She taught Sunday school, directed the choir, led women's groups and could be found primly dressed in "her" seat at every worship service. She was the last-minute substitute for any job at all.

Her children were expected to behave better than other children. She never got angry, and cigarettes and liquor never crossed her lips. Although she lent a confidential and sympathetic ear to others' problems, she never burdened them with her own.

She was not a candidate for sainthood; she happened to be married to the minister or rabbi.

Today, those expectations of her role are fast becoming things of the past because the social changes and economic pressures that catapulted women into the job market have made congregations far more tolerant of clergy wives' independent careers and ambitions.

That new freedom is almost universally welcomed by clergy wives, many of whom report that their husbands are their greatest supporters. But it also means a delicate and sometimes difficult balancing act as they deal with their families, careers, the special demands of a clergyman's life and the remnants of the old expectations.

The number of clergy wives working outside the home has grown so dramatically over the last 15 years that social groups like "Ministers Missus," which meet during the day, are on the verge of extinction.

The other side of the coin, however, is that some find themselves badly overextended."I've known several ministers' wives who broke themselves trying to be super mom, super volunteer and earn a wage," said Marcie Bullock, a part-time secretary and the wife of a suburban Baptist minister. "One ended up walking away from the ministry and her family completely."

"My husband works until nine or ten at night a lot," said Donna Martin, wife of a Church of Christ minister. "Saturday, he's usually intensely involved in his sermon. Sunday, of course, is his big day."

"He's a workaholic," said Anna Hathaway, who is married to an Episcopal priest in Springfield. "But I suspect he'd spend as much time even at a secular job."

Ann Hall, a teacher married to a Presbyterian minister, uses her husband's schedule to the family's advantage. "He doesn't punch a time clock," said Hall. "When the children were small he'd come home for lunch, and, unlike other fathers, he was able to attend their daytime school functions. When things slow down in the summer, we spend a lot of time together."

Sara Hoffman, daughter of a physician and wife of an Arlington Presbyterian minister, said clergy wives face many of the same expectations as doctors' wives or military wives. "It's hard to become impatient with my husband when I remember my own father, who had to work nights and every holiday as long as I can remember."

Outdated expectations may be on the way out, but they're definitely not all gone, according to the women. They occasionally creep into even the most liberal congregations.

"I know a lot of times when I'm not at social functions, my husband gets little digs like, 'Gee, where's Shulamith?' or 'I thought you'd bring your wife,'" said Shulamith Elster, a high school principal, college instructor and wife of an Alexandria rabbi.

"Once when my husband was interviewing for a position, I was told to come along," said a secretary who is married to an Episcopal priest. "The woman from the church took me out to lunch . . . and I know she was testing me to see if I knew how to act in public."

At one church, a coworker of Hazel McArthur "came by the house to tell me it wasn't respectable for the minister's wife or children to dance. I told them I will decide what is respectable for my children, and they went to all their school dances.

"When I stopped wearing a hat to church years ago, some of the ladies sent a committee to me to tell me to start wearing a hat again," said McArthur, who is married to a Methodist minister. "They said the Bible tells women to cover their heads." McArthur refused to give in and was supported by her husband, "and soon they forgot about it."

Hardly a Saturday passes without a wedding or shower in some congregations, and a clergyman's wife gets a lot of invitations. "There are some times when I'd rather stay home with my small children," said Donna Martin, wife of a Church of Christ minister. "But unless I have a great excuse, I feel obligated to attend.

"If my 5-year-old ran in the foyer, they'd say, 'There goes the preacher's kid,'" said Martin. "They'd never say that about someone else's child."

It's hard to be yourself with members of the congregation even at social functions, said Hoffman. "You're still there on a professional basis."

Clergy wives have devised various ways to dispel or cope with such pressures.

"My personal belief is the clergyman's wife can either buy into those expectations the congregation has or make some statement to them about her interests and the things that are important to her," said Elster.

"I'm at services every Saturday with my children and I speak occasionally at sisterhood meetings when it's a topic in which I have expertise. I'm active in the congregation, but I decide what I will do and it's not always in terms of what is best for my husband's career."

