Running from the Pastor

Like every university around the world, my current school is not immune to a bit of higher education folklore. Ours comes in the form of a tiny, but very conspicuous cross in the middle of a circular pathway. Legend has it that those who walk through the cross will receive the (ahem) gift of becoming a “Siema” — a pastor’s wife. Yours truly wants no part of such a fate, and since the day I heard of it, I have meticulously avoided the cross by walking all the way around it, or avoiding it altogether, even if I am in a terrible rush. I can personally identify with the long-existing pandemic that has left quite a few pastor’s daughters actively trying to avoid by any means necessary any young man who seeks to proclaim the Three Angels’ Message as a Pastor, or is already doing so. In simple terms — are you a pastor or pastoral aspirant? Well then, sir, please get to stepping.

Let me say that I was not always one to turn away “God’s servants.” As a younger girl, I wanted to get married to a pastor. Excluding some of my late teen years, I’ve always loved Adventist ministry — why wouldn’t I want to get married to someone for whom the church was his very bread and butter? Why? College happened, an Adventist one at that, and the nos to the men of the cloth officially began. I had many theology majors (as they were called) as friends, but the moment I began to realize they wanted more than a mere friendship, I usually made it clear that that was a line I was not about to cross. At that time, I was a 16-year-old with dreams of grandeur. I knew I was going to graduate from college at a fairly young age, and if I said yes at that time, then I had roughly T-minus four years to get married — something that was not listed on my five-year vision board. I wanted to go to medical school, work, and enjoy life, something that just wouldn’t happen if I decided to go with someone for whom settling down right away is almost part of the pre-requisites of the job. I got my wish. I am currently in medical school, I’ve been part of the workforce, I’ve become used to myself as an adult, and there are still no wedding bells in sight. So why then am I still so opposed to the idea? Beyond having my dreams at the forefront of my mind, as I matured, I began to see how I probably wasn’t cut out for the “Shepherdess” life. Getting married to a pastor means that you share your husband with the entire congregation (or congregations, depending on which zone of the world you reside in), it means being left mostly defenseless when your family becomes dart practice for the church community, and as an aspiring mom, I want to give my children stability, something that is very hard to have in a pastoral family.

Now, don’t get me wrong, every person married to someone with a demanding job will tell you that when you say yes to that person, you say yes to the hospital, the boardroom, and the courtroom. As a medical student already feeling the effects that my career will have, and is already having, on my romantic life or lack thereof (as a matter of fact, it is now that we 20-something PK girls would probably, maybe, possibly entertain the wooings of the “Levites” just to abate the constant prayers of our parents for sons-in-laws…but I digress), I completely understand that the call to ministry is not just a calling, but a career, even. After all, salvation is a 24/7 job. I know this all too well. My dad and I are extremely close, but in my opinion, I shared him more than I thought was necessary. In fact, at my high school graduation, my dad showed up halfway through the consecration service because his congregation needed him. Was I upset? No, I understood that his hands were tied. My mother, however, was not pleased. She had more right to be angry than I did. No matter what he does and no matter how many things I’ve had to wait on him for or I have had to do without him, he’ll always be my number one guy. I’m a daddy’s girl, after all. She, however, has had to deal with more late nights, more worrying, more disappointment, and more feeling like entity number two than I have. Seeing that, would I be as smart as I’d like to think I am in choosing this life as my forever option?

Getting married to a pastor also means putting yourself in a direct line of fire. And I’m not talking about the “fiery darts of the wicked” here. Working in the secular world involves navigating our way through the different personality types and behaviors that come with being “in the world, but not of it,” and even though I know that people are people in the world and the church, all sinners in need of grace, I would find it really hard to smile through the constant darts at my pastor husband from some church folks — scheming, conniving, hypocritical, and overly negative, expressed both to my face and behind my back. Take it from someone who knows. Wounds from the people of God hurt the worst. As a Pastor’s child coming from a West Indian worldview, I had to try to deal with it, and as a well-behaved child I was not to comment or even let it be known I took offense to comments said or attitudes given. As an adult, I've found that to be increasingly hard, impossible even, and I’d hate to not have the power to do what any family member should be able to do when a loved one is going through professional struggles — defend and protect — just because a Pastor’s wife is expected to suffer and smile for the convenience of badly behaved congregants. I truly believe that is not my lot in life. As a regular church member, I can rebuke in love without the “validity” of my Christianity or ministry being called into question, but in the glasshouse of pastoral life, that’s a street that can lead anywhere from dissent from the church board to administrative sanctioning.

