On being married co-pastors

IMG_4087This is a focused post about being a married couple who serves as co-pastors.  It’s pretty specific, and specifically Presbyterian in its language, so feel free to skip!  That being said…

For the third time this summer, my husband and I have been contacted by church people about being married co-pastors who share one clergy position*.  In no particular order of importance, here are some thoughts.


We have been serving this congregation for three years as co-pastors and co-heads of staff.  Prior to this call, my husband had served in executive work in the church, as an executive presbyter, and as an interim synod co-executive.  Prior to that, he was a lay member of a church staff and before that, a special education teacher.  Before taking this call, I had served in a variety of pastoral roles: associate pastor, interim pastor/head of staff, part-time interim co-pastor of a four-point parish, temporary supply solo pastor, part-time interim associate pastor.  All of which is to say that we had both served in a variety of roles in church work.

But then our child was going to be in school full-time, and I was itching for something more permanent, and my husband was ready for a different direction of ministry.  We agreed that we wanted to be pastors of a congregation.  We agreed that we did not want to serve two different churches.  We decided (and yes, discerned it as a call) to be co-pastors serving the same congregation.

We applied to twenty congregations, none of which was looking for co-pastors.  We heard back positively from two, one of which is the congregation we now serve.  We did file with the denomination’s matching system, which matched us twice, once with a three-point parish and once with a two-point parish.  Not what we were looking for.

Suggestions for couples looking to serve as co-pastors

1.  Do not rely on the denomination’s matching system.

2.  Be creative in your cover letter.  We used that as a way to extol our virtues without bragging – I wrote about my husband’s gifts for ministry and he about mine.  The cover letter is KEY.  Use it to (briefly) lay out how you would be co-pastors.

3.  Be clear about whether you would share one position and each be part-time or if you want more than that.

4.  Once you get your foot in the door, look at the church MIF and using the job description they provide, explain who would do what, and what you would both share.

5.  Be realistic about the hours you will work.  When we began serving, we were each half-time, and that meant for us each working about 30 hours per week, because some of those are overlap hours.  When we are both at a session meeting or leading worship or conducting a wedding or funeral, those are overlap hours.  It was our choice to share a position, and the church was not looking for two people.

6.  Be honest with each other about the state of your marriage.  If you are in a rocky place, serving as co-pastors is no way to strengthen your relationship.

7.  Be clear with the search committee about office space.  Most churches don’t have a spare office hanging around.  We shared one office for two years, which had its pluses and minuses.  Let the committee know if you are willing to share an office or if that’s a deal breaker – but wait until you’re into the process.

8.  Be clear with each other from the beginning about accountability and critique.  When is this person a spouse and when is this person a colleague?

9.  Leave domestic things in the domicile. Do not fight with each other at staff meetings, committee meetings, or for God’s sake, in worship.  Also, be aware that public displays of affection might make folks uncomfortable.  Never kiss each other at a staff meeting.  Trust me on that one.

10. Engage the services of a coach, counselor, or therapist to work with you both.  If this is the first time you’ve worked together, it will be really helpful to have a neutral third party who is not a part of the church to talk things over with.

Suggestions for committees considering clergy-couple co-pastors 

1.  Be open to the possibility; a blanket “we won’t consider a clergy couple” might keep you from looking at some great folks.

2.  Talk with congregations that have a clergy couple as their co-pastors, and ask good questions about how that’s working.

3.  If the couple has served together before, ask about that.  If they have not served together before, ask them how they envision dividing the work.

4.  While you cannot ask them direct questions about the state of their marriage, look for signs of the health.  Our PNC was impressed because we never interrupted each other.

5.  On the plus side:  when you call a clergy couple, you get a wider diversity of gifts.  You get two for one, even if each one is only part-time.  There are benefit benefits, too technical to explain here.  You get two personalities and working styles.  If the couple is heterosexual, you get a woman and a man.

