When our Greek-heritage parish secretary referred to me, soon after our 1994 arrival at my husband’s parish, as ‘the Presbytera’– and then explained that term’s meaning in Orthodox churches– I recognized the feelings I’d had since undertaking to marry my Episcopal priest husband…. that sense of the ordained one’s conferred holiness extending through the wife (because we are mystically one).
Last night, we spouses of clergy attending the annual Diocesan renewal of ordination vows were invited to reflect, in parallel, with our vow-renewing spouses, about vows we had taken. What a timely opportunity to take stock! Here’s what I journalled.
1. “What are significant vows you have taken in your life?
I very intentionally married a man, a family, a parish, and a vocation, in one casual but very swell foop. There was a strong, definite sense of Call about this, which our wedding invitations spelled out from us both. Thus our wedding was added to a regular Sunday 10AM service. (The reception? A dancing coffee hour!)
All these vocational thoughts were in my mind as my lips spoke our vows more than 23 years ago. They support me well when I must yield our personal time– or sleep– to pastoral emergencies. They fill me as I help comfort bereaved families. They offer boundaries in what I may– and may not– share of my husband’s ministries. They encourage me when I don’t want to load that dishwasher AGAIN.
2. “How are the vows of ordination similar/different?”
How I experience my vocation in the above regard is that anything done under my husband’s direction and in partnership with his Call, large or small, is Holy, and must be kept Holy
3. “What are the struggles and the joys …. in living into your vocation?
Joys– so many, all attached in my memory to individusl faces at special moments. What they have in common is intimacy with God and His people through the Holy Spirit, as She directs my attention and actions, especially in what, for most people, are their most private moments and transitions. What is discerned and done at these times is often startlingly vivid, handled with an infinite sense of restraint and care, and beyond words adequate in description.
These moments frequently lead to ‘Gospel tears’ as I call them– when ‘the heart is too small’ and the ‘Grace too big.’ In these moments, a mystical boundary opens for whatever the duration of need dictates; keeping it Holy means easily letting go of whatever temporary role I was briefly Called to play, as that boundary tightens back up to exclude me once more. And blessing the people strengthened by whatever brief time in their journey I was blessed to share.
Struggles– HEALTH (physical and emotional), for self and family; parish and Diocese. INJUSTICE, as our euro-heritage human family creeps forward so very slowly… while precious persons die of our injustice. PATIENCE, which came to me pretty late in life. SELF-DENIAL/DEPRIVATION, at times not of my choosing. TRANSITIONS in diocesan roles/ministries (everyone’s). SPOUSAL LEADERSHIP/FELLOWSHIP never consistent, enough, or appropriate (particularly with our far-northern post only recently beginning to be embraced ‘down-Diocese’). TIME, and the inevitable consequences of necessary prioritization.
A 4th question I considered as I took stock, now in my semi-retirement: “Where have you seen Jesus in all this?
The usual answers (Cross, prayer, Sacraments, worship), but also these perhaps-less-usual: Community. Spiritual Gifts (everyone’s). Holy-Spirit-timing/direction/affirmation. Time. Growth.
A 5th question– the future?
Retirement! For me, this already includes continued Anti-Racism ministry in the Diocese to which we will retire.
Reference text: Presbytera: The Life, Mission, and Service of the Priest’s Wife