A handful of churches around the country have called an ordained married couple to lead them as a team ministry. They provide a contrast to other groups, whose squabbles over the proper role of a pastor's wife gurgle around the edges of waterfall-sized battles over whether women should be clegy in the first place.
Two such pioneering couples are the Revs. David and Beverly Bumbaugh, who are copastors of the Mount Vernon Unitarian Church in Alexandria, and the Revs. James and Margee Adams, who share the ministry of the Rockville Presbyterian Church in Rockville.
". . .Some wags have referred to certain areas of our church life as a mom-and-pop operation . . ." wrote Berverly Bumbaugh to her congregation last October.
Fortunately, a strong sense of humor is evident in both ministerial couples. They each have four children, and both couples say they have had their hard times adjusting to their nontraditional roles in their marriages and in their churches.
But both are quick to point out that the hardest thing was convincing other church people to accept their unusual professional life-styles.
"We're shared the ministry as a family for 21 years," said David Bumbaugh, smiling at his wife across the study they now share. Their desks face each other.
"But I wanted to be ordained and make it official," added Beverly Bumbaugh. "The first thing I did was apply to Intermet (a training group that died last year). But they were training parish ministers, and I said I was going to share with David, so they turned me down.
"The next problem was convincing people that I was serious, that I was not riding his coattails. But none of these problems was insurmountable. And, now, the only problem, that of being a woman in a man's world, is only evident outside this church."
David Bumbaugh has been the pastor at Mount Vernon for the last eight years. Beverly Bumbaugh's partnership with him had to be unofficial, as the "pastor's wife," until her ordination last Sunday. But internally, the congregation members have considered her one of their ministers since June. She was their minister-intern when she began studying three years ago.
"My becoming David's copastor has been unfolding over a long time, both between us and this congregation," said Beverly Bumbaugh.
Now that it's official, David Bumbaugh was asked what problems he had in adjusting to the new status. "I don't feel nearly as much pressure to be able to be all things to all people. I'll be able to admit openly that she is stronger in some areas where I'm weak," he said.
"I have to deal with my conscience. There are things I hate to do. I don't want to start dropping them on her," he continued.
"That won't be a problem," laughed Beverly Bumbaugh.
The couple negotiated the new arrangment with the church body by agreeing to accept one salary for two people doing one pastor's job.
When asked if there is a difference in the check now that she has been taken on as copastor, Beverly Bumbaugh said, "Yes, the check is now made out to David and Beverly Bumbaugh."
She added that the new arrangement is supposed to "make room for moonlighting." She often travels to tiny Unitarian groups sprouting up in western Maryland that can't afford a pastor, but said she "can't imagine accepting a call to pastor may own church; I need the support this ministry gives me."
The Adamses met at Union Theological Seminary and were struck by the potential for the ministry they saw in one another. But it never occurred to them to work in the same church. "We never questioned the traditional roles in those days. I went on to become an (unordained) education minister," said Margee Adams.
She was ordained in June, 1976, 11 years after her husband, and after a long career mostly separate from his that included being an education minister under other pastors, directing the Pittsburgh student YWCA, and consulting on Christian education.
Her ordination came because she wanted to be qualified to teach the sacraments, such as communion and baptism, which must be taught by the ordained.
"People do not consider education in the church a ministry," she said. "I know it is. I have invested much time in convincing people how important this is."
The decision was made after a "difficult" period in their lives. They were living in Columbia, Md., four years ago because for the first time, they had moved to an area so that Margee Adams could accept a job she wanted. She became education consultant to the Baltimore presbytery.
"That meant that I had to come to this area unemployed," James Adams explained. "I called various churches in the area who didn't have a pastor and offered to fill in. Then in September 1975 and I was called to be pastor here in Rockville."
The former education minister at Rockville Presbyterian resigned near the time Margee Adams was to be ordained. She applied for the job along with others and the church committee named her to the post more than a year ago. ". . .It was a whole new world to call the minister's wife," said James Adams.
"From the time I met Jim I was convinced that I wanted to share a ministry with him. It really felt different to be able to celebrate the Lord's supper with him after all those years of sitting in a pew," she said.
The Adamses made a comparison between their former and present lives: "Our whole existence is bound up in a whole piece of fabric now, instead of little pieces of fabric when we had separate churches. It is important for us not to shred this cloth," Margee Adams said.
"Yes, it feels good to have one . . . We deal with each other as whole people now," he added.