#939: “Don’t have the energy to interact with church members right now. What do I say?”

Hey, Captain. I’ve got a bit of a social conundrum and would appreciate any tips/scripts to help me deal with people I don’t want to talk to at all.

Short back story: My husband is a youth minister at a church. We have been living in the church parsonage rent-free for the past 8 or 9 years in exchange for monitoring the property, and him not getting a pay check. Over Christmas, the church burned down. A week later, the pastor and a deacon came to us an explained (very poorly) that due to state building codes, the church cannot be rebuilt in the original location, and the only other property the church owns for building is where the parsonage sits. They told us they would like to start removing the parsonage by March; but please don’t tell anyone about this because they hadn’t decided how to tell the church body, or even when to tell them-they seemed to think that two months is sufficient time for a single income (me) household with two children and a person who is a wheelchair user (my husband) to find a new place to live (it isn’t, we’re still looking).

Current problem: While my day job sometimes schedules me for Sundays, there are still weekends I have off, and due to not being right next to the church, if my husband is to perform his duties, I have to take them to church. Our girls also like going to church. I do not. I am feeling a lot of anger and bitterness, as well as depression, because this couldn’t have come at a worse time. Now, when I am at church, I find myself needing to act like I enjoy being around various groups of people who are a) willing to give a family a bare two months to move, and b) are exhibiting more ideological differences with each passing day (I’m sure given the current political climate, most everyone can guess why) that I find more and more difficult to deal with. I have already left off social media outside my online bookstore owner persona, but I can’t leave my husband and kids to always go to church alone-then my husband has to deal with people commenting on my having to work (it’s so dreadful) or asking where I am and if I’m okay (I’m not, but they don’t want to hear that anyway).

Any ideas/scripts how I can politely tell them to leave me alone and give me space because we are not on the same page, when I’d really love to have an epic breakdown and tell them exactly where they can all go?

Thanks bunches

Too Stressed For This
(she is fine as pronoun)

Dear Too Stressed:

Your husband goes to church for his job, and your daughters like church right now, and they need you to drive them back and forth. Okay.

You can actually leave them to go to church alone and go do something else with your day. Your husband can deal with being asked where you are. I promise you that he can. He might not like it, and the expectation might be that you’re there cheerleading away, but a dude who chose “Youth Minister” as his career will survive a few moments of small talk with inquisitive folks by saying, “She’s just fine, she couldn’t make it this week but she said to make sure to tell you hello!” if it gives you some needed space. You need the space, so, take it.

Ideas for how to spend that two hours off the top of my head:

  • Do something that de-stresses you. A nice walk in nature. Reading a book.
  • Heck, if you want fellowship and worship, go to a different church where nobody knows you and sit in the back.
  • Looking at rental listings for where you’re going to live or otherwise do the million things you need to do for your upcoming move.

Take. A. Break.

Regroup.

Now, you don’t want to flee church (or this particular church) forever, and you also don’t have to lie and say you’re fine or pretend you agree with stuff you don’t agree with. Most people want, “Fine, and you?” as a response when they make “How are you?” small talk, and it’s okay to say that when your energy is low and you want the path of least resistance. That said, “A bit distracted, we’re looking for a new place to live just now. What’s new with you?” or “Pretty concerned about the state of the world with ______ issue happening, how ’bout you?” or even “I feel pretty alienated sometimes when I’m here because of politics, sometimes I feel like everyone agrees with x, y, and z except me“are perfectly acceptable answers if they are true answers. You don’t have to pick a fight, you don’t have to tell every detail of everything, you don’t have to tell other people how they should feel, but you also don’t have to agree with everyone else or perform stuff you don’t believe even if these are the unwritten expectations for women in your faith community. 

If people react badly to this, and by badly, if they are mean to you or pressure you to comply with the party line or act shocked that you would ever ask a question or admit to being not 100% happy about everything, you and they will survive that interaction and you will mentally designate them as Smallest of Small Talk people for future interactions. And maybe by being open about your state of mind, you’ll give the others who feel like you do some room and courage to be honest, too.

You can tell the truth about your life and your feelings in your church. You can ask questions in your church. And you can skip church sometimes.

Closing comments 2/1/2017.

 

147 comments
  1. Aimee said:

    I’m so sorry this is happening to you. I grew up in a church where it was not socially acceptable to skip some Sundays, and pastor’s wives are particularly scrutinized. It sucks and it’s BS, because you have your own life and your own spiritual needs too. And maybe your husband’s church doesn’t fit those exact needs right now. And also there’s no way to be just a neutral congregation member when you are a pastor’s wife. No advice, just sympathy. And maybe just wanting to point out that in some places, it WOULDN’T be acceptable for husband to say “She’s not able to make it this week” for a few weeks in a row.

    • Ezel said:

      I grew up in a church like that. Even if people may not “approve,” it’s still ok for her to take time off as needed. They may talk shit, to her husband, but really- what’s the worst that could happen- they fire him? They’re already not paying him.

      • Aimee said:

        I completely agree. Just having some horrific flashbacks of people who don’t agree with that.

    • BarlowGirl said:

      “And maybe just wanting to point out that in some places, it WOULDN’T be acceptable for husband to say “She’s not able to make it this week” for a few weeks in a row.”

      Are they going to send him to jail for saying it? She’s not there. She’s not gonna be there. He’s going to have to figure out something to say.

      • PollyQ said:

        Srsly, what are they going to do to him? Not pay him a wage and throw him and his family out of their home? OH WAIT, THEY ALREADY DID THAT!

        • LA said:

          I hope they’re about to start paying him since they won’t be providing their home anymore. They better help with the move/etc., too.

          • Puck said:

            Seconding this.

      • Turtle Candle said:

        In some places, it can actually be dangerous, in the sense of making the family unemployable in that area or potentially subject to physical threat. I don’t say this to make the LW feel disempowered or frightened, but because there’s some erasure in the “do your own thing, what can they do about it?” message for those of us who have lived in areas where the answer could very well be “hurt or kill you.”

    • phoenixheart said:

      I grew up in a church (I now view it as a cult, but of course the members don’t, and it’s a fairly well-known American church) where it would be totally socially unacceptable for anyone to just skip church a few weeks in a row, *let alone* the wife of a well-known church member. It’s not okay that people are pressured to attend church with the threat of social ostracization hanging over their head if they don’t. But for people who haven’t grown up with or directly experienced that kind of church environment, it’s easy to say “Just skip church and go for a walk in nature, your husband can handle the awkward questions!” when in fact that could have repercussions on the LW’s life in ways that are hard to predict. (Fuck cults. I say, if your church members treat you that way, find a different church. But let’s be sensitive to the reality of some people’s religious communities.)

      • mossyone said:

        I didn’t grow up a cult but I did grow up in an American-style Evangelical church outside of America, with all that that entails, and as I read the end part I just thought, ‘but what if she CAN’T?’ I know the Captain grew up religious (Catholic? might be remembering wrong, if so sorry Captain) and had bad experiences, but bad experiences with churches manifest in different, horrible ways. I am troubled that the LW has pretty much stated that she needs scripts for when she goes to church and has not been given any. I am really bad at this type of situaton so I can’t give the LW any of those, but as I finish reading the comments I really hope there is something there.

        • hbc said:

          She actually *can*. Like, physically, they can’t force her to be there without facing kidnapping charges.

          If she doesn’t *want* to skip because the unpleasantness of not going is worse than the unpleasantness of going, that’s a fine choice to make, but put the emphasis on “choice.”

          There probably is no script that will make this okay if the congregation is really that intense. If the response to “She had to work” is bad enough to be avoided, I guarantee that there’s no way for her to rephrase “I have too much stress and I need to avoid the source of the stress which is pretty much this place and you people” to get her off the hook.

      • ellegant_woods said:

        I grew up in a similar, if not the same, church. Skipping church for anything besides being pretty damn sick gets you (and your parents/spouse) judged, hard. On vacation? Not an excuse; you’re still expected to find a congregation wherever you go.

        • JenniferP said:

          I know that this is true but I also think we are all going to have to learn to stand up to “being judged” or the discomfort from social pressure in order to take care of ourselves and each other. This takes practice and doesn’t happen casually or overnight. “The other churchgoers will feel some kind of way and try to make me feel uncomfortable about missing church” is usually the first manifestation of these consequences. I know it can get a lot scarier and darker and more threatening from there but learning to withstand that initial pushback and discomfort to take care of yourself and do things like “find new housing for family!” is valuable even if it isn’t easy or doesn’t seem possible at first.

      • Turtle Candle said:

        Yes. I grew up in this kind of environment too. It is hard to express how threatening it is, and while I fully support the LW in not going, I think it’s important to note that it DOES often have a cost that “just don’t attend! what are they going to do about it?” doesn’t address.

        • H.Regalis said:

          It already has a cost. It’s costing the LW a lot. I get that there’s a metric fuck-ton of social pressure for her to attend, but there’s a wide gulf between that and “the congregation is going to show up at your house in the middle of the night and murder you.” But there’s no way for it not to have a cost. Either it has the psychological cost it’s already having, or it has the social cost of not attending. There’s no script anyone can provide that’s going to let the LW keep attending church without being angry at all the bullshit that is being perpetuated. It’s just not possible.

          • Turtle Candle said:

            I think/hope I’m misunderstanding you, but your hyperbole of “show up in the middle of the night and murder you” seems to me to be making light of the genuine risks that can come from deviating from the “acceptable” religion in certain parts of the country. I have been physically threatened due to my apostasy, and a good friend lost custody of her daughters to her abusive ex-husband because she was perceived in the community as being irreligious. So I am aware that there is a lot of ground between funny looks and murdered at midnight. My experience may or may not be relevant, but it’s true, and that’s why I shared it.

      • The Unicorn's Farrier said:

        I feel sad that I have to agree. My feeling is this is 100% accurate.

    • clorinda said:

      If it’s her job to be there, they could pay her. They could even pay HIM more than housing. So much stress, this poor woman, I am seething on her behalf. She can feel quite at ease in her conscience for skipping church; what are they going to do, evict her?

  2. Ugggghhhhh. I have been a Christian all my life, so I don’t recommend that people leave their churches lightly, but this is a time when I really would not blame you for looking for a new church home. This is a bad treatment of your husband as an employee, but it is especially a bizarrely bad treatment of your family as church members. I can’t imagine someone from my church being told to vacate their home without being offered some serious assistance in finding a new one. That’s just awful, and I”m sorry it is happening.

    I do want to second the mention that in some church atmospheres, it’s socially unusual or even socially unacceptable for someone to be regularly missing church, especially a minister’s wife. I doubt LW is worried about her husband having to say, “She’s not here this week. Sorry!” so much as about the possible reflection on the family as a whole. If you can make it work, go for it, cause I agree, a break is probably needed. But if you don’t feel like it’s an option, I for one totally get that.

    • oregonbird said:

      This brings up a serious question: why would the church not help you, your children and your wheelchair-bound husband find a new home? The pastor should be asking for donations for moving costs, for a house to be found. If nothing is being done to help you, then the years your husband has put into being a dogsbody in this church have pretty much been wasted, as far as basic social networking goes.

      • ThatGirl said:

        Seriously. If the “payment” for his job is housing, the church should be helping them find and afford housing! Otherwise, is he just, what, working for free? As a pastor’s kid, I am very upset by this.

        • mossyone said:

          Indeed. Did that ‘meeting’ (in quotes because it sounds like it was not really any sort of organised meeting) with them include any statements such as ‘of course, now you are no longer living in the parsonage here is what your wages will be’? If not, what the actual fuck.

          • Puck said:

            YEP. If they’re not compensating them somehow for kicking them out of the house that was ostensibly their wages, that is abysmal.

      • SM said:

        That was my thought, too! By making them keep it a secret, the leadership also cut them off from their best free resource for help: the congregation, which is basically a network for finding things like housing, jobs, etc. There’s a house on my parents’ block that usually gets rented to people from one specific church because when one family is thinking about leaving, they spread the word that the rental is opening up so members can apply to the owner before it even gets listed. Shame on the people who left you on your own and cut you off from people who should be helping you, LW.

