Wanted: women to work full time for no pay at their husbands' office. Long hours. Frequent relocation required. Must be polite and understanding at all times.
Thousands of women -- driven by love and devotion to God and their families -- work at this job, that of a minister's wife.
But the strain of loneliness, financial struggles and heavy church demands can sap the joy from their marriages. A study by Hartford (Conn.) Seminary researchers, published in the 1998 book "Clergy Women: An Uphill Calling," found the divorce rate among male ministers was 19 percent.
Some ministers' wives are now turning to their denominations and each other to help cope with their heavy burdens.
Seminaries are holding leadership training courses and retreats for women. Pastors' wives are writing newsletters and starting Web sites to share the challenges and rewards of their work.
"There are many things that a wife, if she does not have a sense of calling, might become bitter about," said Teresa Brown of Charlotte, N.C., a minister's wife for 26 years. "There are a lot of times that I have to understand that his major obligation is to serve his God. That has left me alone many nights."
Marriages once provided one of the few chances for religious women, barred from ordination, to serve their church directly.
But their role also came with drawbacks. Wives felt they were expected to dress perfectly, volunteer for every committee and stay silent about church demands on their husbands.
Ruth Stanley was 20 when she met her husband, Otis, at Bible school. At their first church congregants watched her closely -- one woman counted the different dresses Stanley had worn to services.
"I found it difficult living in the fishbowl atmosphere," said Stanley, 58, whose husband is now superintendent of the Assemblies of God Southern New England District. "I felt that everything I said and did was observed and questioned."
Jill Briscoe, chief editor of "Just Between Us," a magazine for pastors' wives, said loneliness usually is the top problem for her readers, as women relocate with their husbands and struggle to find time to make friends.
"I felt very lonely," said Meredith Sheppard, a minister's wife from Menlo Park, Calif. "Suddenly, I couldn't just relate to my friends and share with them my struggles and problems because suddenly my husband was their pastor."
Ruth Bell Graham, wife of globe-trotting evangelist Billy Graham, wrote in her book "Footprints of A Pilgrim" that during their frequent separations she slept with Graham's tweed jacket for company.
Other concerns range from gaining access to health care, since many ministers don't earn enough to get medical coverage, to balancing church and family needs, Briscoe said.
In addition to her duties with the church, Brown took several jobs over the years to help support her family. Her husband, Joe, now senior pastor at Hickory Grove Baptist Church, made as little as $12,000 at one posting in a Kentucky coal town.
But spouses have more support than in days gone by, partly from each other.
The Pastors Wives Web site (http://www.pastorswives.org) offers advice on everything from recipes to coping with depression. Another site, www.sarahstent.com, provides prayer rooms, support groups and an e-mail newsletter.
Some ministers' wives, including Sheppard -- whose husband Paul is pastor at the Abundant Life Christian Fellowship -- produce newsletters to share their experiences. (Hers is called "Wives in Touch.")
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has a Seminary Wives Institute, which offers courses on topics ranging from church history to fitness. Blue Mountain College, a Christian college in Mississippi, is among the many schools with support groups for women married to ministers.
Still, the pressures remain, especially in smaller, poorer churches which rely heavily on the minister's family to help with social problems as well as spiritual ones.
"I'm always telling young women in seminaries, 'Don't expect your husband to be at home to put our children to bed,"' said Briscoe, whose minister husband, Stuart, traveled for years establishing overseas missions. "We expect to be able to live as a 'normal' family. But the ministry family, by nature, isn't a normal life."
On the Net:
Southern Baptist Women's Ministry: http://www.lifeway.com/leader--wm.asp
Ruth Stanley: http://www.sned-agnetwork.com/districthq/minwives.shtml
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