the pastor's wife, then and now...

>> November 15, 2010

The Pastor's Wife. Carolyn P. Blackwood.
Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1950.

I love old books.

I love 'em so much that my PH gets kind of irritated whenever we have to move, because there are so many extra boxes of antique books (call them ancient) that I absolutely refuse to part with.

Recently I pulled one of them out to re-read, and thought I'd share it with you. I'm not sure where I ever got it, actually.

The Pastor's Wife was published in 1950, by a seasoned pastor's wife. Granted, the sheer chasm of cultural change makes some of the advice in this book downright laughable.

You know, like the part where the she talks about hanging your wash out on the line early in the week, and making sure the whites are always extra white - so that people will know the pastor's house is clean.

Mmmhmm. Yep. I'm totally gonna get right on that.

But I found other bits of advice to be just as relevant today as they seem to have been 60 years ago. Blackwood talks about the importance of recognizing as a wife that you are as called to ministry as your PH. She also points out the importance of leading by example (even in things as basic as trying to have a home that looks/feels welcoming to guests), as well as becoming a woman of prayer, a thrifty financier and a friend to everyone. Skills like that are still very much in style.

One very valuable concept in this book, I felt, is the author's profound emphasis on cultivating a habit of discretion and learning to withhold judgment when people share even the most shocking things about themselves. Nobody trusts a gossip, and while people may gather to listen if the PW tells a juicy story, nobody will want to seek her advice or counsel on private matters if they know she can't keep a secret.

Another great aspect in the book is her focus on developing graciousness. PWs live under pressure. A lot of pressure. From a lot of different sources. Nobody's perfect, but the less we let ourselves nitpick, the easier it is to stay positive and focused on the blessings.

I was intrigued by the results of a survey the author shared. She questioned laywomen across America, in small and large churches, asking what they wanted from their PW. Here's some of the responses:
  • Christian character
  • sincerity and friendliness
  • tactful, and "not too eager to give advice" :)
  • willing to listen, able to counsel when appropriate
  • able to keep a secret and not gossip
  • well-adjusted/well-rounded
  • neat and appealing, but not dressed fancier than her parishioners (especially if they are poor)
  • most of all, someone who genuinely cares
I'd say, from my 8 years as a PW - that the last 60 years hasn't changed people's expectations much. They still want to know you care. They still want to know you'll listen. They still want to be proud of their PW when they meet you out and about in town. Mostly, they just want somebody relatable. The challenge is, when everybody want's someone relatable to themselves - it's an almost impossible challenge for the poor PW. Which points back to the "well-rounded" part...

Of course, none of us is perfect. Some aspects come easier to some PWs than to others. But any of us can find ways to show that we care, and we can all learn to keep other people's confidences to ourselves.

Finally, my favorite (paraphrased) tidbits of advice gleaned throughout the book, that might still apply today:
  • keep an emergency shelf in the pantry, with ingredients to whip something up for unexpected guests
  • dress nicely, but don't look slutty (that's not the 1950's word, but that's what she means!)
  • grow a thick skin - stuff happens in ministry, if you obsess over every little thing you'll drive yourself (and your PH) crazy
  • don't go busting on your husband's sermon mistakes the second he steps down from the front, give him a day to destress, and then share "kindly criticism" if you really have to
  • keep your kids a little sheltered from all the attentions and fault-finding of the "saints", don't excuse their flaws, but don't force them to be on display either
  • assume the unexpected will probably happen
  • find ways to be thrifty, without looking threadbare
  • stay out of church politics and focus on just loving people
  • pray a LOT
  • find ways to learn from other PWs
  • seek to live as an example of godliness to everyone, even if that just means being humble enough to admit it when you've screwed up
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Michelle Wegner November 17, 2010 at 4:51 PM  

I totally giggled at the white laundry thing. Right now i have 5 moldy pumpkins on my front porch. Better go do something about that or people will start to wonder.... :)

Lorri Nussbaum February 17, 2011 at 10:50 AM  

I happened upon this post while doing a Google search for this very book! My mother-in-law, a veteran pastor's wife, passed away recently. I found this book on her shelf and was moved by the notes in the margins and underlined sections. Clearly, she took this very seriously as a young pastor's wife in the 50's. The book has become my own, and I just bought 2 extra copies for my sisters-in-law as well. (Alibris Books). It's a treasure, for sure.

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