    • Parenthetically said:

      Seriously, lifelong Christian here too and damn to the damn, this is horrendous and these people are so shady. Find a place where people are going to pour blessing and abundance and joy and connection INTO your life, OP, not suck you dry WITH NO PAYCHECK.

      • TO_Ont said:

        Yeah, church is supposed to give you energy and support, not be something that feels like a duty

    • Rachelle said:

      I was thinking about this letter all morning, and I wanted to say that I agree with you completely.

      In the past, myself and my family have had to find new church homes due to the treatment of volunteers by the church. It seems like the husband’s youth pastor activities will still be expected to be performed- and without the parish as payment, I don’t know if the husband will be compensated for the work that he does. I know that many churches have expectations that certain people volunteer (or continue to volunteer) without regard for the person’s ability to give the time/service.

      If the husband isn’t going to get a salary for his work, then I think it would be wise for him to no longer be the youth pastor. Unfortunately, I think that decision may have too many repercussions for the family to stay…

    • thebewilderness said:

      They can’t talk about moving and still keep the secret from the congregation that they have been burdened with.

  3. Marthooh said:

    It seems to me that LW’s trouble is many times multiplied by being unable to talk about it with people the family could ordinarily rely on for help. The pastor needs to be told that their demands are unreasonable, that LW and family need help from the community, and that if they can’t think of a way to break the news, LW will have to.

    • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

      THAT. The request to not say anything means cutting off the LW from their support network – their church. (Whatever the reality of this is, however close the LW feels to them in fact.) LW, you’re being asked to shoulder the burden of being made homeless (with no mentioning of salary in return for the home you no longer will have, with no mentioning of relocation costs), *on your own* because someone in the hierarchy is too craven to tell their congregation/board/whatever the truth about how they want to proceed. (Which may just be slightly shady, but maybe that’s just cynical me.)

      You’re not creating the awkwardness. Your landlord is making you homeless, and you’re supposed to cover for them? Nope. If they’re not giving you any advantage (and no church, of course, has ever been built with a parsonage, ‘you will have to move out for x months and while your new quarters will be built’ would be one thing, but ‘you’re on your own’ is another.

  4. Rachel said:

    One thing I didn’t see addressed…

    LW says they have a single paycheck (hers). LW also says that they’ve been living in the parsonage rent-free in lieu of her husband receiving a paycheck. Presumably, since they will no longer be living on church property, husband will be getting a paycheck? This doesn’t solve all the problems, but I’m a bit concerned that LW isn’t even mentioning that, even if it was in the context of “the amount they’re going to pay him is no where near enough to cover rent in this area.”

    • This is the concern that I was about to raise too, as a clergy-person myself, who is all too aware of the sorts of money troubles that both clergy and houses of worship can have. In that role, I’m also concerned about the implications of the parson hiding something as big as future church location from the congregation- because it is a red flag for the health of the communications of the church in general. What other information is the parson not sharing? I don’t know how churches are run- but in a synagogue, a board of trustees would be involved in this sort of thing. Are there people of this sort to whom the LW could turn?

      • Matthew said:

        Yeah, that parsonage had been given in lieu of salary seems a red flag.

        • Aimee said:

          Actually legal and churches have one of the weirdest exceptions to employee law in that rent paid/parsonage can be part of the pay. As long as it’s all properly reported tax-wise it’s all fine and above board.

        • Saira Ali said:

          Agree with Aimee. And depending on how much money the church can afford to pay, it might be to the minister’s benefit to get the parsonage instead of a wage, since for tax purposes, living in the parsonage counts as a “housing allowance” and gets taxed at a much lower rate than an equivalent amount of cash wages. So if the church can’t afford to pay you more than what rent on an equivalently sized home would cost, the parsonage is better, at least for short term finances. It does, however, leave you vulnerable to situations like the LW’s where the whims of the church disrupt your housing.

          • MK said:

            To be fair, this hardly sounds as “a whim of the church”; their reasons for asking the LW and her family to move out sound valid, though they are handling the whole thing very oddly. I mean, what is the point of delaying the inevitable of telling people the church wll relocate? Why aren’t they offering assistance to them to find a new home?

          • TO_Ont said:

            Yes, if you live somewhere where rents are high, free rent on a house could actually be worth a lot more than you’d get working even a full time job at minimum wage. I wouldn’t assume that part isn’t legitimate as it depends on the details. And two months notice is more than legally required where I live, for both rental contracts and jobs. Though given the need to find accessible housing it may not be enough practically, and the parson maybe should have thought of that.

            But asking them to keep everything a secret is unfair.

          • Saira Ali said:

            The timeline is definitly whimsical. They’re going to need to raise funds for the demolition and get city permits. If they’re in any kind of suburb or city, best case it will take them six months before they can start demo, and that’s wildly optimistic, assuming the local zoning board is relatively efficient and they have no NIMBY’s in their backyard to object to the city permits. I guess if they’re somewhere very small or very rural where there’s little to no town bureaucracy to contend with two months to starting demolition might make sense. But there’s still no reason the church leadership couldn’t have given them another couple months to find new housing.

        • Buni said:

          It’s how I’m living atm; in the UK it’s referred to as ‘House for Duty’ and is perfectly normal, it’s advertised as such in job ads and the like.

      • Dana said:

        So. Much. This. Where is the board of elders? or the equivalent body in this denomination/part of the church?

        LW, my heart goes out to you. Churches can be incredibly strict about the norms they enforce. I am hoping you find a Team You somewhere somehow. And kudos to you for supporting your children’s and husband’s wishes to participate in the church while finding something that meets your own needs at this time.

      • Saira Ali said:

        Most churches, depending on denomination, will have a board of elders or other governing board of elected lay members. But the fact that the pastor and a deacon came to talk to LW and her husband makes me worry that the board of elders knows and is in on it. It would depend on whether the deacon is a lay member of the congregation or if, like in the Episcopal denomination, the deacon is just another flavor of ordained professional clergy. But yes, if there is a board of elders or a church warden or something like that, LW should absolutely talk to them.

      • Also- if I had this situation, I’d turn to my professional organization for help- one of their roles is to help rabbis who are having trouble with their congregation. I don’t know if that is a thing in any churches, or in whatever sort of church this is.

    • Tree said:

      Yeah, my thought after hearing that part of the story was “maybe Husband needs to get a new job at a new church.” They’re not paying him (?) and they’re kicking him out of his house on short notice. And his wife is uncomfortable in the community. Good reasons to move on. I know that’s easier said than done in that sort of job but still. At some point, they need to look after themselves and their family, and money is a definite part of that.

      • Tea Rocket said:

        I’m so glad someone else is saying this. I’m not and never have been religious, so I wasn’t sure if it would be out of line to suggest that it’s time for the husband to find a new job. I’m sure he’s attached to the community he currently serves, but he also has responsibilities to his family. He’s fairly absent from the letter: how does he feel about the way the church is handling things? Has he negotiated how he will be compensated once they move out of the parsonage? Do the ideological leanings of the community bother him, as well? Would he be upset with her for not wanting to attend services whenever she can? I’m concerned that the LW doesn’t have the partner she needs in dealing with all of this.

  5. Chrissy Atkinson said:

    I’m a long-time pastor’s wife, and I can really relate to a lot of this letter. It’s such a hard position to be in. Especially when you are not feeling it. Churches sometimes do sucky things. I’m sorry you are having to deal with it. It seems to me like if they want him to continue being the youth minister, they should begin to compensate him financially. You are no longer receiving compensation in the form of housing, so it only makes sense. However, having dealt with church folks for many years, and due to the fact that they are recovering from a fire, I can anticipate some push back. I also anticipate that you do not have the emotional wherewithal to deal with pushing back harder. Ask your husband to do that. He is a professional and he should be compensated for his work.

    As for you, I think CA’s advice is spot on. Self care is important. It’s also important to be authentic, and if taking time off is what you need, do not succumb to shame. Your faith is between you and God, not between your church attendance and God. I’m sorry you’re in this position, and i wish you well.

    • SadieMae said:

      As someone who worked at a church for many years, I agree with Chrissy here. Husband is doing an important and likely challenging job (people think the ministry is a cushy job – “he only has to work on Sundays!” but it takes a LOT of behind-the-scenes work, and it’s very stressful, as evidenced here by OP’s letter!), and he should continue to be compensated. If he and OP will no longer get free housing, he should be compensated with a similar monetary payment. So many times, church workers are expected to work for a pittance or nothing at all b/c they’re doing God’s work – but God isn’t going to put food on the table or buy the kids new shoes, not directly, anyway! If OP’s husband works for the church, he deserves to be paid. Every month. No matter what. Many churches, quite frankly, won’t value you unless you value yourself, and may not value the position of youth minister until they’re faced with the possibility of not having youth programs because their youth minister quit and no one else will take the job for free or next to free!

      If my experience at a church is any indication (and I think it’s pretty standard), many church members will fuss if OP’s husband insists on a salary and/or help with relocation. They’ll say that since the building burned down, everyone needs to pitch in and help out while the church gets back on its feet. But if they had insurance, they should be able to cover costs and salaries while rebuilding. And if they didn’t have insurance, well, it was their choice not to prioritize that financially. OP’s husband might feel bad if he needs to leave the church’s children without instruction for a while, but he’s entitled to think of his own family’s needs.

      One thing: OP and family should talk to a lawyer about their rights as tenants. I strongly suspect it’s illegal for the church to evict them with two months’ notice for ANY reason. Now, if they stand on their legal rights, they may further alienate church members, and they need to decide as a couple whether they’re willing to do that. But it is an option worth exploring.

      Finally, I will say that sometimes the best thing for a really dysfunctional church – and for its members – is for people to leave it and allow it to fail. That may be the case here. Leaving one congregation isn’t the same as leaving the faith. But leaving one’s church home (even when one is really frustrated with it) can be very painful. I wish OP and family comfort and the best of luck as they navigate this one.

  6. Jennifer said:

    Has your husband discussed with his ’employers’ how they will be compensating him for his job after he isn’t getting free rent? Because at a minimum, they should start paying you market rate for renting a similar building in the same area, unless he’s willing to do the job as a complete volunteer.

    Traditionally, “pastor’s wife” was often full time, unpaid job on its own. But in a lot of denominations that’s no longer true (even if some of the older/more traditional members disapprove). In most of the congregations I’ve been involved in, the pastor’s wife (and occasionally husband) had a job of their own, and in one case was an ordained minister in a different denomination herself. And you are the primary breadwinner for the household, and your husband is more a volunteer than a paid minister. And even if it is not considered acceptable in this particular congregation, you can break with expectations and back off, either temporarily, or to find a congregations that suite you better. Either they will come to accept it, or it get to the point your husband is willing to leave his position, or they’ll freak out and ‘fire’ your husband, which won’t actually change your financial situation.

    I do think it’s completely unreasonable to expect you to not talk about the fact that you have to find a new place to live, that’s wheelchair acceptable and affordable, in two months. (Although two months notice is pretty reasonable for a month to month lease ending, in a more normal rental situation). I’d discuss it with your husband first, but I think it’s completely reasonable to go to the pastor and say that you need to tell people you’re looking for a new place to live, and while you won’t say the reason why, you’ll send them to the pastor if they have questions.

    • apricity said:

      Yes, in my experience two months is a reasonable time if you are on a month-to-month lease, although that doesn’t mean it’s super easy to find a new place and move.

      Practically, there is probably a tenant’s advice service available for your state. Google “your state/province/etc name” + “tenants advice” or “tenant’s union” or the like. There will probably be some advice on how much notice is required. There may be a free advice line. However, it is quite possible that your notice period is legally reasonable, and just because something is illegal doesn’t mean that they will stop doing it unless you fight them (which is a nuclear option for your relationship with the church).