6.  On the minus side, when you call a clergy couple you take some risks.  The marriage could end.  Family crises affect both pastors.  They usually take vacations together.  If it’s a staff situation, there are now two people in the authority position rather than just one; it could feel overwhelming for other staff members.  You might have to find a second  office.  You might like one better than the other but you’re stuck with both.

7.  If you do consider a couple, be clear with them about the time of the position.  Is it one position for two half-time people?  Is there room to expand – each become three-quarters time or full-time?

8.  If you do consider a couple, and if there is/are another pastor/pastors on staff, be clear from the beginning about things like the preaching schedule.  If there are two co-pastors and one associate, does the associate then preach less often?  Do the co-pastors share equally in preaching?  Who superivses whom on staff?

9.  Understand that this is a couple who will take vacations together and who may go on study leave together.  That’s fine and good.

10.  Generally speaking, be as clear as you can as you go deeper into the conversation and ultimately into a call about things.  The more clarity there is from the beginning -about time, roles, expectations, job descriptions, office, benefits, other staff members – the better.


So if you would like to talk more or if you’d like to talk with a member of our PNC or the congregation, send me a message.  My husband or I would be happy to share with you about our experience, which we love!  And we’re grateful to our congregation for taking a chance with us. It’s been a great dance so far!


*Last December, one of the two part-time associate pastors moved on to another call, so now my husband and I are both serving 2/3 time.

Morning Coffee

photo (5)I’m at our family place with most of my FOO (family of origin).  The house is big enough to hold all of us, though the septic tank gets a little cranky if we flush too often or shower too long.  It’s great to see everyone, to come back to this place where we have gathered most summers of my life, to raise glasses and share reader glasses and tell our stories to the younger generations.  It’s all good and harmonious – until we get to the  morning coffee.

We have four different ways of making morning coffee here, because none of us can agree on our Morning Foglifter (which is actually a Stumptown label that none of us has brought.)  My sister has her wee french press for her “stick-a-spoon-in-it-and-it-will-stand-on-its-own” coffee.  My parents have their own french press with special grinder for their strong-ish (emphasis on the “ish”) brew.  My brother and niece grind their own in the morning and brew it, half-decaf.  Me?  Well, last month I bought a Cuisinart 4-cup drip like the one I have at home, along with ground Peet’s French Roast, because the last thing I want to do before I’ve had my morning coffee is listen to a coffee grinder.  Least Favorite Sound. Ever.  It’s like the Fran Drescher of kitchen machines.

I try not to read too much into the whole coffee thing.  I try not to overanalyze the situation, not think that this is endemic of our familial inability to come together, to let go of our preferences and share in the common good, or the common ground, or the common grounds.  At dinner we all manage to share the same bottles of wine; why not morning coffee?

Truth be told, although most of us in my family are morning people there’s a limit to our morning-ness. We are up with the sun, but we don’t really want to engage with each other until we’ve been a little dosed with caffeine.  Maybe there’s grace in allowing each other our individual brews.  After all, my husband foregoes the coffee and reaches for the Diet Coke, and my sister-in-law is a confirmed tea drinker, and we love them.

When we would come to this place when I was little, at the old house where we stayed before my parents built their own place, there was one percolater.  Grandpa was usually up first, and the percolator was going, bubbling up in the glass lid-thing at the top.  If you were a coffee drinker, that’s what you drank in the morning – no french presses, no coffee grinders, just a good waking up to Folgers.  My grandfather, who had a magnificent, wry sense of humor, would laugh to see us these mornings.  But he would be glad we’re all up here, whatever we might be drinking.

So I raise my mug to him this morning, with gratitude for the gift of this place, and for my morning cuppa joe.

photo (4)



A-dreaming-person-008Last night I had a weird dream.  It wasn’t a nightmare, but it wasn’t a good dream either.  I dreamt that all the oxygen was running out, and soon everyone in the world would die.  Neither my husband nor my child was in the dream (thank goodness) but our dog was.  I remember wanting him to be near me when I died.  In the dream I was a little frantic and very, very sad, not only because I was going to die but because everyone was going to die.  And soon.

