A lot of people have a lot of opinions about the pastor’s wife. I wasn’t one of those people. Growing up Catholic, all I knew about the pastor’s wife was that our pastor couldn’t have one.
What I knew was this: in Protestant congregations, the woman behind the man behind the pulpit was a doggone pillar of support. That image was reinforced by the pastors’ wives in the news, the women married to big-name reverends who had committed some egregious sin. There she was, Mrs. Ted Haggard, her smile tight as a drum, still standing by her man.
Here are six things that surprised me about pastors’ wives.
1. Pastors’ wives don’t exactly always love their husband’s work. They support the calling, yes. Not so much the lousy pay, the endless hours, and the nosy, demanding congregants. In fact, many wish that their husbands would choose a different profession.
2. Respect? Ha. Queen of the congregation? Hardly. Being married to the pastor doesn’t translate to the same reverence. They call it “life in the fishbowl,” their every choice scrutinized by church members: clothing (too cheap/expensive), hairstyle (too frumpy/hip), make of car (it really should be American). Many pastors’ wives feel unappreciated and unaccepted by their church members.
3. Sex is on their minds. Far from chaste, the PWs I met at a weekend retreat in Wisconsin partook in lively and canded discussions about sex. “How to Satisfy Him” was one session; “Keeping Things Fresh Between the Sheets” was another. Just Between Us, a magazine for pastors’ wives, has run articles on porn addition among pastors and sexting.
4. Pastors’ wives work. Of course they work for the church—writing newsletters, organizing holiday pageants. But of the dozens of women I interviewed, most had part-time jobs outside the home, and some carried on full-time careers. One was an engineer; another managed a hospital. Most said their families needed the money, given the average pastor’s paltry pay. Others said it gave them a sense of worth and freedom.
5. Pastors’ wives love Twitter. Kay Warren, wife of Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren in Lake Forest, Calif.; Lois Evans, wife of Dallas’s Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship pastor Tony Evans; Lynne Hybels, wife of Bill Hybels and co-founder of Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, Ill. They all Tweet. Often, their Tweets consist simply of Bible passages, which are uniquely suited to the 140-character limit—and very easy to retweet.
6. Blogs are their not-so-secret outlet. Over the years, I’ve found and followed over a hundred blogs by women married to pastors. Many involve recipes, home-schooling tips and thoughts on faith. But some are irreverent and snippety. One I like by Jamie Wright is titled The Very Worst Missionary and is about “spreading Jesus faster than herpes.” Wives told me their blogs are their (usually anonymous) outlet free of judgment from their congregations. Amy Andrews turned her expertise in blogging into a business, a blog-tutorial website called Blogging With Amy. It’s so successful, her pastor husband quit his job to work for her.
Lisa Takeuchi Cullen is the author of Pastors’ Wives, a new novel from Penguin/Plume, and The Ordained, a 2013 CBS drama pilot. Previously, she was a staff writer for Time magazine. Readers can friend her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @lisacullen, or visit her website at www.lisacullen.com.