31st July 2019

Views from the Manse: A teeny bit of history

A monthly series showcasing different expressions and experiences of the role of a Pastor’s spouse. Stories span from the archives to the present.  We invite you to contribute your story by emailing John Sampson at jcsampson406@gmail.com

Episode 2  – A teeny bit of history

Ken Manley, in his history of Australian Baptists entitled ‘From Wooloomooloo to Eternity’, records what it was like being a Baptist minister’s wife around the time of Federation.

Here are some examples of what he had to say.

Charles Carter, a layman showed considerable insight when he raised this topic during an ordination address in Ballarat in 1896.

‘How often is a minister’s wife tacitly appointed co-pastor without a salary? She must receive numerous visitors and entertain them, some angels and some not; she must attend every meeting; she must promote every work of the Church; she must sing in the choir; she must visit the sick, and even nurse them; she must weep at every funeral and be simply charming at every marriage; she must listen to everyone’s tale or opinion, and agree with them all; and she must do a host of other things too numerous and too tiresome to even mention….

Let every minister’s wife firmly refuse to undertake church work to the hurt of her family; her first duties are defined by the relations she holds as wife and mother, and she has no right to neglect these for any supposed church duty.’

The topic was particularly pertinent as Victoria was gripped by a severe depression at the time.

A correspondent (to the Propagandist) in 1893 noted that inadequate salaries paid to Baptist pastors deprived the churches of the services of a minister’s wife.

‘How is it possible for her to go among the people, visit the sick, and attend the various meetings of the Church when her whole time has to be given to domestic duties because she cannot afford to keep a help?’

A minister in a large city church, like Silas Mead at Flinders St in Adelaide had a sizable stipend and so would be able to afford home help. But even so the demands on his wife Annie were considerable. She was cut off in her prime after a short bout of Typhoid fever but she had been very active in the church and the city even though she had four young children. Among her many activities she helped with the Sunday School, was a leader of the Mother’s Mission, and did a lot of visiting while distributing food and clothing to the poor. In addition she was an active member of the Female Refuge and Reformatory Committee. This meant that she also spent time visiting women in prison.

On the other hand being a pastor’s wife in a small country town could be very hard, with the Pastor needing to travel long distances to keep in touch with is flock and the wife left at home alone with the children, of which there were many. And even when he was home he would often be out for many nights of the week. In addition financial insecurity was common as stipends were often more wishful thinking than realities and she had the additional anxiety of not knowing if the money in the plate on Sunday would last the week.

What is your experience of being a pastor’s spouse? If you would like to contribute to this series, please email jcsampson406@gmail.com

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