I woke up from the dream around 4am and was able to fall asleep again.  In that time between waking and falling back asleep, I started thinking about what I would do if the oxygen really was running out of the world.  Would I panic?  Would I break into a hospital or doctor’s office or scuba shop and steal oxygen?  Would I try to get on the good side of some conspiracy theorist who had a bunker stocked with oxygen just in case this scenario played out?  I went back to sleep and this time dreamt about being in NYC with college friends, so evidently my subconscious wasn’t too scarred by the oxygen deprivation.

The dream has stuck with me today.  Where did it come from?  We recently were watching some procedural crime show in which the victim died from asphyxiation, but that was over a week ago.  The dog was curled up at my feet, which is probably why he made it.  But someone once advised me to pay attention to the emotions that stay with me after a strong dream, so I’ve been thinking about low-level frantic-ness and deep sadness.  My best guess is that this dream was about the world running out of something.

Unless you’ve been off the grid with your head in the sand lately, it’s hard not to notice that there is a lot of bad stuff going on right now.  Those Nigerian schoolgirls are still missing, and since they’ve been gone, eleven of their parents have died.  Seven were killed in a Boko Haram attack; four died from health-related issues.  We lament the disappearance of these girls half way across the globe while we wring out hands over what to do with the refugee children flooding into Texas from Central America.  An airliner was shot down, killing hundreds of people, many of whom were involved in the vital work of AIDS research.  More planes have crashed.  ISIS is now requiring that all women and girls in Mosul undergo genital mutilation.

And I have no words about the violence in Israel and Palestine.

Maybe my dream was about the world’s loss of capacity to breathe in something – peace, maybe, or patience, or reason.  Or maybe I’m a little frantic and very, very sad because it feels right now, at both the conscious and subconscious level, as though we are running out of hope.  And we will all die without hope.

May we catch our breath soon.hopeless

A piece of paper, a piece of cloth

While on our summer vacation, I had the opportunity to visit the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, a place I commend to your visiting.

The first thing I went to see was the Magna Carta (or, apparently, just Magna Carta without the ‘the’.) This copy, only one of four, was on loan from some place in England where it had never before left. I’m a little fuzzy on the why/how of its being at the MFA, but there it was in Boston and there I was in Boston so I went to see it.

It’s a small thing, really, for something of such monumental importance. A little more than a foot square, an 800 year-old piece of paper inscribed in Medieval Latin, the stuff that would undo a king, inspire patriots, and generally bend the arc of history ever so slightly more toward justice. It is the work of men, of landowners and taxpayers, of citizens.

I confess to getting choked up while looking at it, this little old piece of paper, getting choked up the way I get choked up singing “America the Beautiful ” or “For All the Saints.” I could blame end-of-vacation tiredness, or gratitude for the privilege of being able to see it, but I think the tears were about something else. I think they were about our dreams, our dreams for something better not just for us but for everyone.

I found a Kleenex and moved on to an exhibition of quilts. Large, colorful, no words but tens of thousands of stitches; the work of women. The work of women who were not dreaming but who were eking out life and comfort, gathering the scraps and the leftovers and the rags to make something new out of the old.

None of the quilts, beautiful as they were, made me cry, but a few took my breath away and a few I wanted to wrap around me while sitting in my favorite chair and reading. Not the stuff of dreams, these quilts, but very much the stuff of reality. The reality of “women’s work”; the reality of cold winters and scraps of clothing; the reality of women coming together to provide and create.

All this on the day when my vacationing friends and I were lamenting the SCOTUS decision in the Hobby Lobby case. Not a lot of dreaming in that one but a whole lot of reality; clearly the work of men and not of women.

I know there are plenty of men out there who find the Hobby Lobby ruling outrageous, just as there must be plenty of women who take comfort in knowing that their religious preferences have been upheld. (Just writing that sentence makes me foam at the mouth a little.)