      Having a talk to your church leaders about the timing (can you move out later?) is a good thing for your husband to do, and being able to ask the congregation for help should be something he asks for as well. For the short term, can you find some housesitting? Can the church store your possessions somewhere if you do find temporary housing? Have you talked to your local real estate agents about what you’re looking for? If you come across as a nice, easy to deal with tenant, then that is a big plus for an agent (who wants life to be easy when dealing with you). They might get a property on their books that suits your needs, and let you know, because they want to match house + tenants as quickly and easily as possible.

      Good luck. House hunting is very stressful and I hope you find something that suits you soon.

  7. enigmaticblue said:

    To cut a long story very short, I had a lot of conflict with some of the members of my husband’s church when we first started dating, to the point where we had a meeting with one of the church elders about how some folks were treating me. I eventually stopped attending with my now-husband, and even though we weren’t married at the time, he still got some push back.

    In my experience, the best thing you can do for yourself is cultivate the “do not give a f***” attitude, and ask your husband to do the same. I suggest getting very, very boring about why you couldn’t make it to church when anybody asks. “Couldn’t make it this week, maybe next Sunday!” with next Sunday being never if necessary. Inquiries into your health (“she’s/I’m healthy as a horse, just unable to attend!”) or commiserations about working on Sundays (“yeah, it’s a real bummer, but that’s life!”) can also be summarily dealt with using as little detail as possible.

    Now, depending on the church body, this might be heavily frowned upon (and I’ve been in those churches before, so I know what kind of pressure they can bring), but you CAN embrace the weirdness. You can be that spouse who doesn’t attend church. You and your husband might get some side eye, but if you’re willing to bear it for the space you need, you and he can survive it.

    You didn’t say much about your husband’s attitude re: you not going to church, but he can be really helpful if he treats your absence like it’s no big thing. If, on the other hand, he’s not backing you up in this area, it might be time to have a sit-down talk with him and be very truthful about your feelings and how stressed out and overwhelmed you are. Even if he can be your buffer for the time it takes to find a new living situation, that would give you a breather.

    Side note: I do understand that some churches get REALLY WEIRD about pastors/other church leaders and their families. If your church is one that requires the pastors’ families (including spouses and grown children) to toe the line or lose their job, then it might be time to have a conversation about finding a new church entirely. I can tell you with some confidence, based on my own and other friends’ experiences that they will not get better about this, and there are no scripts that will get them to back off or understand.

  8. e271828 said:

    I’m taken aback at the behavior of this pastor and deacon, who have evicted their youth pastor and his family and asked them to be silent about that (if I read the letter rightly), cutting them off from the support and assistance of the community they are members of and serve at the moment when they most need support and assistance in finding a new home.

    You are tenants of the church, even if you are paying the rent in services rather than cash, and you may be covered under local tenants’ rights laws. Do look into those; knowing your legal rights may help you buy time.

    Without “lawyering up,” it would be prudent for you and your husband to conduct further discussions with these two in writing, including letters recapping any oral communication they have with you, beginning with a letter informing them that asking you to move in two months is burdening you with a great hardship and not possible for your family. They ought to do the teardown on your schedule, not theirs, and to aid and support you.

    • Manattee said:

      Seconding the idea to check local tenancy law. It was looking for a while like our landlord might need to take back our house and I was panicking thinking we’d only get one month’s notice, but turns out that if on a rolling contract the reason for eviction is so the house can be used by the landlord or their family, they need to give three month’s notice.

    • Jen Erik said:

      Yes to all this, and especially to ‘cutting them off from support and assistance of the community’. That’s something churches can be good at; when our minister’s wife needed to find a few months accommodation for a couple at short notice she asked everyone who crossed her path & put it on Facebook – tapping into the community is a great strategy. And, more spiritually, even if the congregation can’t source a home, if the situation was known about, they could pray their support.

      I agree about checking out the legalities of the situation – but no matter what they are, I think, as a family, you’re entitled to say that you find you can’t move in that timeframe.

      For yourself, I think CA’s is right – it’s fine to go to church angry and bitter and hate-filled – but it sounds like you’re not there for yourself, but to meet others’ expectations, so I’d vote for a long coffee with a good book every week instead (but that’s just me).
      If someone you like and respect in the congregation reaches out to you, to check you’re okay, I’d consider telling them the whole story – people in church leadership have to know how to be discreet (and by default, people married to people in church leadership positions) but discretion isn’t the same as secrecy, and you need to have support from your church family.

      • SM said:

        My comment got eaten but that was my biggest red flag, too – that the church is their best, basically free, resource for finding housing. It’s a network of people who might know about rental units or short term housing. If the church leadership doesn’t have a place in mind for you, they should have been tapping the resources of the congregation at the first sign of needing to kick you out, LW! Keeping your struggle a secret is hurting everyone.

  9. Matthew said:

    An additional place where you might find some attributive wisdom is the Facebook group Things They Didn’t Teach Us in Seminary. Here’s a link – https://www.facebook.com/groups/110049045697089/ – it slights progressive, and I’ve seen many conversations about the problems with parsonages, being differently abled, outdated expectations of the partners/spouses of people in various sorts of ministry, and so on. You might be able to find some people who have been through very similar situations. Captain Awkward and the commenters always have stunningly helpful advice, so much so that I often think it would be fabulous to incorporate them into a pastoral care course (hint hint). I’m speaking as a gay seminarian BTW.

    I am curious which denomination you’re a part of, because that can figure heavily into things (traditions, understanding of how a parsonage rolls, compensation, etc). My gut reaction is that it’s in both you and your husband’s best interest that he learns how to back you up on what you feel the need to do or be. It will ultimately be in his own best interest too, because church councils can be dragons. My thoughts are with you.

  10. Sheryl said:

    Hi Too Stressed- I’m a preacher’s kid and my heart goes out to you and your family.
    I believe it’s perfectly fine to tell people, especially if they ask why you look tired/down/not quite yourself, that you and your family are in need of prayer, and you’re not at liberty to discuss why. This allows you to not feel so isolated from people who would want to support you emotionally and spiritually. Nearly every couple has issues with finances, so you could honestly say it’s a financial thing and let it go at that.

    As an adult looking back on my childhood years, it saddens me that my parents never felt like they had good friends. They were close to people, but there was always that bottom line of “he works for US, you know” and that built in some distance. Maybe you can find a support group online (if not in person) for minister’s wives? Or a good friend from work (yours, not church) that you can turn to… Regardless of which path you take do take a breath… step away for a bit. It’s Biblical – even Jesus escaped into the gardens/desert once in awhile 🙂 I’ll keep you in my prayers.

  11. Madison said:

    I picked up on a word that I think need some additional comment: ‘Bitterness.’ This is the ultimate shame word – for women especially – in many faith communities that I have been a part of. It is easy to subconsciously absorb the message that any anger or resentment you feel must also mean that you are tumbling headlong into shameful ‘bitterness.’ It insinuates that you aren’t practicing ‘perfect forgiveness.’ I normally wouldn’t challenge a person’s description of their feelings, but this term is insidious and often self-injurious. And I want you to know that this label does NOT have to belong to you dear LW. You are *justified* in being angry and overwhelmed and uncomfortable. It doesn’t at all sound like you are holding on to a senseless grudge or looking for revenge or for somewhere to place unwarranted blame. And you are not obligated to open our heart wide to people who have hurt you, especially not when they are then asking you to lie about it.

    There are shenanigans going on in your church with the leadership that (raises all my hackles and) has you rightly on edge. And that would be the case even if you weren’t having to simultaneously deal with people who have either hypocritically abandoned the principles they once held in exchange for political favor, or simply aren’t the people you thought they were. The church cannot rebuild on the old lot due to something something ‘building codes’ (Are they trying to get around existing building codes or was the other property negligently not kept up to code?) which sounds awfully suspicious to me. People who hedge are usually not being entirely truthful. And the fact that they are hiding this from the congregation raises my concern about their level of deceitfulness even more. Plus, they are pressuring you to be complicit in this ‘delayed truth,’ meaning that even IF your faith community was chock full of people who would lend a sympathetic ear and a helping hand, you’re not allowed to tell them what’s going on!

    All of that is shady as all get out and you have every right and reason to feel uneasy about the whole affair. You are being kicked out of your home (and it isn’t clear – do they expect your husband to continue providing his youth pastor services for free now?) and at the very time you are at your lowest, you are receiving the least amount of support. This is a massive burden that has been placed onto your shoulders and it is through no fault of your own. I understand that your husband and your kids still feel that this faith community is an endeavour worthy of their participation, and they are entitled to those feelings. But you are not obligated to agree. This is the very moment that a faith community *should* be lifting you up instead of draining you even more. So, your feelings are not wrong either and you deserve to feel your feelings without blame. It is my hope that you are able to find a better, more supportive, more ideologically-aligned congregation in the future, and I wish you all the luck in the world in finding and getting settled in a new place soon. For right now, though, there is all kinds of wrong going on, at a time that would be stressful even in the best of circumstances, and I think you are entirely justified in saying, “I’m not feeling up to it,” and having that boundary respected.

    • Drew said:

      I am a BIG fan of this comment. However, one tiny word in possible defense of the church: if it’s an older church, they could well have built on a site that was within code when the church was built but would not be now. It may be God’s honest truth (heh) that they have to rebuild on a different site. Which doesn’t mean they’re handling this situation well AT ALL, and frankly I’m in awe of the LW for not peaceing out of the whole damn thing.

      If it were me, I’d be a big fan of reflecting any awkwardness right back on the questioner: “Hi, LW! We missed you the last couple of Sundays!” (note: not genuine concern, more like “What have you found that’s more important than being at services, you harlot?”) “Oh, hi! Sorry I couldn’t be here, but as you know, we’re being forced to move in a month and I just had to get more boxes packed. It’s great to be able to take a quick break today, however; I might even get to stay for the sermon.”

      • Madison said:

        I will fully admit that I am by no means an expert on building codes, and that there *could* be a perfectly reasonable explanation here that nobody is really clear on. Given leadership’s overall behavior, though, I don’t think we can even be sure that ‘building codes’ is anything more than an excuse that sounded plausible to them; one that, in reality, has nothing to do with it at all. But if this is the reason – and I will grant that it might be – then I think we certainly can all agree that the church leaders need to *get* clear, because they have a responsibility to impart that information to their members, including LW and her husband, unambiguously and without further delay. Anything less and they are inviting suspicion and fostering distrust (and maybe they need some additional checking up on just to be sure). Because, regardless of what is going on, I can’t think of a single reason for vague and postponed explanations of this nature or of this magnitude that is truly acceptable. Especially since it is these people’s JOB to be effective communicators, to engender trust, and to give support and guidance in difficult times, and they have certainly failed LW in all regards here. Pardon the pun, but this whole mess stinks to the High Heavens!

      • BigDogLittleCat said:

        “due to state building codes, the church cannot be rebuilt in the original location” stinks like week-old fish.

        LW, if they actually used the words “state building codes” (as opposed to those being your words), then the people who talked to you either don’t understand what’s going on or they’re not playing straight with you.
        For starters, states don’t have “building codes,” unless it’s a broad sweeping thing like requiring strong rooms in schools in tornado states. Building codes are a county or city thing, and it’s the *zoning* code that controls what can be built where, not the building code. Which makes you wonder what happened to the zoning that a church couldn’t be rebuilt on its historical location? Restricting uses is usually up-zoning to a more desirable use, often a more valuable use…
        Which makes you wonder what they are planning on doing with the land the church was on?

        • thebewilderness said:

          You may be right. I read it as state shoreline or wetland regulations.

        • Eurekas said:

          I was wondering about zoning codes myself. I was speculating that the land the parsonage is on is zoned in a way that would make it easier to combine commercial with church use and thus let the church run a preschool or a coffee shop on the property. (I suspect the can’t rebuild on old location is untrue, but that building on the parsonage land is more desirable for some reason).

          But yes, anyway you look at it, there are questions here.

