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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ask the Matriarch - Calling and Family

Our question this week is quite specific, but it hits on broader issues that many of us have to grapple with at one time or another. Might you have some insight for our colleague? Read on...

My situation is this: I was told of a job that sounds good for me -- my interests, gifts and experience fit it well and it combines pastoral work with chaplaincy. The initial response to my application was quick and very positive. However, it is over an hour commute (with traffic) and though the hours are flexible, I would be away from home about 3 nights a week, plus weekends and taking a turn at on call. The pay isn't bad for pastoral work. There is the option of a parsonage/apartment. My spouse is well-established in a great job, and our youngest will be a senior in high school. We own our own home (or it owns us).

The decision is difficult since moving (i.e. to the parsonage) would take our youngest out of her well-established niche, a place where she is happy and thriving, and move her to a less desirable high school. The commute would likely kill my old faithful SUV after about a year of that much mileage. (Not to mention the gas money! YIKES) And the organization would like us to worship as a family with them, something that my family is not excited about changing at this point. Even a year from now, when Youngest Child is off to college, it would be a hard choice.

I came into my Call well into my marriage and family years... so their concerns are not without merit (i.e. this was not part of our life together from the start) and I am hesitating. I'm definitely pulled towards this job...

Any thoughts?


kathrynzj writes:
I fully realize that my response here should be one of reflective listening and perhaps offering resources on discernment and certainly encouragement to pray and discuss these things with your family and God and your family and God some more. BUT, to be more blunt, I think your second paragraph answers the question. 3 strikes and this opportunity is OUT (1-moving senior from high school, 2 - commute that will void salary and family time, 3 - worship commitment)!

At the same time I hear your as you describe being 'pulled' towards this job. Certainly there is room for figuring out what it is that pulls you towards it (interesting that it does so even with the weeknights, weekends and on-call time). Is it possible this job opportunity opens up an avenue to talk with your spouse about what is 'next' once youngest moves out of the nest?

Prayers for you and yours as you attempt to hit that Call/family/personal  balance that all of us strive for.

I (earthchick) am with Kathryn! I personally couldn't conceive of pursuing a call that would be this disruptive to my family and my life. Even though my call came well before family and marriage, it does not somehow trump that part of my life. To me, there are too many red flags on this one. It sounds like it would be ideal "if only" - if only every other major part of your life (spouse, child, house, car, worship) were not an obstacle. I like Kathryn's suggestion that you might consider this an opportunity to explore with your husband what might be next. This has obviously triggered a yearning in you - how might you listen to that yearning without necessarily attaching it to this particular opportunity?

We did not hear from other matriarchs this week, but we would to hear from you! What counsel would the rest of you offer to our sister? Please join us in the comments section. And as always, we welcome your questions at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com. The queue is empty, so now is a great time to send your questions our way!


  1. Your call to your family is a life-long commitment. No call to a job will be life-long. There will be other ministry positions. There will be not be another chance to enjoy your child's senior year!

  2. I'm sorry I couldn't get an answer in on this one, earthchick. I would echo all the thoughts above. Further, if your spouse will not be willing to attend a church where you may someday be called (and it sounds like that is what you're saying, although it may just be this particular church/organization that is the issue), that's something you need to reach agreement on together, then have a firm stand when you negotiate a covenant with a calling church. You're not a 25-year-old man with a 23-year-old wife with no ties. You're a grown-up woman with a family whose church ties are established. An unwillingness to break those ties is a significant discernment issue for your family unit.
    More personally, when it looked like there would be no jobs in my area two years ago, I interviewed all over the place. My situation was different; I'm long-divorced from the father of my children. But we still had to discuss what would happen if I moved and work out a plan together. In the end we were spared the decision, but it was a good though difficult exercise.
    Lastly, while I hear what mamaS is saying, I've also been the parent of a young person who went away to music school for 11th and 12th grade, so far from home that I didn't get to see or hear all the things he did. Moving/changing schools doesn't kill kids; going to prom without your parents taking the pictures doesn't either. I'm more concerned in your scenario about the general climate of disagreement of purpose and frustration for you as well as the red flag about worship, if that in fact is a demand/requirement as opposed to a hope on the part of the calling organization.

  3. Alison-in-FranceJune 21, 2012 at 8:55 AM

    If you are still drawn despite all the red flags, is there a time-based compromise? A year of commuting, followed by the option of moving if the commute is too much? A year of living in the new place while daughter and spouse stay in the old one, followed by a move either to the new place or a place half way for the two of you? Do the calling organisation like you enough to wait a year for you? I think it really depends if its "just" the logistics (because logistics can always be worked around), or if the logistics are a symptom of a deeper concern.

