Research shows how clergy spouses cope, level of satisfaction with role (July 21, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Research shows how clergy spouses cope, level of satisfaction with role

July 21, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0116}

An e-Review Feature
By John M. De Marco**
LAKELAND — A clergy spouse's ability to cope with ministry life has a strong correlation to the endurance of the pastor's ministry, a comprehensive study of Florida Conference clergy families demonstrated.

"There had been a lot of research done on clergy, but not on the spouse of the clergy person in regard to wellness of the family," said Trudy Rankin, who conducted the research last spring for a dissertation that is part of her doctorate in education in pastoral counseling program at Sarasota's Argosy University. "The idea is that the wellness of the family is dependent on the wellness of the individuals in the family. If the spouse is stable, happy and well, it definitely impacts the family."

Rankin is herself a clergy spouse and married to the Rev. Dr. Larry Rankin, who is a staff member of the Florida Conference Equipping Network, formerly the Conference Council on Ministries. She is a therapist who is actively involved in the conference's spiritual formation efforts and program coordinator for the conference's fairly new Shade and Fresh Water ministry, which provides rest and healing for members of clergy families.

Across the years Rankin has worked with numerous clergy members and their families through referrals for pastors assigned Board of Ministry contingencies.

As the basis for her research on the resiliency of clergy spouses, Rankin correlated the level of a spouse's coping resources with their perception about how they are managing the role of clergy spouse, as well as how satisfied they are in that role.

"My hypothesis was that the higher the level of coping resources, the higher the perception of how they are managing the role and how satisfied they are with the role," she said.

In order to test the hypothesis for her dissertation Rankin mailed letters to all 700 of the conference's clergy spouses, asking if they would participate in her research by completing the established Coping Resource Inventory. She received 191 responses from both male and female clergy spouses, a 27 percent response rate, which Rankin said is considered very high in terms of similar research surveys.

The research took into account 10 different demographic categories, such as gender, whether a clergy couple has children or lives in a parsonage, ethnicity, financial status, and other factors.

Rankin's research also asked recipients of the letters to answer two perception questions, ranking each on a scale of zero to five. The first question asked spouses how they felt they were managing the role of clergy spouse. The second asked how they perceived their own level of satisfaction. The spouses' spiritual, social, cognitive, emotional and physical domains were examined as an overall part of the research.

In addition, spouses were sent a postcard asking if they would be willing to be interviewed by telephone to discuss their responses to the surveys. Eighty-six spouses returned the cards, agreeing to be interviewed. Needing just 20 for her dissertation, Rankin scheduled 20 interviews that were proportionally representative of the spouses' gender and other demographic categories.

Rankin said her research findings confirmed her original hypothesis about the correlation between coping resources and perceptions of management and satisfaction among clergy spouses. In fact, she noted, the adult population group originally tested for the Coping Resource Inventory had a lower level of coping than the conference clergy spouses who participated in the study.

"Clergy spouses had more spiritual coping resources than the normal population," Rankin added. During telephone interviews 75 percent of spouses identified their spiritual lives as their most important resource, including prayer, reading and their relationship with God.

"Incredibly, over 50 percent said they felt called to be a clergy spouse," she said. "That call then is undergirding their role even more strongly, which I think is so important. I didn't expect that high a level of spouses to feel called. I felt very encouraged by that."

Seventeen of the 20 scheduled interviews took place, Rankin noted, adding she would like to call the rest of the spouses who agreed to an interview just for the sake of her own information.
"These spouses felt so good about the fact that somebody cared about their opinions, especially the spouses who were in the small churches, the rural places where they sometimes don't have much contact. Many were so glad that I was doing the research because they felt it would help the clergy family," she said.

As a result of insights shared by clergy spouses during the interviews Rankin has developed a list of strategies she feels can help clergy families.

One spouse said on Sunday nights she and her husband sit down and discuss their calendar. Since this particular pastor "loves his work so much that he has no concept of overworking, the couple has an understanding that if he works over 60 hours that week he will give her back those extra hours the next week," Rankin said.

Another strategy was gleaned from a couple that has committed to a Friday night date since seminary and tries not to let anything take that away. Yet another clergy couple, determined to get cardiovascular exercise despite the Florida heat, meets in the local mall three times a week for a walking date. One clergy spouse told Rankin communication channels are kept open by making sure daily visits, even if they are for just a short period of time, occur between the spouse and clergy person.

Rankin said she feels her research will benefit Shade and Fresh Water, which, in addition to providing healing retreats, also offers relocation workshops, Clergy Kids camp and divorce recovery programs for affected clergy, spouses and children. One new outgrowth of the latter is Extreme Shade, a North Carolina-based retreat for children of divorcing conference couples.
Rankin expects to graduate with her doctorate in December. She said her ongoing plans involve strengthening Shade and Fresh Water, her private practice, spiritual formation endeavors and her work with families. She would also like to do some teaching.


This article relates to Clergy Family Health and Wellness.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a commissioned minister of the Florida Conference and a freelance writer, speaker and consultant

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