          Not advice for letter writer, because one can’t go back in time to apply it, but advice for readers: If someone says “don’t tell BLANK, we haven’t figured out how or when to tell them”, I recommend pushing back. Offer a time frame. Don’t promise to keep a secret indefinitely.

          Especially in a case like this, where keeping the secret indefinitely cuts the family off from their best sources of leads on future housing.

          I DON’T promise you won’t get push back if you do this, just I feel like in most cases, the response you will get from a reasonable attempt to define boundaries around a promise not to tell will give you more information about the situation or the relationship.

    • Anothermous said:

      I love this comment, especially the point about how being perceived as a bitter woman is, like, the ultimate shame for this type of community. Yup, that was my parents’ life, and there’s a reason they fled their churches and raised myself and my brother in first a super liberal Episcopal church and later, a totally secular home.

      I want to stress that you know what? It’s okay to be bitter. I’m bitter about a lot of shit, because, frankly, there’s a lot of shit worth being bitter about, and I’m not interested in making nice about it for the sake of people with shitty gendered expectations. Getting kicked out of your home and then being told not to talk about because the people kicking you out of your home are worried about their reputation? WTF? Yeah, that’s worth being fucking bitter about.

      tl;dr, there’s a lot of shame wrapped up in certain communities about being a bitter woman, but a) just because you’re angry doesn’t mean you’re bitter (like Madison said) and b) even if you are bitter, there are things that are damn well worth being bitter about.

      • AndTheRest said:

        Thank you for this comment! It’s been on my mind a lot lately how prevalent expectations of gender stereotypes are, especially the expectation that women never express anger or bitterness, even when obviously justified. If someone wrongs you, and your community identifies you as woman (whether or not that is your actual gender identity), you are expected and exhorted to not show anger (sadness is okay) and to forgive… usually with the added insult that the forgiveness is for your benefit, not the benefit of the person who committed the wrong, as if there is something wrong with you for being upset in the first place. That’s always been a sick twist on blaming the victim for having a normal human reaction, in my opinion.

        I totally agree that there are things worth being bitter about. I’ll add that forgiveness is not a magic pill that gets rid of feelings of hurt, anger, resentment, and bitterness. In my view, forgiveness is something very personal, and it is totally valid to not forgive. Some things never merit forgiveness. I know that’s at odds with a lot of religious views, but my (non-)religious view is that forgiveness is between you and your deity(ies) or your psyche, and judgmental people need to butt the hell out of what is a very personal experience.

        • factsnotfiction said:

          I can’t speak for American churches, but according to the Church of England God “forgives all those who truly repent.” No repentance, no forgiveness. Half-hearted repentence doesn’t cut the mustard, either. And that’s GOD. I don’t see why people should be held to a higher standard than God.

        • Forced “forgiveness” isn’t really forgiveness. The way I see it, if you’re still feeling anger and resentment, you haven’t forgiven…. and that’s ok. Being forced to give an apology makes that apology meaningless, because if you really forgave them, you wouldn’t have to be forced to apologize.

          Some people and actions don’t deserve forgiveness, and that’s also ok. Forgiveness is, as you said, very personal, and if you’re forced to act forgiveness when you don’t feel it, that’s a huge red flag.

        • Madison said:

          I completely agree. If LW honestly feels bitter, she has every right to those feelings; it is a normal human emotion and we shouldn’t have to cut off parts of ourselves. There are *plenty* of things worth being bitter about – your family being given 2 months to vacate after 9 years of dedicated service and then being told to keep mum about it are certainly among them. I just know that the ‘bitterness’ label is one we do not *have to* uncritically accept for ourselves just because we are perceived women who feel (entirely justified) anger. And for some ungodly reason, those two always seem to go hand-in-hand, when a man would not be considered ‘bitter’ for expressing the same frustrations. It’s a loaded word within some faith communities and I just don’t want LW pulling condemnation down on herself – she’s got enough to deal with.

          I have *words* and *feelings* about forgiveness. It is one of those things that I think some churches get so twisted, to the point that it becomes a tool of abuse and oppression. There is a clear direction in which forgiveness flows in these instances – upward. It is required often of those with less privilege/power and expected to be granted to those with more (particularly leaders), allowing those who have much to take even more without resistance, and shaming those who feel that this is unjust. They frame it as if it is the forgiver who owes something and that is exactly backward.

          I view forgiveness more like the framework a bank uses when a loan is taken out. When the institution forgives the loan it is simply saying, “I realize I’m not going to be able to collect what is rightfully owed (for whatever reason) and I am informing you that the debt is written off.” The bank is owed repayment, it doesn’t owe forgiveness. If they do forgive a debt, they aren’t going to issue you a massive new loan the next day. And you have no right to expect them to. They know you cannot or will not pay. Your credit is going to take a hit with other lending institutions. Maybe sometimes the loan was unfair, or the interest exorbitant, and they might be willing to renegotiate for a lesser price. That’s forgiveness too – meeting people where they are and graciously accepting what they are able to offer. But forgiveness from other people is not something you can demand or force by making it the price of admission to the group. No one has a right to ‘bankrupt’ you by requiring you to unfailingly give and then forgive loans they take out. That might as well be robbery.

          Picture your heart as a house, and each person you trust gets a room inside your house. If one tenant sets their room on fire, you have good cause to evict them. It may have been an accident. And in that case, they will be willing to help you make repairs or reimburse you for damages. You can invite them back in for that reason, if you so choose, but you don’t have to. Or maybe they were just careless. Again, you can accept payment for damages without being obligated to grant residency. Maybe they did it on purpose, so you decide to rebuild and repaint and redecorate that room all on your own. You can lock the door and say, “No, I don’t trust you to not do more damage,” whether they reimburse you or not. But what if they really regret it now? Nothing is obligatory going forward on your part. When a person makes amends, that just sets you back to zero – you’re right back to where you were and not worse off by having met them. But nothing that follows has anything to do with the ‘what is owed’ portion of the interaction. Forgiveness happens whenever you decide that nothing more is owed, for whatever reason you decide it. At that point, though, you STILL get to make the decision about whether you want to open your heart’s door back up to them.

          So many people seem to think ‘forgiving’ means picking right back up where you left off as soon as the person says ‘sorry,’ regardless of the amount of damage that was done. It is *expected* of the forgiver. That whole concept (*especially* with how it is taught in some churches) needs some reframing. Forgiveness is NOT an obligation, it is a favor – one that doesn’t erase the past, and at the very best only sets your relationship back to zero.

          • j_bird said:

            I love your bank analogy!

      • Elektra said:

        Awesome comment, and very perceptive. Thank you for posting 🙂

    • Agreed. I’m not a Christian, but it seems to me that to a sincere believer, there are some sound doctrinal reasons to be angry:

      – They are not treating the labourer as worthy of his hire. They are, instead, kicking him out with no talk of finding an alternative way to pay him for his work.

      – They are asking you to be untruthful to their flock.

      – They are kicking out a struggling family that they should be helping. There’s a lot in the Bible about not screwing over the poor.

      – They are showing no sign of charity towards your inevitable distress.

      – They are apparently ignoring all that stuff in the Bible about persecution being bad.

      If you are bitter, I don’t blame you, but I think an equally accurate word might be ‘disillusioned.’ There is some whiting of sepulchres going on here, and they’re pressuring you to join in. It seems emninently Christian to have negative feelings about that.

  12. Guava said:

    I’m not a pastor’s wife, but my parents and grandparents have always been really active in their home church. I know that church communities vary widely, but in ours, the idea that the youth minister and his family would not have a place to live in two months would serve as a rallying cry for the parishioners to step up and get the word out that they needed help finding a new place.

    Is there any kind of message the parish could put out there? As in, does anyone have a space for rent, or know of a space coming up for rent? I get that LW may not want to live near parishioners, but if someone has an apartment building and rents out units, is this something that might be an option? I mean…it’s a church…it’s supposed to also exist for the betterment of the community and parish, and you and your family are an important part of that parish. It sounds like you’re doing a lot of serving them, is there any way they can help you?

    • Guava said:

      Ooh, I just re-read your post and got to the part where the deacon is asking you to remain silent about being evicted. WTF? OK, so you’re purposely being isolated from the very community that could be rallying around you to help you through this time. That seems really Not OK to me, and I would be just as disillusioned with this parish in your place.

      • e271828 said:

        That is what is ringing alarm bells for me.

        • PollyQ said:

          Agreed.

          • Elektra said:

            Yeah, for me too. It’s completely unreasonable.

            I did wonder whether it would be worth LW’s husband making clear to the deacon/church governing body what kind of position he is being put in, and the difficulties involved in finding alternative accommodation within the short timeframe (this may have already occurred but it’s not clear from the letter).

            Some people will try and foist their way on you, and hope you’ll be silent about your own needs, so they can get what they want with minimal fuss. When you push back, they might dig in their heels… but sometimes they’ll cave and find a way to accommodate you, particularly if their interests would suffer if you walked away from the whole relationship.

            Perhaps this is one such situation, particularly if LW’s husband would be difficult to replace as Youth Minister. Of course, it may be the church refuses to take any steps toward looking after LW’s family, in which case it would be officially confirmed that the church was run by A-holes and that it was time for LW’s husband to carry on his ministry in a different church community.

      • Saira Ali said:

        Yeah. LW should lay this out for the pastor, deacon, board of elders, and anyone else in leadership. “You have evicted us from our home with two months notice. This is a financial and logistical hardship for us, and you have also issued an interdiction forbidding us from asking our brothers and sisters in Christ for help. This is ungodly behavior, and beneath your dignity as ordained ministers of God.”

        • EmilyHG said:

          Yes, this! One of the really great things that churches can provide is that support network. My husband and I got a few rentals and his current job through our church networks. I can’t imagine why the deacons/pastors would cut this family off from that. The church should be helping them look, helping them pack, and setting up a meal train while they get settled in!

        • Puck said:

          That is a really wonderful script. +1

        • Guava said:

          ^^^ This!

  13. Anon said:

    Dear LW,

    My mother is a pastor who’s been working for the last fifteen years or so as a consultant to clergy in difficult situations, and based on my understanding of her experiences, this sounds like the sort of problem lots of churches can run into. The interaction among 1) spiritual leadership, 2) community, 3) family, and 4) money can be really difficult, and a LOT of the time those factors can influence each other in ways that are unproductive, or indeed SHADY. (To pick some non-random examples, familial relationships can get caught up in professional actions. Or issues and anxieties about other stuff are expressed as (only) a money problem. Or the pressure of “but our COMMUNITY!” is used to leverage leaders into taking on more responsibility OR LESS PAY than is okay. Secrecy/lack of honesty is also a HUGE problem.)

    I want to echo what other commenters have already said about your husband’s future financial compensation being an issue, and also the red flag of keeping the move a secret. (How are they financing the building project, btw? Is that going to be an issue of secrecy as well?) If your husband were writing in, I think most people would tell him that if the church doesn’t offer him AT LEAST the price of rent in your area, he should look for another job, period. Even being offered only a place to live, without a paycheck, is not all right, particularly if he’s full-time.

    Since you’re writing in, I 100% agree with the Captain’s advice. Detach, focus on taking care of yourself. Churches love status quos and resist change, so people notice and inquire and get upset when they expect you to be there and you aren’t. Let them learn to expect that you won’t be there.

    …finally, if your husband decides he wants any guidance on how to extract money issues, pastors’ salaries, and (perceived) times of crisis from the standard awful mess of emotion, expectation, entitlement, secrecy, and anxiety, uh, my mom wrote a book on it? It’s a very good, helpful book, and I do not say that just because I’m her daughter. But that is a recommendation for him! You should not put any more time, effort, and energy into this situation than is required to find somewhere to live; your sanity and your shelter are the (TOTALLY REASONABLE) #1 priorities here.

    • B. said:

      That’s really useful, thank you for sharing it!

