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Thursday, August 08, 2013

Ask the Matriarch: What to Tell Them

This week we hear from a pastor doing good work on her personal life and trying to do it right with the congregation, too:

My fiancé and I are engaged to be married in October. The pastoral charge I serve has already booked my time off, and are super supportive and excited about it. Thing is, certain things have been coming up in my relationship with my fiancé, and I'm beginning to realize that October is too soon to get married. We have issues that need to be dealt with first, and three months aren't very long to work through these things, although we have started. What I want above all is a happy, healthy relationship, and only to get married when it feels right (read: when I'm excited rather than worried). We've been talking about postponing the wedding. That in and of itself, I can deal with. I also know the proper channels to work through when it comes to telling the congregation. What I need help with is what to tell the congregation. I don't know now if our issues are able to be managed/resolved or not. That said, I don't necessarily want the congregation to know that, although I imagine just the fact that we will be postponing the wedding is enough to get them thinking it. Have any of you gone through this before? Do you have any words of wisdom around sharing the pertinent information, etc?

Thank you,
A concerned fiancée and pastor

Our matriarchs are concerned for you as much as for what you tell your congregation. Read on.

Dear Smart Fiancee and Pastor,

I applaud your wisdom in knowing that you need to take the time to work on issues before you get married.  Not everyone is willing to do that for fear of the consequences and the chatter that will inevitably happen.

My inclination at this point would be to write a letter to the congregation which would be sent by regular mail.  I would thank them for their previous support.  Tell them that the two of you have decided to postpone your wedding at this time.  Ask for their prayers and remind them that this is a deeply personal issue and you know that they will respect your privacy at this time.  (You might tell them if you are receiving pastoral care and counsel, but even that detail is simply none of their business.  However it might lessen their fussing over you.)

If someone asks questions, stick with the same strategy:  thank them for caring, ask for prayers and shut it down.  You don't owe them any more explanation than that.  You deserve to have the space you need around this issue.

God's blessings on these coming weeks and months.

Heidi aka RevHRod

Dear Concerned F and P,

First, how wise of you to hold off until you feel more certain. You have my prayers as you navigate this shoreline and decide whether to land or not.

Where the congregation is concerned, keep it simple. "We are postponing the wedding. I will let you know when there is more calendar information to share. I will/will not (whichever suits you best) be taking the time off in October." Yes, they will likely ruminate on this news. Some may even discuss it. Be prepared to smile sweetly when a prying question is asked and say something like, "I will let you know when there is anything more to share."

Meanwhile, look for the support you need outside your pastoral charge. Be sure you have friends or mentors or family members you trust who will listen for the truth of the situation rather than reflexively campaigning for a wedding or a break-up.

That's more than you asked for; I hope things become clearer for you.

Martha at Reflectionary

We have several questions lined up to be answered, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't send yours. Just email it to


  1. I wonder about adding a sentence in the announcement to the congregation, saying "This postponement is a good decision for us/our relationship." The addition of a positive statement provides assurance to concerned congregants (still without detail!), and implicitly averts any inclination by congregants to take sides in the relationship.

  2. Good advice, all of it. There is something else under the surface just a little bit, here, that I'd like to pull up -- they ARE going to talk about it. It is a difficult thing, in some ways, to accept that the people among whom we minister talk about us when we are not present. It can also be difficult to accept that they do NOT talk about us or even think about us at EVERY WAKING MOMENT of the day. I really like what Anthony Trollope said about this (in "Barchester Towers")(and if you haven't read it, now's the time) -- "Mr. Arabin [his character] little dreamed that he was the subject of so many friendly or unfriendly criticisms. Considering how much we are all given to discuss the characters of others, and discuss them often not in the strictest spirit of charity, it is singular how little we are inclined to think that others can speak ill-naturedly of us, and how angry and hurt we are when proof reaches us that they have done so. It is hardly too much to say that we all of us occasionally speak of our dearest friends in a manner which those dearest friends would very little like to hear themselves mentioned; and that we nevertheless expect that our dearest friends shall invariably speak of us as though they were blind to all our faults, but keenly alive to every shade of our virtues."
    I second the advice already given about having your sweet smile and your deflecting response ready in advance! It lessens the stress a LOT.

    1. Eileen, your Trollope quote is spot on. Thank you.

  3. I meant to reply/ answer this on Thursday. But life kind of got in the way. So here I am on Saturday afternoon, having just finished the sermon.
    This was me two years ago.
    The circumstances are different, but I had to do the whole, I'm sorry to say that Alastair and I are postponing our wedding.
    Our circumstances are different (he has had hideous problems getting his not quite ex yet wife to settle. So as he isn't divorced. We cannot be amrried). Two years on, and still the lawyers wrangle (the only ones winning in this) and still we do not have a wedding date.
    almost every week, someone will say to him or me, "So just WHEN are you two getting married"
    we have perfected the sweet smile
    we have a simple response
    we both say the same thing
    in effect we tell them nothing, but they have yet to cotton on!
    Because it really isn't their business, even though they love you like family and feel that it is.
    Yours is of course a very different circumstance, and you are wise to take time
    a wedding day can happen any time
    a marriage is a lifetime - and for us pastors it is on public view the whole time
    You both need to take time to be absolutely sure.
    As others have said, your folks will talk about you, but probably not as badly as you fear

    If your beloved is also attending your church, you and he need to come up with a response you are both happy with, and you simply need to repeat it.
    Tell your board/ session first - if that feels right. It was what I did - as a simple, statement of fact, without inviting questions.
    The congregation, who were all excited about the coming ceremony, we told piecemeal. I felt to make a pulpit announcemnet was to give it gravitas I did not want to add.

    Now, two years on, our answer is simple.
    We'll tell you when we know
    and you'll all be invited to witness it.

    and we make it clear that is the end of the discussion.

    1. Julie, thank you so much for sharing your hard-won wisdom.


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