Pastoring Pastors’ Families

30 Jul
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The Rev. Harper Turney, shown with son Jamin and husband Wayne, is clergy-family chaplain in Ohio.

by Sharon Sheridan

The Rev. Harper Turney is a bit of a trail-blazer. When she became chaplain for clergy spouses in the Diocese of Ohio, she said, “We didn’t have any model.”

The job has grown to encompass ministry to all clergy family members and to include a second chaplain, the Rev. Elizabeth Kelly. Other diocesan staff work specifically with youth.

“I’m available to any clergy spouse or family member calling me at any time,” said Turney, who also is rector of St. Andrew, Mentor. “The idea really is that we are there first of all to listen. … It can be a call out of desperation. It can be a call for information.”

“It runs the gamut of very simple conversation to really working on tough domestic issues,” she said. Often just talking will clarify the next step for people, be it discussing something with a spouse or contacting the bishop, she said.

“I think we as clergy families, no matter what member of the family we are, put expectations on ourselves as families that are very tough to achieve and to stick by all the time. It’s not so much that, I think, it’s spiritual pride as it is that we don’t want to fail God or our parishes or our families or ourselves. And so I think that clergy have some of the hardest times reaching out for help.”

Talking to the chaplain can make that first, difficult step a little easier.
“I listen and I ask questions and I keep confidences strictly, and I point people toward the best help,” Turney concluded.

Organization to Support Clergy Families

30 Jul
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Coordinator Bonnie Studdiford, here with clergy husband Linton, hopes FOCUS can support clergy families.

by Sharon Sheridan

CLERGY SPOUSE Bonnie Studdiford vividly recalls one clergy meeting at her home in Maine. A female clergy member entered, hugged the person behind Studdiford, then removed her neck brace and raincoat and handed them to Studdiford without a word.

“We call that the `coat-rack syndrome,’” Studdiford said.

Coordinator Bonnie Studdiford, here with clergy husband Linton, hopes FOCUS can support clergy families.

That’s the sort of challenge spouses, partners and children sometimes face as part of a clergy family. They may struggle with maintaining privacy, navigating congregational expectations or finding a pastor.

The new organization FOCUS, or Families of Clergy United in Support, seeks to support families of Episcopal clergy and affirm the unique and often rewarding role they fill.

“Our thrust is to raise the awareness and to advocate for the need of support for families of clergy, with the thought that, if there is health in families of clergy, there’s going to be a better chance of wellness in clergy and congregations,” said Studdiford, FOCUS coordinator.

FOCUS started with meetings at the 2000 General Convention. “We realized that what we wanted to do was to raise the awareness of what [the] issues were so that dioceses and congregations and the national church could provide resources and encouragement,” said the Rev. Bud Holland, coordinator of the Office for Ministry Development, which has supported and provided some funding for FOCUS.

Dr. Eric W. Metzler -- shown with wife Carolyn W., children Margaret and Jesse and dog Bear -- is a future clergy spouse.

Clergy families face unique stresses, says the Rev. Bud Holland, shown with wife Annie.

“Families of clergy are often in stressful situations or potentially really stressful situations,” he said. “And, by and large, we haven’t responded with as much … work up front to help provide them a real hospitable place and space and way for them to just be themselves in the life of the church and the kind of resources they might need to access to help their life be fruitful.”

Major issues

FOCUS has identified four major areas of concern for clergy families. First, Studdiford said, is visibility/invisibility — being visible enough to be used as a coat rack, but not to be given a voice.

Second is lack of a pastor. “The clergy can’t be pastor to their own family because they can’t be objective, just like a doctor can’t really minister to his family,” Studdiford explained. “[Families] can’t go to the hierarchy … There’s always the danger of it affecting the clergy job.”

A third, related concern is “the lack of a safe place to go where there’s trust and confidentiality,” she said. When problems arise, it’s inappropriate for family members to confide in parishioners or, sometimes, other clergy, she said. Clergy family members need “self-differentiation,” she said, noting they often get caught in “triangles” with parishioners and clergy.

Clergy families face unique stresses, says the Rev. Bud Holland, shown with wife Annie.

