DIVINITY Online Edition

Wedded to the Future:
Clergy Couples Provide a New Paradigm for Leadership

by Reed Criswell & Elisabeth Stagg

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.

Carol, daughters Kendra and Lindsey, and David Goehring after worship at Jarvis Memorial UMC, Greenville, N.C.
Photo By: Paul Figuerado

 Carol, daughters Kendra and Lindsey, and David Goehring after worship at Jarvis Memorial UMC, Greenville, N.C.

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.

Carol and David Goehring
Photo By: Melissa Figuerado

 Carol and David Goehring

“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.

Family Matters

The Flynns can relate. Their lives as a clergy couple changed dramatically when the Revs. Mark (M.Div.’88, Th.M. ’89) and Annette (M.Div.’89) Flynn began a family.

The Revs. Annette D'89 and Mark Flynn D'88 with daughters Mary and Anna at Kern Memorial UMC in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
Photo By: Reed Criswell

 The Revs. Annette D’89 and Mark Flynn D’88 with daughters Mary and Anna at Kern Memorial UMC in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

The low point for Annette was moving to a new appointment when their younger child was 6 weeks old. “I had two small children and no support system, while Mark was expending his energy in the first year of a new appointment,” she says. Annette took leaves after the birth of each child, and then chose part-time ministry. “Mark has always had a wife,” she says. “I did not.”

Annette eventually decided to leave pastoral ministry. She is about to complete her M.S. degree from Pepperdine University in leadership and organizational development and is starting her own consulting firm, Flynn Consulting Group. Mark is the senior pastor at Kern Memorial UMC in Oak Ridge.

While the church was generally supportive of them as a clergy couple, Annette finds fault with the broader culture’s response to women clergy. “I believe the social structure of our society and the expectations of the role of the clergy undermine female clergy—whether or not they are part of a clergy couple,” she says.

Where are the Models?

Although the ordination of women in the United States dates to 1853, when the Congregational Church ordained Antoinette Brown, for some women the pastor’s role still seems off-limits. Recent research by Pulpit & Pew, a Lilly-funded research project on pastoral excellence based at Duke Divinity School, indicates that resistance to women clergy is not imaginary: the typical lay search committee’s ideal candidate is a throwback to an earlier era—a young married man with a decade of experience, a stay-at-home wife, and children.

The Rev. Pebbles Lindsay-Lucas D'00 with her husband and co-pastor William Lucas in his office. The couple  after worship with their parishioners at First Chronicles Community Church in Durham, N.C.
  Photo By: Elisabeth Stagg

 The Rev. Pebbles Lindsay-Lucas D’00 with her husband and co-pastor William Lucas in his office (above) and after worship with their parishioners at First Chronicles Community Church in Durham, N.C.

“At first, I wasn’t thinking about being a pastor,” says the Rev. Pebbles Lindsay-Lucas D’00. “If it crossed my mind, I kicked it out. It was very clear that you do not think about trying to become [a woman pastor]. I used to fuss back, ‘You won’t let me, but God will.’”

Her dream was to graduate from Duke Divinity School and become a nationally-known evangelist, ministering to young women. Marriage was not part of the plan.

But in 1998 at Durham’s Mt. Gilead Baptist Church, she met William V. Lucas, who had been called to ministry while attending law school at nearby N.C. Central. Within a year, they decided to marry and soon began planning their own ministry. By early 2000 they held the first worship service for First Chronicles Community Church in a Durham elementary school. Over the next three years, they held services successively in another school, a funeral home, a Durham storefront, and, for an entire summer, under a large shade tree. “We were nomadic,” says Lindsay-Lucas with a broad smile.

When the couple learned last summer that a recently-vacated red brick church near N.C. Central was for sale, they quickly made an offer and moved in with their growing ministry. Although the couple alternates preaching on Sundays and shares all decisions concerning the congregation, “Some people look at William as the pastor because he’s the man,” says Lindsay-Lucas. “But they know if they come to him about something, he’s going to talk to me.

“Your partner needs to respect you and your gifts and be willing to allow God to let your gifts flourish,” she adds.

Says William: “Our ministries flow together. She makes this ministry complete because my weaknesses are her strengths.

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

The Revs. Connie and Joey Shelton, both D'97, officiate at a wedding in Hattiesburg, Miss.
Photo By: Lisa Phelps

 The Revs. Connie and Joey Shelton, both D’97, officiate at a wedding in Hattiesburg, Miss.

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.

Nicole Woodley congratulates her husband, Grant, after he received a first-time alumni pledge at the Fall 2003 Annual Fund Phonathon. The Woodleys, both middlers, were married last summer.
Photo By: Elisabeth Stagg

 Nicole Woodley congratulates her husband, Grant, after he received a first-time alumni pledge at the Fall 2003 Annual Fund Phonathon. The Woodleys, both middlers, were married last summer.

Caring for Laura, who developed asthma as a 4-month-old, is a joy, but also a radical adjustment for Jenny, who is now a full-time mom and clergy spouse. “One semester I’m discussing the nuances of Kierkegaard and the next I’m reading See Spot Run five times in a row,” says Jenny.

The Broadus congregation made it clear, she says, that even though she has a theological degree, they didn’t think of Eric and her as a “two-for-one” package. She enjoys choosing where to put her energies at Broadus: “I don’t have to write a weekly sermon, but I am very involved in the life of this church. Eric and I do view ourselves as a team.

“This is a season in our lives and I want to relish it,” she adds. “I know my identity is not in a job title, but in being faithful to God.”

A Call to Compromise

When middlers Nicole and Grant Woodley, who married last May, met at Simpson College in Iowa, they each had firm plans: Grant was headed to Duke Divinity School and Nicole had been accepted at Des Moines Medical School.

Photo By: Elisabeth Stagg

 Clergy couples who met at seminary: Revs. Willie and Joanne Jennings, who met at Fuller Theological Seminary, and the Revs. Susan Pendleton D’83 and L. Gregory Jones D’85, G’88. Right, the Joneses married in 1983; left, the Jenningses depart in style after their 1987 wedding in her native Bermuda.


“Choosing seminary was a pretty big leap of faith,” says Nicole, who was a biology major and had difficulty imagining herself in the role of pastor. “I was called, but I wasn’t sure what to.”

At Duke, they spent their first year praying about “where we could do ministry together,” says Nicole, who was raised as a Presbyterian. Grant was non-denominational, but his church didn’t ordain women. Last fall, they joined the Lutheran Church and are both seeking ELCA ordination.

The church has encouraged them to do both separate and joint field education placements so they develop as individual pastors and as a team.

For now, they support each other through the rigors of seminary.

“When we’re both emotionally drained and have nothing to give, you can tell,” says Nicole. “But being here has been life giving, too—encouraging and nurturing one another, and sharing the depth of ministry.”

A Clergy Couple Survival Guide

  1. Someone's career must take precedence. Consider alternating moves to accommodate her and his ministry. Will you both work full time? Part-time? Together? What about when you have children?
  2. Make a date and gaze in one another's eyes. Language is way overrated.
  3. Invest in childcare or whatever help will make your life easier. Don't worry so much about the cost; the benefit to the family is priceless.
  4. Preserve your devotional life and spiritual disciplines. Clergy couple life is breeding ground for anemic spiritual practices.
  5. Laugh together as often as possible.
  6. Find healthy ways to release your stress.
  7. Shun all forms of comparison (preaching, teaching, counseling) and never give your spouse “constructive criticism” immediately after a sermon.
  8. Have mercy on your children—remember they are “double-PKs.”
  9. Before you pray for anyone else—pray for your spouse.
  10. Remember you said, “I do.”




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