Finally, I have seen where many pastors’ children grow to have one of two responses to church and things of God. Utter disregard or nonchalance. From the age of about 13 to 18 I fell into category two. I was not compelled to be involved in anything related to church. When we were going to church, I dreaded it, and when we were at church I wanted to go home. I didn’t want to belong. You may be thinking that this is a rite of passage for every young person in the Adventist church, not just something that belongs to PKs. Maybe you’re right, but for me and many other pastor’s kids I know, this indifference was a result of constantly having to shift my social circle. Thankfully, I didn’t have to move around as much as some of my friends did, but as a teenager, making friends is not as simple as who you played tag with last Saturday night as you waited for your parents to be ready to leave. As one gets older, friendships are based on connection and a sense of belonging, and it is this sense of community that makes one want to be involved with and stay in church. Having to constantly move from church to church took away the friendship from my church experience, and thus I just wasn’t interested anymore. It took a personal spiritual revival for me to shake that kind of feeling, but unfortunately, many PKs never recover. This is not something I want to happen to my children. I want them to grow up in one place, having the same church friends, savoring godly friendships and relationships, and enjoying being part of active ministry. Not just standing up when the pastoral family is being introduced at installation services or before sermons. I want to give them stability, something really hard to hold on to in a ministerial family.

These are just a few of the many reasons pastors’ daughters run from clergy like the plague. Or could it be that we are just afraid? Afraid of what people will think of us because we have long wanted to shake the whole image of being “too holy,” and getting married to a pastor will have us forever trapped in the mold we wanted to leave? Who knows? For every pastor’s daughter who says no to a theology major, there’s another one that says yes, because she realizes he’s a regular guy like the engineer, the teacher, or the doctor. Maybe the right pastor hasn’t come along yet to change our minds. Until then, this girl is pretty sure about what she wants right now and she knows God knows what she wants, too. I’ll tell you if I change my mind. After all, a wise man (or woman) changes his (or her) mind sometimes.

Sharina York is a student at a Central American Adventist Medical school and has aspirations of serving others through medical missions. She enjoys socializing, listening to good music, lively debates, and making her parents proud.

Photo by Caroline Veronez on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9903
1 Like

sharina’s PK experience sounds like many PK’s in North America.
And these issues need to be addressed, but I don’t know if they are.
Sharina also brought up the PLIGHT of being the wife of a pastor.
Are these issues being addressed?
I don’t believe congregations in NA, anyway, are being taught about
deportment toward Pastors and their families.

A couple of pastors ago, we had a pastor in his 30’s with a young family.
His oldest boy was around 10, used to being “up front”, read well, good
training. The pastor played guitar. There were also 4 members who had
and played guitars. They formed a band and practiced after church for
several months. I used to stay and listen and played well together. The
pastor and they decided to put on a Sabbath evening vesper program.
It was optional for anyone who cared to attend. I wasn’t able to go. Had
another obligation.
Couple months later the pastor put in his resignation and quit. Some
members were quite concerned that there were guitars playing in the
church. The pressure was so great, he asked the Conference for a new
assignment. I was sad to see him leave. He was an excellent pastor.
That was the only and last time the guitars were played in church. Since
then, all those guitar players go to other churches in the area.

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If you had a taste of it and you know you don’t like it, just stay clear from this path. Things are not changing, individuals seldom beat the system. Looks don’t last and sweet talks are just that, especially from a young man who usually does not know what he’s in for.

