Originally posted April 18, 2012, at That Crazy Lutheran Parsonage. Republished with permission of the author.
I had one of those typical husband-wife discussions or arguments about balance that just went no where.
Unfortunately, they have become way too common over these past 12 years of marital bliss (sic)! We have a spirited, unique family. Two children are from multiracial adoptions. And three kids with special needs. There is always something happening at our house! Now, to be fair, Emily — my dearly beloved in marriage — and I have not picked typical paths for both a family and a ministry. By all accords, we did not plan what our parsonage would look like or how it would be organized. I think we just went with chaos and we are catching up to organizing it even as I speak!
Here is a quick synopsis of our lives. In 2000, way back when I was ordained, Emily and I were alone — that is alone with three cats, a rabbit, two hamsters and three duprasis (fat-tailed gerbils). Yes, we were technically illegal at seminary housing. So a move to more understanding, Minnesota country-living was just what we needed — so we thought.
Not knowing the “offense” our family would cause the “investors” of congregation-owned housing, we simply shared our life with the world — a little naive. We had neighborhood kids stop by to see “our zoo.” Yes, my first call allowed us to stay (so the story goes) but people were becoming increasingly dismayed as we added rats, a chinchilla and neighborhood stray cats and a dog — and (very importantly) two human kids to our menagerie.
The love and support of the congregation didn’t last. Soon, we started to hide our life from others — especially those who wanted to spy and gossip about the “situation” in the parsonage. A move quickly became a practical necessity.
Pursuing another call in another part of the state, we had initially vowed to buy a home rather than get that great “free” housing we pastors are spoiled with. Weighing three call potentials, we ended up in another congregation-owned parsonage. It was nicer than our previous house. And we had new, more understanding “owners” — so we thought.
Actually the first three years we thought went by well, without a word about our family mentioned. However, not long after we added child number three, the illusion started to shatter. With addition of children four and five, the concern for the animals turned into a concern for our family. Well, not so much a concern but an ultimatum — “You can’t truly be an effective pastor with such a big family.” Good people were there, too — whom we miss.
But the time once again came for a move. This time in a house that we owned! So we moved to another part of the state. We would own our place so that the congregation would not worry about our animals or our big family. After more than three years since our move, I believe we have found our place to settle in.
Two things that have made the difference. One, we own the chaos at our house. Yes, we get many of the same looks when pets are brought up — but it isn’t a congregation issue. It’s our zoo and we like it.
Two, both congregations I serve are used to big families. In fact, for our age group, we are not the largest family in the church. In fact, because the congregations have gotten “older,” both are — in theory — desiring young families. Maybe not as wild as ours. But still the desire is there. Now, by no means are the two congregations perfect — what congregations are? But for the first time in ordained ministry Emily and I have been embraced for who we are, not criticized for what we are not!
Well, that synopsis took longer than maybe it needed. But it gives context to the topic of discussion with my lovely partner in parenting. We still argue about the balance between the two spheres of life. As a stay-at-home mom — with some part-time work activities, she wants me to participate more at home and get involved less with those far too numerous after-hour church activities. The present discussion still revolves around balance.
We still believe that our children are a blessing and a blessing to the congregations. Yet, struggle with the reality that our congregations are not used to young children or families. Our local church assembly (called synod assembly) is addressing this topic. I hope it’s not too late because congregations are for families. As technology seems to individualize our lives, we need our congregations to embrace this chaos rather than avoid it.
In the midst of the chaos, Emily and I will have to discuss our plan of action for this synod assembly. Unfortunately, she will not be there because of prior commitments. That’s similar to the responses I’m getting from other young families. I wish the responses were more enthusiastic but, like children, you can’t make someone else feel the way you do. Our congregations need the chaos of young families just as much as these families need the people of God.
According to Genesis 1, God spoke into the watery chaos: Let there be Light! My colleague in ministry Dave likes to respond, “It was still chaos, only you could see it better!”
I don’t know what our answer is for bringing the next generation into our church. In reading Acts this Easter season, maybe it’s on our knees, guided by the Spirit. That type of action could change our families, church and the world!
Find a link to Matt Griggs’ blog That Crazy Lutheran Parsonage at Lutheran Blogs.
You might also want to read:
Living in the parsonage
Doubting mother. Expecting teens. Accidental devotion.
Rich or poor? Comfortable or afflicted?