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Clergy spouses identify ways of helping families cope (Aug. 17, 2004)

Clergy spouses identify ways of helping families cope (Aug. 17, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Clergy spouses identify ways of helping families cope

Aug. 17, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0140}

An e-Review Feature
By John M. De Marco**

LAKELAND — A proactive effort to build coping strategies into a family's infrastructure is vital for dealing with the inevitable storms a clergy family faces, a new study demonstrates.

As reported in a previous e-Review Florida UMNS story, Trudy Rankin conducted research last spring for a dissertation that is part of her doctorate in education in pastoral counseling program at Sarasota's Argosy University. After mailing letters to the conference's 700 clergy spouses and receiving approximately 191 completed established inventories , Rankin concluded a pastoral spouse's ability to cope with ministry life has a strong correlation to the endurance of the pastor's ministry.

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

Part of Rankin's findings include a list of coping strategies gleaned from discussions with 17 clergy spouses. She noted that by observing the secular world it's more apparent the non-working spouse often fills the role of "cheerleader for wellness" to help the family stay balanced. This is not an easy role to maintain, Rankin said, adding the person who does this tackles the job of reminding the family of certain coping strategies necessary for good family health, no matter what changes take place.

"You can read strategies in every self-help book out there, but strategies for a clergy family are different than what happens in the secular world," Rankin said. "It's a unique culture. That's why this study is so important, and not much has been done in this area."

Rankin encourages clergy families to creates healthy coping strategies they, in turn, can model for their church families. Some of the strategies for clergy spouses identified by the clergy spouses who talked with Rankin include:

n Having a family member be responsible for placing a call to a Christian counselor when a pastoral family moves to a new district so there is someone available if the need arises.

n Finding friends outside the church who know him or her as a person, rather than in a pastoral role.

n Having something outside the church, such as volunteer work or a job, that helps develop friendships and keep church issues in perspective.

n Having a "girls night out."

n Helping children in the family talk about being clergy kids. 

n Accepting being "protected" from the church by his or her spouse.  

n Learning the skill of saying, "No."

n Identifying thoughts about him- or herself that often contribute to a sense of satisfaction or dissatisfaction.

n Loving the church with God's love when not able to on his or her own.

n Learning time management.                 

n Developing a spiritual life separate from his or her spouse and the church. 

n Exercising regularly, which helps with the inertia of low energy and gives a sense of invigoration.

n Trying to make the home a haven and protection from external factors, which cause stress. 

"It's very hard to put strategies in place when the house is on fire," Rankin said. "We have to learn behavior or ways of thinking before the crisis hits. Otherwise, it's fight or flight responses, reactive rather than proactive. It's [a crisis] not the time to start learning to pray. It's not the time to start learning meditation or yoga. You do that before. If it's a part of your routine, it's part of you."

Family members do not need to go to a therapist to be held accountable or embrace preventative strategies, Rankin said, adding they can do that for each other.

"For example, if Dad hasn't taken a day off in two weeks, the family, out of love and support, can say, 'We are noticing you haven't taken a day off,' "Rankin said. "You ask each other to hold each other accountable to those things."

Rankin encourages clergy family members who would like to learn more to contact her at 863-682-2810.


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.