us to seek His face.

Over the 48 hours we experienced an abundance of restorative laughter, tears, prayer, learning, singing, creating, food, free time and rest. And throughout these times God used His daughters to bring His encouragement to the many who are currently walking difficult paths through ministry. The testimonies shared by brave individuals about their journeys with God over the past number of years, months and even just the previous evening were such a blessing to each one present, speaking powerfully to the ‘safe space’ that God provided for us there. Praise be to Him.

One of the many highlights was the opportunity to dine atop the CN tower in its revolving restaurant, to watch the sun set and the city light up, accompanied by magnificent food that we did not plan, prepare, serve, supervise or clean up. The fun didn’t stop there! We participated in a ‘Pastors’ Wives Only’ version of the Amazing Race that had us sweating as we cooperated our way through creative challenges. And it continued on through the free time afternoon and evening where many enjoyed some shopping, sightseeing, theatre going, more yummy dining, napping, reading and the on-site lounge or roof-top hot tub at the beautiful hotel.

I would be remiss if I did not shine a spotlight on the vulnerable, integral, biblical and impassioned teaching we received through Ruth Vander Zee. She guided us into deep reflection on women of scripture who had much Truth to teach us about who and how God made us to be. We were given practical tools for bringing oft-read scriptures to life once more and Ruth provided us with carefully chosen and prayed over follow-up tasks that would assist us in taking the Truth home. In speaking with attendees since the conference, it is clear that God’s words, spoken through Ruth, are continuing to resonate with us. Thank you, Ruth!

If you have never asked your pastor’s spouse whether she attended a conference, or maybe you didn’t even know it was an option, please ask her. SPE informs councils of upcoming conferences and encourages them to financially support the wives of their pastors in attending the conference. We feel so loved when our churches make that generous offer! The next conference is scheduled for 2016.

Perhaps Angela Zwart, one of the pastor’s wives at the conference summed it up best when she said, “The Spirit touched the recesses of my heart. I can’t recall a recent time where I’ve laughed so hard and cried.” God is good. All the time. Even when we can’t be together as pastors’ wives. But it was so good to have that tangible expression through the community we experienced together those two days. We are so blessed and grateful to belong to a denomination that allocates resources to investing in the marriages and families of our pastors. A much needed gift. 

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This sounds like it was a wonderful time together, however, it has left me wondering about those pastor's spouses who are husbands - is there a place for them at this type of event?  Are there events like this which welcome all the spouses - male or female?

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Hi Melissa,
I am so glad you raised that issue! I am currently coaching an ordained, female, CRC chaplain who gave a sigh and said "Why didn't my husband know about this event?" and I felt guilty as I shared that it was a 'girls only' event. The brief discussion that ensued ended with a commitment on my part to follow up on what kind of support SPE offers to the male spouses of pastors in the CRC. With permission, here is a quote from Lis Van Harten, SPE Program Director:
"Pastors' spouses, who are male, are growing in number. In last several years, we've done two surveys of male spouses to determine their interest in getting together in a variety of ways. The first results were basically "thanks but not interested". The second time around there was some interest but not a lot...

There aren't any plans in place at this time for "male spouses". I think it's something we should revisit in 2015. Perhaps another survey would be a good place to start and then see if we can't get something in the works - if, of course, the interest is there...Please assure her that we're not ignoring male spouses."

So, no, there isn't space for them at this particular event. And truly, being a female pastoral spouse is such a unique path to walk, I am not sure that the male spouses would find it as valuable in meeting their unique needs. They face  a very different set of expectations and different ways in which those expectations are expressed by church members and society in general. In a strange way, attending an event such as this may leave them feeling more alone, because they don't relate to the experiences being shared by the women.

SPE shared that they have encountered this even amongst the female pastoral spouses, if they aren't involved in parish ministry (so youth pastor, chaplain, etc.). Those spouses have provided feedback along the lines of "I couldn't relate to what was going on. I'm in a different setting." So it really is tough to meet all the diverse needs and in trying to be more generally supportive, there is a risk of losing the impact for any.

I highly recommend that anyone who wishes to see further development of the support offered to male pastoral spouses be in contact with the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence office: [email protected].