It is not my desire to restart any battle of the sexes. I think we’ve had enough of those. But I do wonder how things might be different if more men collected little pieces of fabric and made quilts. And I do wonder how things might be different if women had been allowed to write those little scraps of paper so long ago.


And now we are women

We were so young then. Our parents would laugh at that, of course, from their vantage point; to them, we are still young, will always be young, or at least younger than they are.

Just to say that is to acknowledge that we know each other’s parents, a luxury not found among friends made in later adulthood, when we don’t have friends to the house for the weekend, when the parents aren’t there for graduations and weddings because those have all past and are now the things that belong to our children and not to us. It is lovely to reconnect with old friends, the friends who knew you when. It’s not so much a feast of nostalgia as much as it is an unexpected delight to discover an old friend in her adult years, to see her shaped by career and marriage and parenthood and aging parents and disappointment and hardship, knowing that the laughs we once shared have been sustaining, at least a little, even as the reconnection hints at laughs yet to come.

My friends are amazing women. They have grown into their beauty: the natural gray highlights, the eye creases that make smiles more real, the knowledge now of what to do with eyebrows and moustaches and lipstick. Our bodies that grew babies are different, but we’re still the types we were: the amazon; the chubby one who has such a pretty face; the long-legged beauty; the chesty one who fretted over their size but secretly loved them.

Personalities are being distilled; we’re not as concentrated as our parents are becoming, but still we are more us than we were in our late teens and early twenties. We looked forward to conquering the world, or at least our little corner of it. One would become a Broadway star, another, a PR tycoon, another, a world-traveling lawyer.

And we did some of that but never as much as we dreamed of. Instead, we discovered the elegance of compromise, and learned for ourselves, with regret and relief, that we can’t have it all, and maybe we never really did want it all. We gave up a little here so that we could have a little there; our choices became more nuanced and sometimes we let go of who we were in order to reach out to who we would be. But that moment between the letting go and the new holding was terrifying, so we had our moments of lostness, too.

We were girls of such privilege and potential. We were beloved and lightly scarred, scarred by the mere rejections and the slightly broken hearts and the friendships that were (we realized in retrospect) a bit forced. Some of the friendships survived and deepened and some faded into a shrugged memory. Some will get picked up where they left off only to dive into the deep end where new things are treasured. A laconic attitude is now appreciated as gentleness and deliberateness. A desire to please has morphed into a sharp perception and unflagging honesty. But a good laugh is still a good laugh, and a delight in each other is still just that: delight.

beach nh

Family Reunion

Family Reunion

ranch oneMy extended family – parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, first cousins once removed, first cousins twice removed – owns property together.  It’s land that my grandparents bought over seventy years ago, land that they have passed down to their children which they, in turn, are passing down to their children.  It’s home to me, in a way; it’s the place we went to every summer, whether my address was in California or New Jersey or Texas.

Because we own this property together, we have an annual meeting to talk about the management of the place.  Some years the annual meeting goes well, and some years there is contention, as happens when more than one person is involved in making a decision.  But always after the meeting, we gather for a potluck lunch.  Some of the family stays around for a few days afterwards; others go back home, promising to see us the next year.  Because we own this property together, we know each other. We’re spread out from New Jersey to Wisconsin to West Virgiania to Washington but I know my cousins; I know the names of their spouses and kids.  My kid will know her second cousins and her great aunts and uncles.

My grandparents left us a treasure.  Sure, the land would be worth something if we ever sold it, but it’s a different kind of treasure. I know my family; I know their joys and quirks.  I have shared their heartaches, and so often they make me laugh out loud.  That’s priceless.

This last week I’ve been at a different kind of family reunion.  The General Assembly (national gathering) of the denomination in which I minister (the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.) has met, as we do ever other year.  We are not bound because of a piece of property.  Rather, we are bound by faith.  We are each other’s beloved because we are all God’s beloved and we know this because of Jesus.  We get together to talk about our mission and ministry and our rules.  Sometimes the meeting goes well; usually there is contention.  Actually, always there is contention.  But that’s okay, because we talk about things that we feel passionate about, things we believe deeply about, things that have called us together and things that threaten to tear us apart.

