A married pastor has a friend and ally wherever he goes: his wife. But who supports the woman behind the man?
One answer is the Johnston County Association of Ministers’ Wives and Ministers’ Widows, a 2-year-old group with about 15 members.
“Being a minister’s wife is a lonely position,” said E.B. Penny, the group’s secretary and the widow of the Rev. Leon Penny, a former pastor of Good Samaritan Missionary Baptist Church.
“Sometimes the other ladies in the church don’t accept you, and you don’t know who you can trust,” Penny said. “Everybody needs somebody they can talk to sometimes, and if you’re the minister’s wife, you don’t have anybody you can talk to.”
That’s why coming together to support one another is important, Penny said. The group’s members attend each others’ church events. They pray together for support and guidance. They ask each other for advice. And, perhaps most important, they’re a willing ear, available by phone or in person to talk about problems that only another pastor’s wife or widow can relate to.
“The pastor’s wife and the pastor are servants,” said Beverly Glover, president of the International Association of Ministers’ Wives and Ministers’ Widows. While in Raleigh last month for a conference, Glover came to Smithfield for a luncheon at the Ava Gardner Museum.
While a secular wife has to worry about her family, husband and career, a pastor’s wife also has to worry about her church community, Glover said. When a pastor isn’t available to help someone, his wife often goes in his place, she said.
“Our job as a supporter of our husband is to ensure that the work of the Lord goes on,” Glover said.
Members of the Johnston County group said a pastor’s wife faces unique challenges – from time management to how to connect with the congregation; from keeping track of her husband’s schedule to how to handle people who disagree with the church’s direction.
Sometimes, the pastor’s wife acts as a buffer between the pastor and his flock. Church members will tell her things they won’t tell him, and she decides whether to let him know right away or wait until a better time to convey the concerns.
Some challenges are personal, the wives said. Mattie Breeden of Morrisville said she had to get used to her husband hugging other women. They had had been married for five years when he became a pastor.
“I wasn’t accustomed to all the ladies always embracing my husband,” Breeden said. “That was very challenging to me, and though I trusted him and I knew what type of husband I had, I had to realize that this was part of his job.”
Hugging is simply a way to give comfort, Breeden said. “I just had to realize that that was part of his job ... and I couldn’t look at everyone with suspicious eyes,” she said, laughing. They have now been married for 40 years.
Joan Lucas said she found it challenging to support so many people emotionally. “The congregation appreciates having a minister’s wife that they can relate to, and I think that helps the pastor emotionally too,” she said. Lucas can share her husband’s load, praying with church members and helping advise them.
The Johnston County chapter is relatively new. Eventually, the group hopes to offer classes for its members, said president Evelyn Goodine. Other, more-established chapters offer classes in how to handle the many situations pastor’s wife can face.
Goodine said she was surprised how emotionally draining the job of pastor’s wife can be. “Your needs are going to be put behind, because if you truly support him in the ministry, you want him to succeed,” she said.
The association has given her people she can turn to not just in Johnston County but across the country and world, Goodine said. “It’s a support group,” she said. “It gives us tools to meet the challenges that we face as minister wives.”