"Times have changed . . . I wouldn't be caught dead in the minister's wife's seat in the front of the church with my little pillbox hat," said Muriel Gregory, a third-year law student and wife of a prominent Baptist minister who is referred to at her church as "The First Lady," a courtesy extended to some pastors' wives.

"The role of a clergyman's wife has a lot to do with the makeup of the congregation itself," said Mary Ellen Lowe, a school teacher and wife of a Methodist minister.

"It has to do with the expectations that have built up over the years, what the previuos minister's wife did, their age and education, and the roles of the women in the congregation.

"Generally the more educated the congregation is, the less restricted you are."

Being the wife of a minister or rabbi can bring with it unique joys and benefits, according to the women.

"It's the only job I know of in which the husband and wife can work side by side," said Hathaway. "You share your life together with a closeness that is hard to come by.

"You can see the results of the work you do.You get to see whether the lives you worked with are put back together or not . . . not like teachers who never know the results of their efforts."

Another said: "There are hardly two days that are the same."

Gregory, taking yet another tack, said, "I feel honored that he chose me. It's nice to be married to someone who has a fairly good public image."

"I think what I love most is that you have a built-in community of people who really care about you and want to share their lives with you," said Elster. "When my sister moved here it took her months to make new friends, but we had this ready-made community which couldn't wait to meet us and see what we were like.

"I've seen a tremendous outpouring of love in our congregation."

Some clergy wives continue to take on mammoth obligations in their congregations. But unlike their predecessors, they choose to dedicate their lives to the church or synagogue; the decision is not forced upon them.

"There's a certain sense of a calling in being a minister's wife," said Mary Small, wife of a Baptist minister and herself a seminary graduate with a master's degree in religious education.

"Most of us are in this because we want to be. We knew what we were getting into and we went into it with our eyes open," she said.

"It's satisfying to serve God and feel you're part of the plan He has for changing things," said Hathaway, whose husband will be installed as a bishop soon. "I look at the lives of some of my friends who have come to feel fairly hopeless about life. But to me things get better the more life goes on."

"One of the things I love about his job is I get to know the people he's with and I gain a lot from that," said Mary Ann Kelley, wife of an Adelphi Unitarian minister. "I don't think you would have that opportunity as a doctor or lawyer's wife."

Clergymen obviously don't go into it for the money and the wives recognize that, but some said that salaries of local Protestant ministers, which generally range from the low teens to the high 20s, can bring complications.

While some have no complaints about money, others must make do with second-hand furniture, learn to live with faulty plumbing and desperately search out scholarships for college-bound children.

"Our son's starting salary after college was what my husband's salary has grown to be after 22 years in the ministry and seven years of formal training," said Bullock.

Several rabbis' wives said they feel financially secure and that, in general, rabbis are better paid than ministers.

Another potential problem facing clergy wives is flirtatious women.

"They [clergymen] have a lot of young women crying on their shoulders after being faced with widowhood or breakups," said Bulock. "After hours and hours of talking, it's easy for someone to develop a bond. I've seen it happen several times."

All clergy men are faced with "women's overtones and some succumb to it," said Hathaway. "I think a lot of clergymen get trapped. I know about three ministers who got divorces over it.

"Most of the women who throw themselves at ministers aren't emotionally stable. They've got the idea they're going to sleep with God. If a minister gets trapped, it can be devastating to his career; congregations don't stand for that. My husband always mentions that in seminary courses he teaches."

The parsonage, or congregation-owned home for the minister or rabbi, isn't always a blessing, according to some women interviewed.

"The house is very nice but we're not building up any equity," said Kelley. "Our home is considered part of my husband's salary, so in reality the ministers who live in the house are buying the church a home."

"When we retire in 12 years this will be a big drawback . . . we'll have to move. It's something that I'm very aware of and recognize that someday soon I'm going to have to deal with the problem.

"But for now, I'm not worrying about it."

All things considered, though, most clergy wives seem to agree with Kelley, who said: "In one sense it has been very hard, but the rewards have been so great that I wouldn't trade it for anything."