Launched in mid-June by the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW) of The United Methodist Church, the website is a result of a clergy family care summit held last November. The Chicago meeting consisted of clergy, clergy spouses, adult children of clergy and general agency staff.
The 23 participants noted the high expectations placed on the children of clergy, special problems encountered by two-clergy families, commuter marriages and difficult housing situations.
Summit participants also noted the struggles of racial/ethnic clergy families, cross-cultural appointments and physical health problems. There are also occasions when the need for mental health care arises: That need is frequently accompanied by concern about future appointments when district superintendents discover problem areas.
“A generation ago, the majority of clergy spouses were women, so it was natural that GCSRW would lift up their needs and concerns." says Dawn Wiggins Hare, top staff executive of the commission. "That traditional make-up is no longer the norm. With the increase in the number of women clergy, the importance of offering support for clergy families and clergy spouses is even a more direct missional link to our mission of supporting women at all levels of leadership.”
Northern Illinois Conference Bishop Sally Dyck participated in the summit.
"The Web page can provide resources to family members, often spouses, who might be reluctant to go to a district superintendent for help,” she says. “It can be a ‘first call for help’ location for clergy families in transition.”
Clergy families are not the only ones expected to find the resource useful.
“In addition to clergy family members themselves using the [Web page] resources, this page is intended for use by those in congregations and annual conferences who support clergy and their families,” says MaryJane Pierce-Norton, associate general secretary of Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church.
“Staff-parish relations committees, district superintendents, boards of ordained ministries – all of these entities – seek to support clergy and have the hope and desire for healthy clergy in all dimensions of their live,” she says. “The resources provided can guide those serving in these roles in addressing issues, providing webs of caring, giving guidance for additional help.”
“As we think about clergy families, we know that there can often be unrealistic expectations put onto the spouses and children,” Pierce-Norton says. “In some cases, spouses and children feel isolated, alone, and at the same time, constantly in the eye of the congregation. One hope we have in establishing the website is that this becomes a place of support for those family members.”
“Clergy self-care continues to be of critical importance for the health of the clergy and his or her family,” Hare says. “The itineracy system is stressful, especially for couples with two careers and school-aged children. Living in a fishbowl is not easy, especially for teenagers. Being able to read, to share, to connect with others on the journey is a way that we can offer resources to support our clergy.”
Dyck adds, “Having the Web page can contribute to a good start between clergy and churches. Many laity haven’t moved in years – if ever – and really don’t [understand] the trauma that even a desired or accepted move brings in terms of relocating, everything from ‘Will my stuff arrive? Will the house be ready?’ to ‘Where do I find a doctor or someone to cut my hair?’”
*Heather Peck Travis is a freelance journalist living in Glasgow, Kentucky.