  14. TO_Ont said:

    Where is the advisory board or similar group of people? Where are the parish meetings to discuss what should be done? How does this church operate?

    The parson and deacon appear to be making massive organisational and financial decisions while not only not consulting the people they are serving (and presumably being funded by) but if it’s how it sounds, actually *lying* to them and hiding hugely important information. Unless it’s the whole board that’s hiding it, which is possible, but that seems hard to keep secret (and also unethical). Which makes me wonder if either the parson is hiding info from the board (which is grossly unethical and perhaps illegal), or that the church has no organisational structure to speak of and the parson just does whatever he chooses without transparency or accountability (equally problematic).

    So I’m concerned not just for the LW but for the churchmembers who may be donating money to someone who, from the sound of it, may be taking it under false pretences (i.e., without being truthful about what will be done with it).

    • TO_Ont said:

      Practically speaking to me this means I would not feel like I had to keep hiding this info, especially if it’s hurting you to do so (it’s hard to ask for leads on housing if you can’t talk to people about needing housing).

      If it’s too exhausting to contemplate tr discussion that’s one thing and that’s fine, but if you really _want_ to be able to talk about this or ask for leads or whatever, I would give the parson a heads-up that it doesn’t look like you can keep this a secret any longer, and if he’d rather tell people first he can.

  15. Hepcat said:

    Something that just came to me is this:

    If a person tells you about something that’s going on in their life and says, “Please don’t tell anyone,” that seems acceptable (unless it falls under the scope of mandated reporting and you’re covered under that requirement).

    If someone says that about something they are doing to you, that is a big honkin red flag. As someone noted above, helping you find a new place is something that should be right in a congregation’s wheelhouse (though I’d be leery about renting from a parishioner*).

    *I am not a clergy person or even a churchgoer at this time, nor do I play one on TV. But one of my dear friends is a retired minister.

  16. Since several people have brought up the possibility of shady dealings, I would like to add something else as well. You may wish to avoid telling people at your church that you disagree with them on anything, especially if the church and/or pastor is powerful enough to make things harder for you. People have been known to discriminate against others in housing/employment, especially against the differently abled. You and your husband may already be targets for standing out (he is in a wheelchair and you sometimes work on Sundays). If they find any reason to dislike you, they may be able to get VERY nasty.

  17. drycamp said:

    You don’t say anything about what your husband thinks of all this. Just because he is in a wheelchair does not mean that he does not have opinions, surely. Is he OK with all this? He doesn’t care that his family is being summarily evicted? Is it the plan that he will now be paid a salary, or is it their idea that he works for nothing henceforth? He’s OK with that?

    Something shady is going on here, or the leaders would be forthright with the congregation. Is your husband all A-OK with all that too? What is his opinion about your supposedly mandatory attendance at these services?

    Me, I’d want to distance my entire family from this church immediately. So, your husband loses his job, but it looks like he isn’t going to get paid for his work in the future anyhow. Surely there are churches in your area who would be interested in a free youth minister, and communities where he and you would be treated better.

    • Dia said:

      disclaimer: I am disabled

      As far as I know, it’s not uncommon for letter writers focus on themselves rather than other people involved, so I’m uncomfortable with assuming this letter writer is leaving out certain things based on her husband’s disability status.

    • The Unicorn's Farrier said:

      LW, please tell your husband “thank you” from me, for deciding to become a youth minister. I got to experience one when my family imploded in alcohol, physical fights and infidelity just as I turned 13. I have no idea what would have happened to me without that person’s steady friendship and guidance.
      Nothing good, that’s for sure.

    • As the parent of a disabled kid, I am really angry at that snotty comment about ‘just because he is in a wheelchair.’ Really, really, REALLY angry.

      There is NO reason to presume LW is discriminating against her husband. ‘What does your partner think about all this?’ is one of the commonest questions on this site. She is treating him exactly the same way many LWs treat their husbands in these letters.

      There is discrimation against people for having a disability. There is also discrimination against people for being the family member of someone with a disability, and calling them a bigot because they happened to talk about a problem from their own perspective rather than their loved one’s is one form it can take.

      I’m going to stop now because if I carry on I’m going to start swearing.

    • Temperance said:

      It seems to me that LW wrote the letter, and focused on her own POV (reasonable), and only included the piece about her husband using a wheelchair because it’s absolutely relevant to the fact that it’s really f’ing hard for her to find housing on such short notice. She’s not demeaning him, FFS.

    • sharkface said:

      Excuse me, drycamp. Your comment “Just because he is in a wheelchair does not mean that he does not have opinions” is incredibly offensive. Our LW, as is common, hasn’t mentioned much about what her husband thinks of all this, but why have you tied this to his disability? Holy cats.

      • Being the loved one of a disabled person is, in some ways, not unlike being a pastor’s wife. People more concerned with the display of virtue than the practice of it expect you to have no other identity, and to be a shining example of cheerful selflessness with no thoughts, opinions, feelings or needs of your own – and are VERY quick to judge you if you can’t. Which you can’t, because nobody can, and assuming LW’s husband is a reasonable man, he probably isn’t asking it of her himself.

        LW is already getting crap from her church for being a human being with her own perspective. The LAST thing she needs is to get it here too. Drycamp, I think you owe her an apology.

  18. atheistorganist said:

    This is more commiseration than anything – I’m an atheist who used to work as a church organist, and if my past employment history from multiple denominations across a political spectrum has taught me anything, it is that church people are untrustworthy and narrow-minded. There’s always been a couple of good ones at any one church, but sometimes, those nice people will betray you, and their self-righteousness can sometimes get in the way of actually being a decent human. So my condolences on being chained to a church.

    Also – it’s pretty common in “the industry” to have a spouse who works at a different church. It may not be typical for congregation members, but for church staff (which your husband is), it’s not something people would probably focus on much.

    • TO_Ont said:

      ‘ it is that church people are untrustworthy and narrow-minded”

      That’s not been my experience in my own church, or of my parents, or of my friends, or I believe of myself. And there’s no reason to believe it’s true of the LW or her husband either. And your comment isn’t exactly making you sound bursting with open-mindedness and kindness to others yourself.

      • Halpful said:

        Yes, please don’t make sweeping generalizations here.

      • therufs said:

        As a member of the culturally privileged group in American culture, I think the correct answer here is actually “Sorry this happened to you” and not “#NOTALLCHRISTIANS”.

        Christians still hold a lot of power and still do a lot of legitimately shitty things; expecting people who have experienced the shitty things to be Duly Respectful is, tbh, pretty gross.

        • Jenna said:

          Yes, indeed. I was raised in one church and have visited others and a few of those churches(my in-laws’ church) tested my faith in humanity. For brevity I will skip the story, but, let’s definitely skip the #NOT ALL CHRISTIANS stuff, cause it’s not a good look.

          • TO_Ont said:

            I don’t agree. This is the LW’s husband you’re talking about. I’m sure they didn’t come here asking for help to have themselves and their husband insulted.

          • TO_Ont said:

            To me flat out stating that a certain group of people is all bad or almost all bad is quite different from sharing bad personal experiences or expressing anger or hurt.

            I suppose the difference is when someone actually does say basically all X are Y vs when they just talk about a bad experience or person or history, and someone jumps in to remind them that not all X are Y, which is derailing the person by arguing against a point they never actually claimed, while distracting from the experience the person was trying to share.

            If they DO actually claim it, that’s quite different, IMO.

        • Raptor said:

          Now I have that weird awkward bisexual-woman-married-to-a-man passing privilege/erasure going on, but back when I dated enough women that most people presumed me to be a lesbian, I had a series of very awful experiences with pretty much every Christian I spent any amount of time talking to. Literally the only reason that stopped was that I started dating men again. This can be very hard to get over.

          My list of “Christians who have used religion to hurt me” is still much longer than my list of “Christians who have had a positive influence in my life.” I take each person individually for the most part, but if I know someone is Christian, I might not open up as fast about some things in my life.

          I’m not the kind of person who insults others’ religions, especially in front of them, and I wouldn’t have said here what atheistorganist said because I don’t feel like it’s helpful to the LW. (I’m also not sure why atheistorganist continues to play in churches.)

          But the bottom line is, some people have reasons.

          • Antigone said:

            *nod nod* I’m also bisexual, and have experienced mostly crappy treatment from Christians for this (and for other things…slut-shaming, gender essentialism, classism, outright misogyny..the list is endless).

            And I resent the above comments implying that I’m wrong or irrational to be wary or to protect myself. That I should give all Christians a chaaaaance. How is this any different from telling women #notallmen, you should give them a chaaance, etc. etc.

            I’m white and don’t feel that it’s fair to expect people of colour to just automatically know/believe that I’m not racist. I feel that it makes more sense for me to try not to be -that- kind of white person, rather than expect PoC to just take a chance and hope I’m not like the other 500 white people they’ve met.

            (Also? If tone policing the venting and hyperbole of the marginalised is -more- important to you than the fact that people in your group have abused their privilege to hurt and marginalise others? Then you’re part of the problem.)

  19. megpie71 said:

    As a minister’s daughter myself (and recipient of some of the frankly hair-raising stories my mother told about church manses and the sorts of logic parishioners would use in order to avoid performing maintenance on them) I can testify the LW’s story about being given 60 days notice to move rings entirely too true. “Christian Charity” as exhibited by parish councils toward those who minister to their spiritual needs tends to be reluctant, slow-to-act, and miserly, and also expects an even bigger performance of the Dance Of Perpetual Gratitude in response than the normal run of the stuff does.

    As someone who has also been told to move on 60 days notice (from a private rental… at the height of a rental boom, in the middle of a bankruptcy – it’s the nearest I’ve been to winding up homeless) I can testify this is more than ordinarily stressful, and more than ordinarily frustrating, because even at the best of times, house-hunting is a pain, and moving house is one of the top three stressors likely to be encountered by most people in their lifetimes (number one is the death of a spouse, number two is the death of a close family member). So, LW, your being stressed, upset and furious at the inconvenience of it all is, to put it bluntly, entirely justified. Especially since you’re presumably now looking for a place you can afford on just your income, and trying to figure out how to juggle expenses and so on at the same time. You’re being told you’re not allowed to ask for help from the congregation, and you’re basically being denied any support at all. Under similar circumstances, I wasn’t just bitter – I was damn close to a full-on, call-the-men-with-the-hug-me-jackets, come-and-take-me-away breakdown.

    Given the circumstances, and the request from the deacon to keep quiet about things (which sounds even more off than the usual run of “Christian Charity” parish council behaviour, quite frankly) I suspect being expected to show up on Sundays and Make Nice is essentially the straw which would break the camel’s back. Or in a more accurate metaphor, the straw which would result in the person loading it on getting a good solid face-full of camel-spit!

    Alternative response for your husband, if he’s feeling bitter and wanting to stir the pot too: “Ask Deacon Whatsisname, or Pastor Whosit. They know why she isn’t here. Or they can probably guess.”

    • Guava said:

      That is a GOOD response.

    • Madison said:

      I really like this script. Even if LW’s husband ISN’T feeling bitter or wanting to stir the pot, I think he can still say “I really can’t talk about it but Pastor Whosit and Deacon Whatsisname both know why and we are expecting that an announcement will be made soon.” LW and her family absolutely should not be cut off from the support of the faith community, but if her husband has decided that Pastor’s gag-order should be followed, then either way he feels about it, at the very least, he should be able to publicly acknowledge that Pastor and Deacon are both involved and repeat the reassurances given to him – that the church would be told. Place the obligation for answering to the congregation back where it belongs – on Pastor’s shoulders.

  20. Saira Ali said:

    The magic word to use to explain your absence is “sabbatical.” Dress it up with a lot of biblical metaphors and even some fairly conservative church types will understand. “Oh, Too Stressed For This is taking a short sabbatical from our parish. She was really feeling called to take some time to drink deeply from the well of nourishment by being just another face in the pews at Pick Some Random Nearby Church* for a few weeks.” If you are involved in any lay ministries as a volunteer you could even say you want to go see how the Spirit is moving in your sister congregations to bring ideas back home after your “sabbatical.”

