An inevitable outgrowth of women’s ordination, clergy marriages bring both remarkable rewards and challenges. Placements, whether in the same or separate churches, can be tricky and child care is often complicated. But these unions also make for extraordinary, enriching ministries, both for clergy couples and the parishioners they serve.
When Carol and David Goehring were married on Aug. 28, 1976—exactly a year after meeting at Duke Divinity School’s orientation—the forecast for clergy couples was bleak. As it turned out, after they graduated in 1978, their bishop in the N.C. Conference was supportive, but there was concern that clergy couples would be a burden for churches.
Nearly 25 years later, the Goehrings co-pastor Jarvis Memorial United Methodist Church in Greenville, N.C., one of Duke Divinity School’s 14 Teaching Congregations, each selected as a model of excellence in pastoral leadership. (See related story about Teaching Congregations)
The Goehrings’ successful ministry flows with an ease that belies many years of compromises and challenges as a clergy couple. They are vocal advocates of the benefits for all involved: “We do not see the clergy couple as more limited in ministry,” says David. “Rather, we see almost endless possibilities for service.”
And while co-leadership gives them more time together than serving separate churches, the Goehrings rarely work side by side. By 10 a.m. on Sundays, they have led an early worship service and parted ways. While Carol rehearses with the hand bell choir in the sanctuary, David is teaching the “Living the Adventure” Sunday school class in the education building. Carol opens the 11 a.m. worship in the sanctuary, but it is her turn to lead a simultaneous contemporary service in the nearby gymnasium. Somewhere between the announcements and the welcome of new members, she slips out, sheds her robe for a jacket, and hurries to join worshippers in the gym.
“People are always surprised that David and I aren’t with each other all the time since we ‘work together’,” says Carol. “But we feel we each need to be in different places, doing what needs to be done.”
After worship, the Goehrings meet in their offices with daughters Kendra, 22, and Lindsey, 18, for a discussion without theological implications: where to have lunch. They decide on Ham’s, a nearby restaurant with a big-screen TV where David, a UNC alumnus, can keep an eye on his favorite basketball team.
Co-pastoring the 2,100-member Jarvis congregation is a logistical dream compared to serving separate churches. David was once “a circuit rider” in his Pinto, traveling among three small churches near Winfall, N.C., while Carol served a four-point charge 22 miles away. For Carol to drive home before evening meetings wasn’t feasible, so David became the primary caregiver for their daughter Kendra. That wasn’t a bad thing, the couple agrees, but finding good child care was often a headache.
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