30th January 2020

Views from the manse – ‘ I do not do scones!’

By James Bennett

I was first alerted to the opportunity to contribute to this segment when I was at the footy with a pastor friend of mine. Almost immediately a number of incidents floated across my consciousness and the following is a small window into my 15 years married to a pastor. 

Generally in life there aren’t to many situations I detest more than job interviews.  Given a choice I’d probably rather face up to a 1980’s West Indian pace attack.  Pastoral job interviews where the spouse is present are however somewhat different.  It’s a classic paradox of being interviewed and yet not, of judging and yet being open to the call, and balancing the notion of simply being along for the ride with the knowledge that this could well drastically alter my daily circumstances.

All of this was swirling through my brain when in November of 2006 the following question came my way.  “So James, how do you see yourself contributing to ministry in the context of being the pastor’s husband? Several responses instantly presented themselves in my mind, some conforming to what I thought the expectations behind the question were.  There is a lot of largely invisible cultural baggage surrounding the role of a pastor’s wife and as a male I feel this acutely at times. It was this more than anything that informed my response when I paused for a second and then said, “well I don’t do scones”.  The interviewer practically fell off his chair as he momentarily lost his composure before the interview continued.

The other interview experience worth mentioning was when I was asked if I’m musical. At face value this is a fair enough question, it’s nice that the were inquiring into my interests.  As always though, contexts is king and had I answered yes, I would have instantly found myself on the music roster.  Pretty impressive really given that my wife hadn’t officially been offered the job at that point.

Fifteen years of lived experience in pastoral ministry has certainly thrown up its fair share of rather interesting situations. Whilst it’s true that for a lot of the time it can feel like I’m living ministry vicariously through my wife, some instances this is definitely not the case. One such time occurred during the time we were living at the now closed down Whitley student residential college. Essentially for close on 3 years we were pseudo parents for 130 18-21 year olds. Never has the term being on the job 24/7 been more appropriate.

It was the first time my parents had come to visit us at Whitley. Barely had we made cups of tea and sat down than the fire alarms stared blaring. This of course necessitated an immediate evacuation. Added into the mix was the fact that fire warden was one of the responsibilities of my wife. She instantly jumped up and was out the door, leaving me to escort my somewhat bewildered parents across the courtyard, and out onto the street. I ended up just telling them amidst all the chaos to get in their car and drive home which quite frankly didn’t go down too well.

This piece would of course not be complete without a story or two about the trials and tribulations of living in a manse itself. The most notable incident happened when our heating system literally blew up and needed to be totally replaced. Quite the expense and also in the middle of a Melbourne winter cold snap. Three weeks elapsed before we again had heating due to and impasse between tradespeople not being willing to deal with us given we weren’t the owners of the property and the church putting it back on us to organise a replacement.

There was also the time during a church lunch when a member of the congregation took it upon themselves to conduct a tour for some new people through literally every room in the house.

In amongst all the situations that ministry throws our way there are some constants that keep repeating. Being mistaken for the pastor at Baptist Union gatherings. Many a time I have had a conversation with the underlying assumption being that I’m the pastor.  I must admit I do secretly enjoy gauging reactions when I tell people that I’m not and it’s my wife who is.  The classic was when I was asked how I go with my wife preaching from the pulpit. I said fine, she’s a great preacher. I only realised later that what was meant was how did I go theologically with that.  I’ll leave you to judge what the answer is to that question.

These few anecdotes barely even touch the surface of being the spouse of a pastor and looking back over the fifteen years I really had very little idea of what I was getting myself in for, however I wouldn’t swap it for the world. The roller coaster ride that is pastoral ministry continues on.

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