    * Some Random Nearby Parish should ideally be one your parish respects as being similarly aligned to them on values and ideology, and also not richer or more “successful” than your parish.

    • Ginger said:

      +1000

    • apricity said:

      Agreed, going to another church would probably be a good alternative. If you are religious, it would be a more supportive place for you to be spiritual in; if you’re not religious, you can just sit peacefully and quietly in the pew and take some time out. Perhaps your husband could also get other church members to give him a lift (logistically this may be hard, I recognise) or perhaps you could drop your family off early, thus avoiding conversations at drop off time.

  21. The Unicorn's Farrier said:

    Wow, LW. This deal seems so shady you could pitch a hammock under it.

    What’s that saying- something like, “Church is a school for the imperfect, not a showcase for the perfect-?”

    Keeping quiet would be possible if there’d been offers of help from the church’s leaders. Your first priority is keeping your family housed. My feeling is you should GET VERY LOUD about what you’re being handed. The facts are fine. “We need to move from our home now” “I’d love help finding a new place.” “Can we organize a moving party?”
    Maybe this is just the thing to capture the people who are on the slippery slope of current events-? You’re the expert. They should be offering to provide you with a tenant and credit reference, too.

    If this were my family, I’d be making some friends while I’m exploring a new church and posting some fliers.

    Is it quite true that the church-tenant thing means you have no legal rights as a tenant? Are you up to a quick call to Legal Aid?

    Best wishes to you on this.

    • The Unicorn's Farrier said:

      Later thought: there’s room for some plausable denial if you were to talk to these two people- something like, “I’m concerned that the reputation of the church will suffer once people realize that the reason I’m trying to find another home on such short notice, is because of decisions made internally” or something along those lines. 😀 very shortsighted of them to think the coercion won’t get out. Much better for their rep to act as if your welfare is important, and that they did the expected help you find a new home, help you move, settled the money issues with your husband. Don’t they want to save face? Minister in wheelchair forced from home would lead the local news and make a national feed, IMO.

      There’s such a strongly dehumanizing stink to this, as if the house contains things, not people.

  22. Rasmus Wagner said:

    People who ask you to keep quiet about how they’re fucking you over can just fuck right the fuck off. You do NOT owe these people your silence.

  23. I don’t have any advice, LW, but this is bringing up memories and feelings from when I was a kid, aged 10-12, and our Church of England church kicked us out of our home. We were renting the curate’s house at below market rates and my dad was a salaried staff member of the church doing community/social work stuff. My mum was a part time nurse so we didn’t have a lot of money, and my parents had me and two younger brothers to raise. The church decided they wanted a curate and asked us to move at relatively short notice.

    We, a family of five, had to move into a two-bed flat for 9 months while my parents tried to get a mortgage for a suitable place elsewhere. Obviously, I don’t know all the details, but to add insult to injury one of the people involved in kicking us out was my godfather, and they didn’t get a curate for a good year until after we’d moved out. Yes, we were bitter, yes, my parents fell out with the church leadership, yes, I as an 11 year old was aware that things were not right. We changed churches for a while, and eventually moved out of the area all together.

    Long story, short, yes, you should take a break from your church, and no, you shouldn’t worry about making it all the awkward. There is a lot of good advice up thread, so I’ll just offer my sympathy and keep you in my thoughts. You’re facing a difficult situation with little to no support from those who should be supporting you and I hope you are able to get through it.

  24. ...Kat... said:

    I think OP should skip church services – just drop off husband and kids and pick them up later. Even better, would be the husband asking for a ride from other parishioners.

    I think husband should tell people who ask, “the church has given us two months to move. This is an incredibly short time period in which to find appropriate housing. My wife is busy focusing on that.”

    I think the church needs to pay him an appropriate amount of real money. Otherwise he needs a new job, possibly in another field. He has bills and responsibilities.

  25. policychick said:

    LW – I am so sorry you are facing this. I have a logistical/practical suggestion for you (if your husband is up for it.)

    I think it is perfectly reasonable for your husband to go to the pastor and point out a few facts:
    1. It is highly unlikely they are going to bulldoze the parsonage the day after you move out
    2. In order to rebuild, they will need: a budget, architectural drawings, permits from the city, etc., which again is not going to happen in two months.
    3. Finding suitable accommodations for your family is going to take longer than two months.

    Considering they haven’t even told the congregation yet, I’d suggest proposing that when that takes place, you get six months from that date. You could also request the pastor announce your impending move, and ask the congregation to help you find a new place. That’s one of the things communities and churches do for each other!

    I hope this is helpful.. Good luck LW!

    PS Someone else may have already suggested this – if so, sorry!

  26. They told us they would like to start removing the parsonage by March; but please don’t tell anyone about this because they hadn’t decided how to tell the church body, or even when to tell them

    It’s been a long time since I stepped foot in a church, but this sure does sound to me like they’re asking you to bear false witness to the rest of the congregation.

  27. Hi, I’m a Christian and very much agree with the advice you were offered here by Captain Awkward: be real in church as far as you can, but allow yourself to sometimes hide behind “I’m fine thanks”, and allow yourself to take time out if it’s necessary – but also: pray and ask God to help you through this difficult and painful time! I’ve had to do that and have seen him answer my prayers – eventually!

    And talk to your church leaders, be real with them and seek reconciliation. And be prepared to forgive – that probably sounds like a very tall order right now, but it is the way Jesus calls us to live.

    • Thom said:

      Hi, I’m also a Christian, and LW doesn’t have to prepare to forgive ANY of these shady jackasses.

      • Ros said:

        There’s also a difference between “forgive” (aka: find peace within your heart, don’t bear a grudge, and make plans to avoid a repeated incident) and “forgive” (aka: pretend to forget, and let yourself be walked all over a second time because you won’t let yourself make plans to avoid a repeated incident because that’s a demonstration of lack of forgiveness).

        It seems like religious communities often prize Option B, in my experience (not all churches, etc). Usually from women.

        Wonder why that is.

    • Temperance said:

      It actually doesn’t say anywhere in the letter that she is a Christian, just that her husband and children are. Check yourself.

      • Good point! If she isn’t then it’s a whole different ballgame.

  28. Jack V said:

    I have a whole bunch of different thoughts. First, stuff that applies to you both as a family. But I’m going to come back to, how to choose which of that you take on, and which you designate husband’s problem.

    I’m not sure, but is it that Husband physically can’t get to the temporary church without your help? Then just leaving it to him is not as trivial — but surely someone else could give him a lift?

    The “being turfed out, keep it secret” is definitely shady. Are you aware of what legal rights you have? Have they given you notice in writing? That follows a clear notice period? Or did they just say “please leave”? You likely have *some* rights.

    They act like letting you live here is a “favour”. Are they proposing an alternative payment for husbands job, or just nothing? If nothing, you collectively don’t owe them anything. Husband can continue his job if he wants, but should consider doing it for a church which actually values him, rather than one that wants to exploit him.

    Okay, now you. Is husband just ok with all this, or not sure, or what?

    If not going along with it ruins husband’s career, that means there’s good reason to not just unilaterally refuse to have anything to do with the church without talking to him first. But if he doesn’t agree, that doesn’t mean you have to wait until he does! He should stand up for you, and if your attitude is “i need a break”, or “I need out, never again”, he needs to support that. If he doesn’t want to talk about it, that doesn’t mean, “spouse is forced to pretend a religion she doesn’t have for the rest of her life”. It means, “when you can’t do this any more, he will have some advance warning, instead of finding that he ignored it.”

    It is probably really hard for husband, especially if (as seems likely) the church is inclined to take advantage of him and not respect his contributions. And if he feels like he’s not able to contribute financially any more after this. And you can support him with that. But he needs to support you too, you don’t need to sacrifice your mental health for his.

  29. Clarry said:

    I was smelling several fish as I read the letter and am glad to see that so many others have been getting that same fishy smell. It does make sense that the church might really have nowhere else to rebuild, but it doesn’t make sense to put a gag order on telling anyone “because they haven’t decided how to tell the church body.” How is that something difficult to figure out? Put it in the newsletter or send an email or mention it at the end of a Sunday service: State building codes say we can’t rebuild in the original location so we’re going to use the parsonage site and have asked Youth Minister and his family to find another place. If there were really nothing wrong with this, the congregation would nod, exclaim what a shame it is, and some of them would try to help with whatever they could whether that was in hiring an architect or helping the current tenants relocate. As soon as you get the “shh, don’t tell,” you have to wonder what’s up, and some of the speculation is likely to be worse than the truth. Like, I have to wonder if the leadership is trying to push through an unpopular idea by doing it fast and secret and before anyone has a chance to object or check the veracity of anything that’s been said. With that in mind, I can’t help but wonder how bad it would be to let the secret slip in some gosh-golly-I-didn’t-mean-to way. At the very least, negotiations have to begin with the church administration as to exactly the terms of the new employment agreement. That is, since Husband won’t be getting free rent in lieu of a paycheck, how much will his paycheck be? It seems to me that the worst these people can do is what they’re already doing– kicking you out of your home of 8 years, isolating you, and maybe firing your husband from his job. So instead of having an epic breakdown and telling them to fuck off, you could say something along the lines of “we’re not on the same page on this and I need some space.”

    • Clarry said:

      Following up on my own comment– That could be: I need some space literally as in do you know of any available 2 bedroom apartments with reliable elevators and other wheelchair accessible amenities? Why yes, we are moving. Goodness! it was supposed to be a secret. Dear me. Well, tell me if you hear of any place we could rent. I’ll fill you in on the details of why we’re looking for a place later …

  30. carlie said:

    I have been close to the equivalent of the youth pastor’s wife who stopped going to church, and in a fundamentalist Baptist one at that where skipping church was NOT DONE. (differences: husband was unpaid effectively second-in-command to youth pastor,and I stopped going because of awful things the church did to other people, including firing the paid youth pastor while his wife was 7 months pregnant). So I know in a way that is not nearly as intense as your situation, but somewhat close. So this is all about me, but you may be able to pull parts from it that might be useful.

    First, I talked with my husband about all of it. Deep, intense, scary talks of a sort we’d never had before in our marriage. I told him how I couldn’t bear going there after what they did, how it was tearing me up inside, how I didn’t want to make him the spouse of a backslider because we both knew what that meant in terms of how he’d be treated. I told him that I’d keep on going if he needed me to, but only for the parts I could handle (main service where I could just sit there, not Sunday School where I had to interact with people, wouldn’t talk to anyone before or after). Just having him on board was the important part. (For those of you who can’t quite grasp it – it’s not just that you become an outcast, it’s that everyone pities your poor spouse and doesn’t *quite* trust him so much because if he can’t be the head of his spiritual household and keep his wife in line, how can he lead anyone else?) I’m sure you’ve done this already, but feeling like it would be my fault if people treated him badly, and knowing he was willing to take on that burden for my sake, did wonders for me and for our relationship.

    Second, don’t let the pastor &co. intimidate you into thinking that if you get mad at them and stop going, that there’s something wrong with you. One of the honestly most freeing moments I’ve ever felt was when I ran into the pastor out in public several months after I quit. My first thought was to run off before he saw me so he couldn’t do the whole “haven’t seen you in church lately” backslider chastisement, then I thought no, I did nothing wrong, he did. I also didn’t want him to glimpse me leaving and think he was right, that I was ashamed. So I marched right up to him and started a “Hi how are you” conversation like nothing was wrong. And he couldn’t get away from me fast enough! I had upended what the interaction was supposed to be like and he couldn’t cope with it. It was great. It was a good lesson in realizing that pastors only have as much power as you grant to them, and if you act like everything’s ok with you and your attitude, they don’t have a foothold to get in.

