The United Methodist Church’s Commission on the Status and Role of Women found that in general, the wives and husbands of clergy do not receive enough support emotionally, spiritually, physically and financially from the church, through a survey released at a Feb 27-29 Pittsburgh conference.
Mackie H. Norris, a health professional with Norris and Associates, conducted the survey for the commission, concluded that many spouses are either unaware of or unwilling to receive the recourses available to them in the time of crises because “of fear of the effect on the spouse’s career."
According to the survey, 25 percent of the clergy spouses said they had no one to turn to for pastoral support except for their spouse. However, Norris, a pastor’s wife for more than 40 years, was concerned that the spouse could actually be part of the problem. Most of the wives did not feel comfortable seeking support outside of their household because they were worried that any sign of weakness in the family would hurt their spouse's ministerial career.
In addition, the wives, 85 percent of those who took part in the survey, were most concerned about their spouses’ schedule and housing, and felt that they were isolated and under scrutiny at several occasions.
"Many respondents commented that they perceived others had an expectation of perfection in themselves and their children," the survey report said.
In addition, the survey found that most wives felt that “Participating in a loving, caring community as a joy or perk.” They also said that living in a parsonage was considered a perk, but also a time of “peril.” Other perils included frequent moves, loss of friends, demands on time and unrealistic expectations.
Of the 183 spouses who took part in the survey, 15 percent were male.
The male respondents’ greatest issue was “the time demand on their spouse and the subsequent potential for burnout."
In lieu of the survey results, the Commission on the Status and Role of Women said it would support a new resolution named “Clergy Spouses and Families - Life in the Fishbowl," during the UMC’s General Conference in April.
The recommendation includes a call to sustain "the emotional, spiritual, physical and economic
health of our clergy families,” and a follow-up study to be conducted in an “interdenominational” fashion in order to get a wider sampling of clergy families.