Fourth, she said, “is the lack of ability in a lot of cases of being able to express your baptismal ministry the way you wish.” The fantastic CPA who always served as church treasurer, for example, can’t fill that role at a church where his or her spouse is rector. Or people expect clergy spouses to fill in at the last minute with altar-guild duties.

The need for support starts early. As part of her graduate work, Studdiford is completing a study of families of postulants and candidates for holy orders in Province I. It upholds her contention that families of clergy-to-be need support, too, she said.

Dr. Eric W. Metzler — shown with wife Carolyn W., children Margaret and Jesse and dog Bear — is a future clergy spouse.
Dr. Eric W. Metzler, whose wife, Carolyn W. Metzler, is a postulant in the Diocese of Maine, agrees. “It would be kind of fun to touch base with other families, other spouses, and see how it’s going for them.”

A Quaker, he is learning about the ordination process as they go along. “Nobody’s explained it to me directly.”

His job as family physician in a rural area helps him understand the demands of her ministry. “When I can be present to somebody and combine the medical skills with the interpersonal relationship that somehow helps somebody … that makes it more than a job, and that makes it acceptable to put out some extra effort,” he said. For clergy, “it’s even more that way.”

In a rural area, he said, “it seems like the priest is on call all the time.”
One plus, he noted, is he as doctor and his wife as chaplain sometimes treat the same hospital patients. “I get compliments about her.”

Belonging to clergy families has benefits, Holland agreed. Many feel enriched as part of the church, he said. It provided his wife, Annie, “an occasion for deepening her own spiritual journey and awareness and abilities.”

“It’s also been very enriching to me,” he said. “She’s helped introduce me to things. So it’s a mutual journey.” Clergy children, he added, benefit from “being connected to a broad group of people, different perspectives.”

What’s next?

FOCUS is asking bishops to designate a diocesan contact to receive clergy-family information. In 2003, Studdiford said, FOCUS will ask General Convention for funds to create programs and to train groups to talk with organizations and dioceses about clergy-family support options. One option is providing a separate chaplain for clergy families, as the Diocese of Ohio does, or lay resource person for them, as the Diocese of Pennsylvania does, she said.

Potential FOCUS programs include providing resource booklets to dioceses for clergy families and for families of postulants and candidates; offering continuing education; and networking.

For more information about FOCUS, contact Studdiford at or toll-free at 866-673-5297 PIN 8340 or visit the web site

– Sharon Sheridan of Flanders, N.J., is a freelance writer and editor and a frequent contributor to Episcopal Life.


Being a Clergy Spouse a Ministry, Too

30 Jul
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Roy Murphy, shown with wife Abigail, considers being a clergy spouse a vocation.

by Sharon Sheridan
Being a clergy spouse isn’t happenstance for Roy Murphy. It’s a vocation.

He believes that God called him to marry his wife, a priest in the Diocese of Long Island, and “to have a special role of ministry to her that would enable her to minister to the wider church.”

Roy Murphy, shown with wife Abigail, considers being a clergy spouse a vocation.
“It’s a special role of support,” he said. It may mean “little things,” like having Sunday lunch ready for the Rev. T. Abigail Murphy when she finishes the day’s three services, he said. “I try to be here for her when she comes in late from a meeting and she needs to wind down.”

When difficulties arise, that sense of vocation provides “a rock that you can hold on to,” Murphy said.

It also helps to talk with other clergy spouses. Murphy started an e-mail list, CSpice, for clergy spouses because, at the time, he wasn’t in touch with any in his diocese. “They had a clergy wives luncheon, but I as a male spouse … wasn’t invited to that.”

(That’s changed. Five years later, Murphy and another male clergy spouse are hosting the 2002 diocesan clergy spouse luncheon.

As a male clergy spouse in general, he noted, “I think I’ve had an easier time, just from talking to some of the women on my list, because I think there’s been lower expectations.” When he attended the cathedral where his wife worked previously, he said, “no one expected that I would go to the altar guild tea. I was known to be working full-time.”)

CSpice includes 65 to 70 members throughout the world, mostly Anglicans, Lutherans or Presbyterians. Murphy invites spouses and fiances of priests and seminarians to join so they can ask questions and get an idea of what to expect. To join, contact CSpice, go to