    As for the other stuff – don’t play along with their secrets. If it’s unpaid and they’ve pulled out the support, they probably wouldn’t take much effort to keep him. He can keep doing it for free if he wants, but if they decide they don’t like him telling people that he works for free, then he can step down and just be a member. Nobody in the congregation would begrudge him that, especially if the response is “then you can be the youth pastor for no compensation instead”. In our case, the attitude from other members lasted a few weeks but then died down. (he did keep the position, but it was clear that since it was all volunteer on his part, there were no grounds for complaint). It’s a good time for the girls too to learn that there’s a difference between church and congregations and their leaders – it’s ok to like and support some but not all of them. “We like the church but the pastor is kicking us out of our house and that makes Mom not want to see him right now” is something they can understand.

    Best of luck to you – they really did screw you over, and you’re justified in being upset about it.

  31. Nanani said:

    Just have to add that “Now, you don’t want to flee church (or this particular church) forever” may stop being true at some point, and THAT IS OKAY.

    “X’s wife” is not actually a job, even if some corners of society still like to pretend it is.
    You are an adult with your own mind, career, and priorities, and it is okay to be a person who doesn’t go to church.

    Yes, this can cause ripples and ruffled feathers because of your particular situation, but if the church can’t deal with that it is 100% on them, not on you to pretend to fit in their moldy old box.

  32. Han Solo said:

    Also wanna offer that the term “spiritual abuse” sprang to mind as I was reading this letter. If that resonates with you, LW, I encourage you to seek out resources from survivors and/or support from a trained mental health professional who is familiar with/not dismissive of spiritual abuse. That can include something as straightforward as recommending some reading.

    (Also, like other forms of abuse, there are certain types of stories that tend to grab people’s attention the most. You might find yourself going through the same experience that I did, where I could check off multiple boxes and give specific examples, but still resisted calling it abuse because “it’s not _that_ bad…” If so, know that there is no “you must be this abused to take action” threshold, and again, a qualified supportive professional can be extremely valuable.)

    All the best to you and your family.

  33. LeighTX said:

    *waving at all the pastor’s wives here* Hi, fellow youth minister’s wife here! My husband has been in youth ministry for 20+ years and it would take pages for me to recite all the Wrongs We Have Suffered, so let me just say: I feel you. Ministry is not a career for the faint of heart and I’m pretty sure pastor’s wives get into the nicest part of heaven with no questions asked.

    First things first: if they want to continue to employ your husband as their youth minister, he needs to request (1) an actual paycheck (2) in the amount equal to your housing costs plus additional for withholdings. That amount should include: rent, utilities (unless you are currently paying those yourself), and an additional amount to cover Social Security/Medicare (7.65% of the income). In other words, if your rent is $1,200 per month, his gross pay per month should be AT LEAST $1,291.80 so when Social Sec/Medicare is taken out you have enough left to cover the rent. And, as I said, calculate what the church was paying in utilities or other housing costs and factor those in as well, so you don’t have extra expenses.

    ALSO: that income will be non-taxable. Any income up to the total costs of your housing (rent, property taxes, utilities, cleaning supplies, internet, cable, yard work, furnishings, etc.) should be officially designated in writing between your husband and the church as “housing allowance,” and NO FEDERAL INCOME TAX should be withheld from it, and it should go in a specific spot on his W-2 at year end. Let me repeat that: as clergy, his housing costs can (and should) be designated as non-taxable income.

    As for you, dealing with the emotional fallout of all this malarky: take the time off that you need. It is his job, not yours, and they’re not exactly paying him enough to cover your presence. He can tell them every single Sunday that you’re working, and technically you are; you’re either working at your job or you’re working to pack or you’re working to find a new place to live or you’re working on not emotionally vomiting all over anyone who asks where you’ve been. Have him practice: “Where is Too Stressed? We haven’t seen her in a while!” “She’s working, but I’ll tell her you asked about her!” The End. If you do feel like going to church, it’s okay to sneak off to the restroom or an empty classroom to feel your feelings a bit, or show up right when it starts and leave as soon as Amen is said. Take care of yourself.

    Final note: speaking as someone who was once told to lie about the reason we were leaving a church (and refused), this “don’t tell anyone” business needs to end yesterday. It does not say nice things about these people that they’re keeping it secret. Tell your husband he needs to go to the pastor and deacon and say, “We need the church’s help finding a new place to live. Please announce the building plans to the congregation by Sunday so that I can start asking people to look out for us.” And then HOLD HIS GROUND. Also maybe he should be looking for another job that pays a living wage; http://www.churchstaffing.com is a great place to start.

    All the very, very best to you. I offer myself as a resource if you want to vent or talk or trade war stories; ask the good Captain to get us in touch if you’d like. God bless–

    • Sheryl said:

      @LeighTX – You rock.

    • The Unicorn's Farrier said:

      OPPOSITE ACTION is a great de-tangler to gaslighting and coercion.

    • MuddieMae said:

      Just chiming in from accountant-land – the husband may be considered self employed for tax purposes (the way ministerial wages are handled is unique) which would mean they pay both halves of SS & Medicare taxes. You will also need to pay income taxes on any part of the housing allowance that isn’t used for housing.

      It might be wise to talk with a CPA in your state regarding tax treatment if they end up giving you the housing allowance in cash.

  34. Your family’s love of God is not paying the bills or keeping a roof over your family’s heads, LW, so that (or your own personal demonstration of how you feel about God) is an irrelevant issue when there are bills to pay and lodging to rent.

    I would suggest in the future getting a contract or SOMETHING in writing drawn up by a lawyer if your husband wants to agree to a similar arrangement elsewhere with this church or with another church. One that lays out the terms clearly, and where both parties agree that in lieu of salary of $Y amount (here is where you’d state a salary that would be a fair rent for the lodging and enough to live upon), you are getting rent credit in $X amount ($Y = $X), and notice to vacate must be given Z months in advance if (for whatever reason) other lodging must be found. The church will also want notice before you leave, as is fair, so expect their lawyer(s) to cover them from being abandoned without an employee, too. I’d add some wording about what both parties agree should happen if any acts of God render you homeless here (e.g., fire and flood and other miseries) too, so the church, which is getting out of shelling out a salary in exchange for experience and free labor, is also required to help you relocate to a similar or better home or pay $X toward your rent in a new place (for however many months you all mutually think would be fair) should, through no fault of your family’s, the lodging become uninhabitable.

    As for dealing with church people refusing to tend to their own knitting in favor of passing judgment on others’ personal business and keeping tabs on their attendance or lack thereof, I have no advice because I was not able to tolerate that nonsense and I no longer attend church. I’m indescribably happier as a result, too. My solution is obviously not appropriate for everyone, but it works for me.

  35. Temperance said:

    I think it’s fine for your husband to want to go to church, and it’s just as fine for you to not want to go to church. If he gets questions, so be it. I would also check in with your kids to see whether they actually like it, or they feel forced to attend. I’ve been a kid at a conservative, hateful church, and it frankly sucked. It might suck for them, too, or they might be learning things you don’t want them to think.

    I personally think they should pound sand. After your husband gave nearly 10 years to them without any pay, this is how they thank him? It can be very difficult to find accessible rental housing (as you undoubtedly know), and the fact that they aren’t giving you reasonable notice really sucks.

  36. jalan_jalan said:

    I was a female youth leader for several years in an evangelical church. I got paid, barely. But I can relate to the kind of situation in which the church is OK with providing very little compensation yet expecting a two full-time employees (me plus husband) for their meager offerings. My husband worked his own job most weekends, so I endured the kinds of “judgment” and “small talk” I’m sure your family goes through, LW. I haven’t read every comment on the thread, but from what I did read, what I haven’t seen mentioned is that the judgment passed by the religious community can have more practical and fundamental implications than just feeling “judged.”

    For me, my position was tenuous to begin with, since I was a woman. But if your church is anything like mine was, losing the job was always a threat. I loved the youth I worked with and invested a lot of my emotion, energy, and identity in the work I was doing. Moreover, the church community was the entirety of my local social support system. My friends and family outside the church were all out of state. The threat of losing my position meant the loss of the thing I enjoyed most (the work), my security (financially and socially), and to an embarrassing degree my identity. So I can understand that there might be pressures beyond uncomfortable conversation that affect your choices.

    Honestly, my hope for your family is that eventually your husband finds a job situation that better suits your family (and him!). But I also understand the complicated reasons for remaining.

    In my experience, there’s no way to change church people, or more practically, the social pressures of the church. When you are stuck going to church and interacting with church folk, keep in mind that they really don’t want deep conversation or answers to their questions, so you can give shallow, non-committal responses. “I’m managing” and “I’m hanging in there” are truthful ways of saying “My life is a wreck and it’s your fault and I think you’re a shit but I haven’t given up because I have kids and a family.” This is not unlike the Captain’s advice to say “I’ll consider that” to advice you have no intention of taking.

    Whatever the conversation you’re stuck with, turning it around so the church member can talk about themselves or their kids will almost always work as a distraction. Even if you already know the answers to the questions, ask about the Important Thing they shared as a prayer request, or Uncle Joe’s Big Toe (that we’ve all heard about and prayed for for months), or something else that lets you not talk about yourself.

    The downside of this advice is that it leaves you feeling even more isolated than you already do. I wish this were not the case, but you seem to have already intuited that the church social structure isn’t likely to give you the support you actually need.

    You mention feeling depressed. You might already have a support system in place. This is a great time to gather Team You. If you don’t have a Team, this is a great time to find one!

    If you’re invested in the church world, many denominations have a pastoral counseling center for church staff who have been damaged by the church. I’d only recommend this if you are super invested in the church.

    I actually found that counseling from secular organizations was better for me – they didn’t presure me to normalize abusive behavior.

    Best of luck, LW!

  37. No funny names here, sorry said:

    First time commenter, long time reader here – I am a precher’s kid and my parent eventually got pretty high up into our denomination’s administrative structure. I have lived in old, moldy unmaintained parsonages. I have known unpaid/underpaid/totally taken advantage of youth ministers. In fact, our current church just recently tried to convince one of my immediate family members to take over the previously paid youth minister position for no money because their spouse works in a great job that makes lots of money.

    LW – hang in there! love and blessings to your and your family.

    I absolutely agree with everyone above that:
    1) LW’s husband needs to get paid in money since he is no longer being paid in housing, and if they won’t do that he needs to look for a new job
    2) the leadership has NO RIGHT to hide the very serious building issue information from the congregation, and LW’s husband would be within his rights to refuse to conceal this information – the congregation are the bosses of the pastor and deacon and have the RIGHT to know about building and financial issues
    3) it is also downright unchristian to prevent LW and family from getting support from the community for their move

    One possible suggestion — the preacher equivalent of “take it to HR”

    If the LW’s denomination has a structure, consider approaching someone up the structure for advice — for example, most denominations have some sort of regional structure with administration associated – in many denominations, this would be the local Bishop’s office. This serves as a sort of HR for the region in many situations.

  38. LeighTX said:

    *waving at all the pastor’s wives here* Hi, fellow youth minister’s wife here! My husband has been in youth ministry for 20+ years and it would take pages for me to recite all the Wrongs We Have Suffered, so let me just say: I feel you. Ministry is not a career for the faint of heart and I’m pretty sure pastor’s wives get into the nicest part of heaven with no questions asked.

    First things first: if they want to continue to employ your husband as their youth minister, he needs to request (1) an actual paycheck (2) in the amount equal to your housing costs plus additional for withholdings. That amount should include: rent, utilities (unless you are currently paying those yourself), and an additional amount to cover Social Security/Medicare (7.65% of the income). In other words, if your rent is $1,200 per month, his gross pay per month should be AT LEAST $1,291.80 so when Social Sec/Medicare is taken out you have enough left to cover the rent. And, as I said, calculate what the church was paying in utilities or other housing costs and factor those in as well, so you don’t have extra expenses.

