Never a Temptation
For the Revs. Barry and Sandra L. Steiner Ball of Milford, Dela., a joint appointment has never been a temptation.
“We take highly different approaches,” says Sandra Steiner Ball D’87, who is currently superintendent for the Dover district of the UMC. “I believe it would be difficult for us to share an appointment and to maintain a healthy marriage.”
As a clergy couple, the Balls “trusted that God would work through the appointment system,” says Sandra. “However, we also knew that in a smaller conference like Peninsula-Delaware, even if we were appointed to opposite ends of the Conference, one or both of us would still be able to commute.”
In their first appointment as a clergy couple, Sandra did the commuting. “Sometimes the commute one way was 30 minutes,” she remembers. “At other times it was 3 hours depending on bridge openings and beach traffic. Today Barry is the one who commutes.”
Barry, whom she met at Duke Divinity School, is a chaplain with the Maryland State Department of Natural Resources. In addition to crisis intervention, he serves on the drug task force and heads up Hot Spots, a program for troubled youth and their families on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Also a captain with the Air Force Reserves, he is on standby status at the national mortuary at Dover Air Base.
The Balls two daughters, now 14 and10, became part of their parents’ ministry from the start. Sometimes Sandra was able to take the children with her. At other times, the couple met mid-way through the day to pass off the baby. “I was also blessed with a number of adopted grandparents who would watch my children when it was not appropriate for them to be present,” says Sandra.
During part of their careers, the Balls served church appointments that were less than 30 minutes apart. This gave them the opportunity to share a number of community ministries. But serving different churches, they acknowledge, can “suck up all your time if you are not intentional about setting time apart.”
Living in the Moment
Joey and Connie Shelton had been married for seven years and were involved in careers when they were called to ministry. Joey was an attorney and Connie worked with the United Methodist Hour, the radio and TV ministry of her conference, when they decided to move from Mississippi to attend Duke Divinity School.
“It was a relief when we realized that we both felt called to seminary,” says Connie. “We knew divinity school was the first step.”
Both ordained elders in full connection in the Mississippi annual conference, Joey now serves as pastor of Court Street UMC in Hattiesburg, which is one of the divinity school’s 14 Teaching Congregations. Connie is the executive director/preacher of the United Methodist Hour.
“My clergy spouse always understands whatever I am going through,” says Connie. “At the same time, the emotional demands—from ministry with the dying to ministry with failing relationships—can cause an emotional drain on the family. Creating healthy boundaries with ministry demands is an ongoing challenge.”
They strive to be present wherever they are, says Connie, whether with family or in ministry. “When we have opportunities to combine the two, we gratefully live in the moment.”
The More Things Change…
Women’s path into ministry may include fewer obstacles than existed a generation ago, but research indicates that it’s still no walk in the park. In his 2002 summary for Pulpit & Pew of six major studies of women in ministry, Edward C. Lehman reported: “Generally the issue of whose priorities and demands were to prevail emerged as a source of role strain and frustration. Fully two-thirds of married clergy women reported problems of that type, considerably more than reported by men.”
When Broadus Memorial Church in Charlottesville, Va., called Eric Howell D’00 last year, he knew leaving Hickory Rock Baptist Church in Louisburg, N.C., wouldn’t be easy.
He and his wife, Jenny Howell D’02, had shepherded Hickory Rock in just four years from a small traditional congregation to a trilingual ministry whose members included numerous Hispanics and Degas (traditionally Christian Vietnamese whose native language is Radé). Jenny, pregnant with their first child, was about to graduate from Duke Divinity School and considering further graduate work.
“Eric made it clear that if I wanted to say in Louisburg and apply to Duke for a doctorate in religion, he was fine with that,” says Jenny. “It became a question of who was going to follow whom at this step in our lives and ministries.”
The move, which the Howells made in August 2002, was just a month before the birth of their first child, Laura.
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