  4. I just want to offer another perspective as one whose journey has been different from that of the others who have answered so far. In my life *not* moving and changing family circumstances has never been an option. It was that way when I was growing up and it has been that way in my adulthood; my father was transferred several times for his job; I was a military wife for a while with all the moves that entails; and I had to move for grad school, academic job, seminary, and ministry calls. So I know that families can move and have things work out well; kids and spouses adjust, and often the new location turns out to provide wonderful opportunities not imagined before.

    All that said, moving a high school senior is REALLY hard, and perhaps that is a barrier too high to breach. And your family's willingness to participate in worship with you is also important; clearly you don't want to be in the position of forcing them to do something they are really unhappy about.

    But is there a compromise position such as Alison is suggesting? I hear you saying that commuting would be difficult, but I also hear a very strong sense of call to this position, and just as it might seem unfair to uproot your family it might also be unfair to completely disregard that call. Would the organization compromise about your family joining them for worship? Would attending occasionally be an option?

    Finally, if the tables were turned and it was your husband who was offered a new position with the same constraints, would your answers be any different? Looking at it from that perspective might help you both consider how you proceed for this call or future ones.

  5. I am not a Matriarch, but I am surprised/shocked that an employer can decide where your family worships. You worshipping in the congregation/agency where you are in ministry is fine, but surely your family are not part of the deal. does this mean they would not offer the position to a single person?

  6. Thanks for all the good comments, all. You have raised some great questions for our colleague to consider - and for anyone considering a move that has major ramifications for their family.

    A Pearl Downunder, that's a great question! It's been an interesting assumption that churches have long seemed to have - that when they get a pastor, they also get that pastor's family. In previous eras, that often meant they got an unpaid pastoral assistant in the form of the wife! But you would think in this day and age they couldn't legally stipulate such a requirement.

  7. I was wondering if I was the only one who thought that was unreasonable--there are so few reasons I think it would be within a church's purview to require/expect the family to come to worship. I mean, that's often an unwritten expectation, I know, but to have it out there spoken/written? When we called a new pastor here we constantly reminded people that it's the family's choice whether or not to participate--we are calling just the pastor, not also his family. (and the family has been involved to varying degrees, but not to the extent the previous pastor's family was..and that's okay!) What if you were a clergy couple? What if you were a single person? What if your spouse worked weekends? etc??? It does not seem okay to me that they can say your family needs to be there with you. Sounds like they have a church home already, and unless it really is part of your JOB, and you are all compensated accordingly, they just can't be required to change churches for a job. That's my two cents, anyway.

  8. I'm late, I'm late -- I wanted to respond to this on vacation, but the iphone and my typing skills combined = no way. But for what it's worth, I want to offer my experience:

    My church call is 1.5 hours from my home, where my husband, adult son and, until a month ago, adult daughter live(d). I go down to my church twice a week and stay over 1-3 nights. I guess I have five comments:

    Do not underestimate the rigor of the driving. It's exhausting, and the nights away from family add to the sense of tiredness and isolation. (As an aside: tax problems! Having both a primary residence that you own and a manse (which I rent, because of the text issues) creates its own set of complications.)

    From my husband: Do not underestimate the expense and rigor of a move. We have talked in a beginning sort of way about moving midway, but for him, going with the traffic into and from the city, it would be a much more difficult commute. (He takes a short train ride now.) My call is only 3/4 time and my congregation is elderly, so who knows what the future may bring and whether a move would make any sense at all. Up in the air.

    Take good care of your daughter's senior year. When my daughter, third and last of my children, was a senior, my stepmother was dying five hours away, so for much of the year I made that drive every third week-end -- navigating around the final soccer season, the final homecoming dance, the final musical, the final Christmas concert, the final play . . . . One of my sons went away to school for 11th and 12th grade, so I have seen both sides of that coin. It's a precious time for your relationship with that soon-to-be-adult child.

    No one in my immediate family has the slightest interest in church, and I made it clear at the outset that they would seldom be in evidence. When they come, my congregation is thrilled and hospitable, but it has no expectations beyond the occasional visit. That would have been a deal-breaker from either side, but it would be the case if my church were on the next corner.

    And finally: No one could be more surprised than I that my call is to a rural church far, far away, but, other than the distance, it's a wonderful call for me and I think my congregation feels the same way. I do spend a considerable amount of time thinking about how to restructure the situation so I don't burn out from the driving, but I love my people and my work. If that looks to be the promising case for you, I'd say maybe give it that year's try while your daughter finishes school, and then see where you are.

  9. That was supposed to say TAX issues, not TEXT issues. LOL! We can see where my mind is.


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