" Mais la mer pour en savoir le goût, il n’en suffit que d’une gorgée " Soljenitsine. You only need one sip of sea water to know what it tastes like.

Worst than “I told you” is " I knew it".You do not need to be a pastor to be “GOD’s servant”. This type of thinking is already paving the way for all kind of abuse and neglect.

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I am steering my children as far away from an ecclesiastical career as possible.

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You might want to consider too, the “just a few of the many reasons” why sons run away from female physicians like the plague. The demands placed on a physician can be just as overbearing as those placed on the clergy.

It’s a personal choice and we should count our blessings.

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An honest piece of writing and nice to pull back the curtain. A number of years ago a pastor friend of mine, before he died, regretted he didn’t spend enough time with his family. More recently our young regional pastor sued for divorce and “abandoned” his young wife of about 3 years. Our conference seems to think he is a “good” person and pastor. Expectations of pastors can make the job hard but many of them are not good at balancing spiritual, family and work life. Many of them seem to be badly broken individuals in need of healing like all of us and not indivduals who are better than us. My mother"s father was a pastor but that didn’t make family life rosy

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Last year I had a friend I would take to a Thursday evening AA
meeting. Book Study time is when The Big Book is being read.
Someone reads several paragraphs. And then time for comments
before the next person reads.
This evening I discovered there were 3 pastor’s kids in the group.
Each one, to my amazement, shared identical stories. All 3 said they
had never found God until they came into AA. And now were
developing a relationship with Him.
It was just AMAZING hearing their stories.
A lot of times one can almost reach out and touch the Holy Spirit at
these meetings. Almost scary, being in a holy place at those times.

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Learning who you are at the earliest possible age is incredibly valuable and will help you make the important decisions ahead of you. I hope your parents have guided you based on your personal traits to find for yourself what is best for you. It sounds like you are working on it and have good common sense. Go with your gut feelings on this one.

Physicians cannot move around frequently or they will not have much of a career. Pastors have to move. These are incompatible professions for this reason alone, not to mention all the good reasons you’ve given for staying away.

My sister was the kind of girl who attracted theology majors in college—an education major. She had to beat them off with a stick. :slight_smile: For her, marriage to a pastor would have been especially disastrous as she has suffered from depression since adolescence and fortunately she did not go that way. She should have chosen another career while she was at it as being an SDA teacher is second only to being a pastor to having your life intruded on by “the church”.

The Adventist church has produced an especially toxic culture related to our pastors and their families. Popular culture acknowledges that being a pastor’s kid is hard, but from my exposure to other denominations I see that the SDA version is much worse and more damaging. I suppose it’s partly due to our insularity and our focus on outward appearances over inner growth.

Both my sister and I have attended other denominations and have remarked on how differently the pastors are seen and treated and how free their wives are in comparison to the traditional SDA pastor’s wife. It’s striking. If only the Adventist church was capable of learning from other groups and adopting their practices, but I think we all know that’s not gonna happen.

That being said, in the last 20 years I’ve noticed that SDA pastor’s wives seem to have more often rejected the traditional role, too. In the two churches I’ve attended in the last 20 years I’ve known 11 pastors (no women). Of those, 4 wives have been fairly traditional and 7 were not. Additionally, every pastor’s family with school age kids (4 families) homeschooled their children which totally removed them and their kids from the community. It worked well for them but not so well for the community. The need they have to protect the family from parishioners is easy to understand, but is still frustrating. I’ve also seen a number of pastors leave the profession after just a few years (4 of 8 who were young pastors have left the ministry—3 were older men and 2 retired as pastors). This is not something I saw nearly as much as a younger person.

I pity all new SDA pastors and wish they got the kind of support that other denominations offer. If they did perhaps this article wouldn’t ring as true.

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I doubt that PK issue has to do more with pastoral pressures as opposed to the internal dissonance that is structured around ultra-conserative narratives.

I’ve read this a while ago:

And while this seems to be extreme, this isn’t rare in terms of the broader range of dissonance that Fundamentalism narratives can cultivate and force children into these interpretations that they are not observing in their everyday experience.