I’ve had such a sense of reunion this week, seeing old friends from so many times of my life.  My internship buddy.  A guy I dated in seminary.  A woman who moderated the presbytery when I was examined for ordination.  Seminary mentors and classmates.  Former members of my pastor’s group (all of whom absolutely shone this week.)  Friends who challenge me to act beyond the role society has proscribed for me.  Friends who inspire me to love Jesus more.  Friends who irk me into speaking up.  Friends who took a taxi with me because my hip hurt too much.  Friends who laughed at my bad jokes.  Friends who walk the walk of faith and ministry and Presbyteriana with me.

We are family, in the best and worst sense of that word.  We are bound by love, but thank God it’s not our love doing the binding but God’s love.  And we fight the way families fight.  Sometimes we fight and make up.  Sometimes we let ourselves get rent apart.  I know for some the metaphor of family describing church doesn’t work because their own families are so messed up and a source of deep pain. I know there are some in the Presbyterian family that feel that way, especially after some of the decisions made this week about marriage equality and Israel/Palestine relations.  I think about that with my own family experience, and I hope they will be willing to come back to the table after the meeting, and I’ll be as gracious as I can be if they choose to find another table.

But I’m feeling so grateful at this moment.  I am so grateful to remember the cloud of witnesses, friends who weren’t at this Assembly because they are with God, earthly witnesses with whom I broke bread and raised a glass.  I’ll be at the next reunion, too, and so the goodbyes didn’t really seem like goodbyes as much as see-you-soons.


Tomorrow night I get to have dinner with my family, my husband and child, for the first time in ten days.  I can’t wait for that family reunion – it’s been too long without them.  Sometimes you have to be apart to appreciate the good of being together.  May that be true for Presbyterians in the next two years.

ranch 2

Deus Ex Machina

shrugSometimes things go wrong that are completely out of one’s control.  Sometimes things go right that are completely out of one’s control, and often we churchy types attribute the latter to God and the former to the human  condition – or Satan, depending on your theological outlook.

Currently I am attending our biennial national meeting of Presbyterians, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (not to be confused with any other kind of Presbyterian, of which there are many.)  I’m here in my role as a Future Volunteer when I will be part of the leadership team providing hospitality to the General Assembly when they meet in Portland in 2016.  This is what I’ve learned so far:

Sometimes things go wrong that are completely out of one’s control.  That may be a God-thing; that may be a Satan-thing; that may be a human condition-thing; or it may just be because the wifi isn’t working.

Here’s something else I’ve learned so far: when something goes wrong that is completely beyond one’s control, how one responds to that is of the utmost importance.  Freaking out is usually not helpful. Calm leadership is helpful.  Sometimes singing is good, and sometimes quiet snarkis good.  And most of the time, having someone who will offer a sympathetic ear, apologize, agree that the situation is messed up, and take a note and see if anything can be done is really the  most helpful thing of all.

Several years ago when on a theater tour in college, one person in the troupe was the designated scapegoat for the tour.  That meant that whenever something went wrong (and something went wrong at least once every day) it was that person’s fault.  Everyone had someone to yell at, to point the finger at, to blame.  And because that person knew that he or she was the scapegoat, he was able to take it.  She apologized for the error, mishap, failure.  He agreed that he should do a better job next time.  She was terribly, terribly sorry.  And then life went on until something else got messed up in some way.

I doubt anyone at this General Assembly wants to volunteer to be GA Scapegoat; in Judeo-Christian circles, being scapegoat usually gets you killed.  So for now, for the the few GA attendees who read this blog, I’ll volunteer.  Yesterday’s wifi overload?  Totally  my fault, and I do apologize.  The need to use paper ballots for the  moderator’s election?  That one’s on me, too.  I am sorry, and if you come by my booth in the Exhibition Hall and mention this blog, I will give you chocolate.  That will fix things – for now.