Throughout my research on clergy families, I encountered many stories illustrating how pastors and spouses weave work, family, and faith. One that stands out as particularly salient came from a pastor who described his view of ministry with the metaphor of a farm:
[W]hen I think of it as a system, I think of it as a farm. I don’t know farming personally but reading about it and imagining it as this complicated system of interactive parts that all help make a healthy whole, I think of that as our church and I think of that as our family, as it interacts with community. And that’s sort of the dominant metaphor. So we’re kind of part of this thing, when functioning well, actually helps life flourish in all areas. And the boundaries and the edges are, by design, rough.
This pastor’s description of farming and its rough edges is one I’ve repeatedly shared in writing, workshops, and elsewhere because it rings so true to people engaged in ministry. And while the metaphor is meant to highlight the way life can flourish even amid blurred boundaries–one of the themes of this blog–I also love this image because of the important role seasons play in farming.
In Chicago, the seasons are distinct, with hot, humid summers and polar vortex winters bookended by the shedding of leaves in the fall and the muddy, rainy new growth that comes with spring. While there are days when I ask myself why I still live here–typically a question I ponder while shoveling my car out of two feet of snow–I really do love seasons because they offer such a rich and fitting metaphor for the ebbs and flows of life. And as I learned in my research on clergy families, so much of weaving work, family, and faith follows the kinds of changes that come with the end of one season and the beginning of something new.
Seasons play out from year to year, from week to week, and even from day to day for clergy families. Emily, a pastor’s spouse who also works in a non-parish ministry role, shared how an especially challenging season sparked an intentional effort to rethink patterns and priorities for her family:
Early on when it was a harder transition, one of the biggest things that was helpful was that Travis started tracking his hours. And so instead of me saying “I can’t…” you know, “I’m so upset. This is frustrating,” blah, blah blah, it’s “Okay honey, you worked 70 hours for this week and that week and I’m feeling it because I’m exhausted with the kids” and all that kind of thing. So if he’s going to have a really crazy week or if he’s going to be going away or those kinds of things, we really work to kind of anticipate that and get some time before and after together. And he’ll try to give me a day to…we do what we call a day away with God.
Seasons of transition are a reality for clergy families, in this case Travis starting a new job with heavy demands on his time. But just as the leaves fall and the plants go dormant for the long, cold winter, eventually without fail, the snow melts and new growth emerges out of the muck.Moving through fall and preparing for winter is an opportunity to take stock of the seasonal changes in work, family, and faith. How do our integrated lives look different in a time of dormancy, and how do they evolve into new patterns of integration in a season of new growth? What are the markers of these seasonal changes, and how can we pay attention to them?
Lenore Knight Johnson