    ALSO: that income will be non-taxable. Any income up to the total costs of your housing (rent, property taxes, utilities, cleaning supplies, internet, cable, yard work, furnishings, etc.) should be officially designated in writing between your husband and the church as “housing allowance,” and NO FEDERAL INCOME TAX should be withheld from it, and it should go in a specific spot on his W-2 at year end. Let me repeat that: as clergy, his housing costs can (and should) be designated as non-taxable income.

    As for you, dealing with the emotional fallout of all this malarky: take the time off that you need. It is his job, not yours, and they’re not exactly paying him enough to cover your presence. He can tell them every single Sunday that you’re working, and technically you are; you’re either working at your job or you’re working to pack or you’re working to find a new place to live or you’re working on not emotionally vomiting all over anyone who asks where you’ve been. Have him practice: “Where is Too Stressed? We haven’t seen her in a while!” “She’s working, but I’ll tell her you asked about her!” The End. If you do feel like going to church, it’s okay to sneak off to the restroom or an empty classroom to feel your feelings a bit, or show up right when it starts and leave as soon as Amen is said. Take care of yourself.

    Final note: speaking as someone who was once told to lie about the reason we were leaving a church (and refused), this “don’t tell anyone” business needs to end yesterday. It does not say nice things about these people that they’re keeping it secret. Tell your husband he needs to go to the pastor and deacon and say, “We need the church’s help finding a new place to live. Please announce the building plans to the congregation by Sunday so that I can start asking people to look out for us.” And then HOLD HIS GROUND. Also maybe he should be looking for another job that pays a living wage; Churchstaffing.com is a great place to start.

    All the very, very best to you. I offer myself as a resource if you want to vent or talk or trade war stories; ask the good Captain to get us in touch if you’d like. God bless–

  39. daphne said:

    Many owners pay people or ask neighbours to keep an eye on (“monitor”) empty property. So, church saving money by not paying someone to care for property.

    Instead, LW’s husband was being given ‘free rent” in exchange for free services. He’s not really “employed” by the church, he’s a volunteer. (Work for no payment = volunteer, not employee.)

    So, family gets (was getting) free place to live, in exchange for vounteer work by minister husband.

    Who was paying the electrical, water, property tax, insurance, etc. bills?

    Now, the family will be paying to live in a new place while the husband volunteers his services at church that evicted them?

    Many, many smelly fish, not one of them Christian.

    • Temperance said:

      Actually, no, they are Christian. Being a jerk doesn’t make you less of a Christian, and just enables Christians to run around like wolves in sheep’s clothing.

      The tax code has a special exemption for a “housing allowance” for ministerial employees. This setup is common, and not at all what you are thinking.

  40. Chris said:

    If I understand correctly, the pastor and deacon have decided that in order to re-build the church, the parsonage must go. Your husband has been performing duties unpaid, but you had the parsonage as a free residence. These two stellar Christian(?) gentlemen think it is alright to not tell the congregation (and governing board?) of their decision, apparently until construction is started and you and husband should be complicit in this. The proper way for both you and your husband to respond to any inquiries into your attendance is with the truth. “We are both so busy finding a new place to live that sometimes my wife cannot make it to church. Thank you for your concern.” I would also recommend that your husband also quietly and quickly seek a position where he will be paid and that may be more ideologically comfortable as well.

    I do not know how your congregation is governed, but it also sounds as if any representatives of the congregation that might have something to say are also being kept out of the loop. If your area is anything like mine, churches are often granted exemptions for some regulations and codes, especially under the circumstances you describe, where grandfathering can be applied. Combined with the secrecy, something smells fishy about this. You and your husband are being treated shabbily and have had an additional burden placed on you with no offer to help alleviate it.

  41. Ookling said:

    Ok, I’m in the UK, and the Anglican Church does some things differently, but is there no board or council that runs the parish along with the minister?

    This is being not only poorly handled in practical terms, there are also red flags aplenty re the secrecy. Are they asking you to stay quiet and rushing things through so they can persuade the congregation that it was a voluntary thing/your husbands idea? Because it would not surprise me if so.

    So my first question is: are the minister and deacon legally allowed to do what they’re doing? I have no idea how deeds of ownership for church property work in the US. Property law gets weird around churches. There’s a lot of things you can’t do. Might be worth checking out.

    Did you sign any kind of lease or rental agreement when you moved in? If not, are you a de facto tennant, now? You don’t have to drag this through the law courts (I understand how difficult that might be in a church community,) but if you know legally where you stand, it might help any discussion of a longer notice period etc.

    Secondly, there is nothing shameful about being angry, stressed or bitter about this. They’ve not only put you and your family in a very difficult position, after nine years faithful service, they’ve cut you off from you immediate source of friends and support. If you weren’t angry or stressed or bitter from time to time, something would be very wrong indeed.

    Jedi hugs, if liked.

  42. Turtle Candle said:

    LW, I am sincerely, genuinely hoping that you’re in a situation where it’s safe for you and your family if you opt out of going to church/attending church functions/etc., and/or where it’s safe for you to speak honestly.

    I hope that’s the case–and if that is the case, then please disregard the below.

    Okay, so from here on down I’m going to talk from the perspective of someone who grew up in an area where failure to belong to the right church, or to perform religion “correctly,” was actively dangerous. Yes, it’s illegal; yes, we all legally have freedom of religion; yes, dragging someone to church would technically be a crime. A crime that you would have had a lot of fun trying to prosecute in that town. (I speak as someone whose dear friend from my original hometown lost custody of her young daughters to her physically abusive husband because she didn’t attend church often enough. Her ‘jury of her peers’ were mostly locals, for whom ‘well, you know, she stopped attending church‘ was a major consideration in giving him full custody. I’m not saying that that’s a reason to attend church–but it does make it more complex than simply ‘just stop going, what harm can it do?’)

    I hope you aren’t in a town like that–and if you aren’t, you should definitely follow the advice of others, and just opt out. And if you are, I hope you can get out as fast as possible. But. If you are, here are my tips for how to manage if you don’t feel safe skipping church or being honest:

    – Cherrypick the activities that are most obvious. I found it possible to skip most ‘optional’ church activities, so long as I attended Sunday services. I attended Sunday morning services, and a few other important services (Good Friday, say, and Christmas Eve), but if I showed up for Sundays + important services, it was much less noticeable if I missed the Thursday ice cream social, or whatever.

    – If you don’t feel safe being honest about your feelings, deflect. When asked how you are, “Oh, fine, and you?” or is a good one, or “Can’t complain; how’re your folks?” These work very very often because most people will latch onto the “and you?” part and give you every detail of their lives, at which point you just have to nod.

    – If someone presses you for details, there’s this almost-miraculous suggestion by Suzette Hayden Elgin, who is IMHO a genuine genius: if someone says something and you have no fucking clue how to respond, or you just want to deflect the conversation, you nod sagely and then say, “Well, you can’t tell which way the train went by looking at the tracks.” It is a response that is potentially applicable to almost any situation, means nothing (that’s the whole point!), and keeps things moving smoothly along. I actually used this recently with a customer who was pro-Trump, who I could not offend without getting fired, and I can’t afford to get fired, and he said something about health insurance–I can’t even remember what–and I said “Well, you know, you can’t tell which way the train went by looking at the tracks” and he nodded like I’d said something wise instead of LITERALLY a totally empty platitude, and went about his way. (I’d love other meaningless platitudes, incidentally. SO USEFUL.)

    – If, at the end of things, the only way you can manage is to pretend to be someone you’re not–well, first, start planning as fast as possible to get out of that situation. If it’s not safe for you to be who you are where you are, try to make it possible to live somewhere else. But, in the meantime:

    – The saving grace for me, when I had to pretend to be someone I wasn’t, in a circumstance where faking a particular religion was necessary to my physical safety, was to playact in a very literal sense. At various times I pretended to be Lucy from the Narnia books; to be various characters from Jane Austen’s works; to be Eowyn from Lord of the Rings. When I had to pretend to be someone other than myself, it was emotionally helpful to be other than myself–an act, not a modification of my self.

    (And there’s some utility to that even in not-horrifying circumstances. Even as I am, free to express myself as I want, I–as a Dragon Age fan–occasionally think ‘what would Josephine Montilyet do?’ when I have a social engagement.)

  43. sharkface said:

    Hi Captain,
    I’m really uncomfortable with Letter Writer’s use of the term “wheelchair-bound” and even more uncomfortable and disappointed with your decision to leave it unedited when you printed the letter. It’s an outdated and offensive ableist term and I really never expected to see it on your blog.

    • JenniferP said:

      I don’t usually edit the letters at all, but you’re right, and I will edit it out. Sorry and thank you.

  44. Kathryn said:

    Is there any way you can catch up with other wives-of-people-in-ministry? I go to a small church and do the network of wopim is from other churches in our area too. Sometimes these women can be all joy! loveliness! and rather saccharine, bleh! But if you find the right person, they can be realistic, grounding and a real tangible support. They can point out what’s unhealthy, what’s wise and just be real with you. There’s no need to put on a good face and pretend everything is OK. That is exhausting!

    I’m sad your church has left you in the lurch, they’re really not taking care of their own and that’s a real problem!

  45. Lebby said:

    Skip it if you want to–the Captain is right. Your husband can make polite excuses for you. But I think the problem to focus on is your housing situation. Two months actually seems like a reasonable notice period to me–that’s all you could expect from a standard landlord. But this has been free rent in lieu of labor, so you need to have your husband go back to the church board or whoever and say:
    a) Now that my compensation won’t be coming in the form of rent, what salary can I expect? I need to clear that up promptly to allow my family to budget for our new home.
    b) We’re having trouble finding a place that meets our needs, and one reason is that we’re not able to use word-of-mouth within our community. At the end of the week, we’re going to have to start asking friends if they’ve heard of a suitable apartment. I wanted to give you some lead time on that because once we mention it, word will start getting around about the reason why, and I want you to have a chance to make your announcement ahead of that.

    • Lebby said:

      To add to my own comment–asking directly about compensation and announcing that you plan to tell your community about your housing search (instead of asking) might feel scary and confrontational, but if they don’t plan to pay your husband, you have literally nothing to lose, and if they do, they should be able to give him a firm idea about that so he knows whether or not it’ll work out. And keep in mind that if they do choose to view it as out of line, you’ll be the ones explaining to your faith community that you’re looking for a new home because the church asked you to move out, and when you asked for reasonable, normal things like knowing your own pay rate or talking to your loved ones about your living situation, they backlashed. Think of it to yourself like that and you’ll see you are in a stronger position than you think.

    • Temperance said:

      Her husband uses a wheelchair, and they have children, so finding suitable rental housing might be quite difficult.

  46. EllenS said:

    Too Stressed,
    First, cookies and hugs if wanted because this totally stinks.

    Lifeling churchgoer and spouse of a church staff worker here. Here is a script. I cannot say whether it is a good one or a bad one, but it is what I would probably say if I were in your shoes, with the proviso that I do sometimes say things that weren’t a good idea, but I’ve never gotten worse than a scolding for them.

    Them: where have you been? Are you okay?
    You: I actually can’t talk to you about that. You’ll have to ask Pastor and Deacon.

  47. Krista said:

    This may not be part of your churches culture, but many of the churches I’ve been to will respect and leave in peace someone who is praying.

    Can you stay in the pews after the service and pretend to pray? Or actually pray. Is there a quiet space set aside for prayer that you can withdraw to? If someone then approaches you, you can ask them to pray with or for you. If they ask for what, say that you can’t talk about it, but you desperately need to be prayed for. Pray (or stew and sulk – also totally valid in this situation!) until it’s time to go home, round up the kids, and leave with the smallest amount of small talk possible.

  48. Jack V said:

    Also, I see why “wife of minister” is like a job in some ways. But to the extent it isn’t a job, you can choose which if any church to go to. And to the extent it is a job, only if you want to do it! It’s easy to be trapped in a situation where it feels like it’s your responsibility but you didn’t have any choice. But any job, *you can leave*. And “do a second job as well as a full time paid job” is a lot to ask that most people wouldn’t want to do, even if that job wasn’t become probably-abusive.

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