My wife, for example, confessed that as a child she would wake up screaming with nightmares of Jesus returning and punishing her… largely because Jesus was a vehicle of corrective morality for how church was teaching children. So, if they did something wrong … they’d be told that they are dissupointed Jesus. And of course, if you put the eschatology in the mix, then the strings of wrong create a semantics in the brain that’s of constant anxiety and worry that has little to do with reality.

Naturally, PKs and pastors are also held to the higher standard, and it’s a cycle which forces pastors to be more strict for the sake of reputation maintenance.

And that really exposes the false narrative of single pastor in charge of the church, which makes very little sense, given that the church is a community which requires broader range of egalitarian leadership.

There’s a good book by Frank Viola on this subject, called “Reimagining Church”, which argues that church should be an organic entity as opposed to enforced structure. I highly recommend it, since it correctly points out the broader root of most of the problems we see in the modern church.

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The great movie “Boy Erased” is based on part of your post. He is
gay, in late high school. His dad has a large car business and also
a lay preacher in their church. Dad sends him to a “change” program.
“Church advisors” to his parents are not helpful in a healthy way.
Not an easy film [story] to watch. but IS based on a true story.
The son finally finds a resolution to his “self” and with his Dad.
The mother had always been passive in the religious structure of
the family but finally becomes pro-active.
I see a lot of SDA-ism in the story, and it’s sad to see.

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I often wondered how it was for James White. Can you imagine being asked by your wife to throw the garbage because “I was shown?”

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Years into their marriage, James and Ellen did have a “rocky” experience.
Edson was a troubled person for a number of years. Finally got “saved” and
did a great work with his river boat work.

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Or shouting at you, “Shut the door, shut the door!” …:roll_eyes::innocent:

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When you read secular historians of the White’s rise to SDA stardom a theme that emerges is one of physical, mental and emotional abuse. Often this is only applied to James White but Ellen was a passive aggressive player. Withholding certain marriage obligations in exchange for power and control. The SDA church wouldn’t dare subject her to that bright of a light. Supporters such as Jeremy and Cliff are needed to keep the loop closed and controlled.

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C –
Have any of you read books on the Kennedy Family? Years ago in a
small hospital I was working one of the nurses brought one. I got
looking through it talking about Father and Mother Kennedy. At the
Catholic school she attended, the nuns said “sex was only for
procreation”. So she only allowed it for making a kid. Deprived her
husband who found other “ways”. As soon as the boys were old
enough he would take them with him so his “friends” could teach
them the “hows”.
Seeing that, I wondered about Ellen. If she was programmed with the
same Victorian ideas as the Catholic nuns with James.
When one reads her materials, one sees this in her writings where she
is SO AFRAID of what she calls “ANIMAL PASSIONS”.
The NATURAL sexual responses God created in the 1st Humans being
passed down to the 19th, 20th, 21st century Humans.
She and Messages to Young People also made a big issue of “secret sinning”.

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I have read a bunch of books covering everything from Papa Joe and his bootlegs to little Teddy and his not so subtle attempt to avoid a manslaughter charge over the Mary Jo accident. There was this one book about “sins of the father” which btw was not the title of the book but it was about how certain American families like the Kennedys, Bush’s and Rockerfellers influenced not just Wall Street but many foreign countries, religions and those generations that were effected.

Family power and control has been a bit of a theme for the SDA church hasn’t it.

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Yes. Family money decimated the Theology Dpt at Southern in '82,'83.
And toppled the very good President there.
a number of those theology teachers were harmed for life, and are
no longer SDA, and teach Theology elsewhere.
If the truth were known, I am sure money has influenced many places
in the SDA church.

It probably turned out to be a huge blessing for some of these former SDA teachers.

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I don’t believe so. They were Excellent teachers.
Their SIN – teaching from the Bible ONLY, not using any EGW
writings in the class or homework.
One of their wives was my lab partner when I was finishing a
BS in nursing there. Was sad!

I’m not following. What did “I don’t believe so” refer to?