Carol Howard Merritt: On Being Yoked


Andrew Kort and Mihee Kim-Kort just wrote Yoked, a wonderful book about being a clergy couple. To celebrate its arrival in the world, Mihee invited me--along with other clergy couples--to reflect on our own stories. Please watch Mihee's blog for more stories.  

Brian and I are at the Farmer's Market. I walk up to the vendors, and the wife says, "Oh! You must be Pastor Brian's wife."

I shake her hand and say, "Yes, I am Brian's wife. My name is Carol Howard Merritt." As she introduces me to her husband, I wonder if I should have added the "Reverend" to my name. I don't usually use the prefix, but should I have notified them that I'm a pastor too?

The husband begins to tell me how hard it is being a pastor. He knows, because his son serves a church.

I am patient for a while, but then his proxy complaints begin rubbing me the wrong way. Of course, I know the job is difficult, but I have just left an interim position and there is no other pastoral position in sight.

We moved here because my husband had an opportunity to start a church. Since he was the trailing spouse during our last three moves, I owed him. Plus, I have also been writing and speaking for eight years, and a good deal of my income is not bound to any particular geography. It made sense for me to relocate. I am very busy, but concentrating on those things means scheduling my calendar months in advance, which makes me a less likely pastoral candidate.

I really should be thankful for my place in this world. I am thankful. But I also love being a pastor and I can't help but indulge in a certain longing for my previous positions. I visit lectionary sites during the week, reading the passages, imagining what I would preach, if I could. Then I catch myself and quickly close the Internet, feeling like a stalking ex-lover.

Finally, I break into the conversation. "I'm a pastor too. There are a lot of good things about the job."

"Oh, it looks good. From the outside, maybe. But believe me, it's tough." He starts in again, enumerating all the complaints we gripe about at clergy gatherings.

"I know. I'm a pastor too," I repeat. "I have served churches for 15 years. I had a lot of good moments during that time."

"But, you really don't understand..." and he's off to the races, letting me know that being a pastor's wife is different than being a pastor. He knows, because of his son.

My face is hot with anger now. I wish I could shrug him off. Who cares what he thinks? I REALLY wish I didn't care. But, I do. So for the third time, I tell him that I am a pastor. When he still doesn't get it, it would be comical, if I weren't upset. Then his wife interrupts him, puts her hand on his forearm until he looks at her face, and says slowly and patiently, "She is a pastor too."

He looks at me, blankly. "But you're just an associate, right?"

I practically run from the market. My cheeks feel like a pair of tomato pincushions, being pricked by a hundred needles. In my head, I list my accomplishments and achievements. I was a good student in seminary. I have written books. I speak at conferences. Important people have said nice things me.

On one hand, people should listen to me, in spite of my resume. On the other hand, I feel like he just erased twenty-two years of preparation and service. Then, I begin to add up all the other slights. I know it's just my over-inflated ego. I know I should just be happy serving Jesus, but I want them to quit ignoring me. I want them to stop deferring all of their questions to my husband. I want them to know that my opinion matters too.

But most of all, I REALLY wish I didn't care. 

From Carol's blog, Tribal Church, at