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For female ministers, what's a husband to do?
ORLANDO, Fla. – Before Mac McCarrick’s wife became senior pastor of the Winter Park Christian Church, he received some friendly advice from the husband of another female minister.
“You can’t protect her,” said Lanny Wood, husband of Pershing Avenue Christian Church Pastor Melinda Keenan Wood. “You can’t step in front of her and be her shield and let stuff bounce off you. You have to let her do her job as the minister.”
Wood offered one other suggestion: You’re going to have to learn the job of being the pastor’s husband on your own. There’s no instruction booklet – and often no precedent – to provide guidance on the duties, obligations and expectations for life as the minister’s mister.
“There is no guidebook,” said Wood, whose wife became pastor in 2002. “There isn’t a manual for the congregation either.”
As a growing number of churches and denominations ordain female clergy, the men married to ministers find themselves in uncharted waters, figuring it out as they go along.
“It is new – there aren’t that many of us,” said Pat Bronos, husband of Rev. Sarah Bronos, rector of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Maitland, Fla. “We played it by ear. It was never discussed what my role was.”
In a survey of the husbands of female ministers, Pastor Jacqueline Taylor found that the men were unsure how to define their role in the church. They described themselves as the pastor’s chauffeur, scheduler, team member, helper, mission worker.
“They were just workers, they were just doers. They never sat down and said, ’As the husband of the pastor, what is my role, what do I do?’” said Taylor, author of “The First Gentleman.”
Taylor wrote the book after becoming pastor of a Baltimore-area House of God Church in 2011 and finding nothing on the role her husband should have in the church.
“No one says anything about the pastor’s husband,” she said.
Leslie McCarrick became the first female minister in the 50-year history of Winter Park Christian when she was named senior pastor about a year ago. Until that time, the role of the minister’s spouse was clear. The wife of the pastor could be involved with Sunday school, the social activities of the church, the altar guild, women’s auxiliary, the choir, the kitchen. Sometimes she played the piano.
The expectations for McCarrick’s husband were unspoken and unexplained. But it helped that Mac McCarrick was a member of the board of elders, sang in the choir and operated the church sound system. His role already was outlined by the duties he performed.
Traditionally, ministers’ wives were expected to serve as fulltime volunteers to the church. But when it comes to the husband, the congregation often expects them to have their own jobs outside the church – while still remaining active in the church.
For Mac McCarrick, the dual responsibilities to his job and his wife sometimes feel as if he is working two full-time jobs. Time, he said, is his biggest challenge as a minister’s husband.
“The hardest thing for me is sometimes you feel overwhelmed,” Mac said.
Pat Bronos also has his own business outside his obligations to the church, but holds no position in the church. To the Good Shepherd congregation, he’s the guy who cooks Greek cuisine, lends his company’s trucks for the pickup of rummage sale items, and always sits toward the back of the sanctuary during the early Sunday service.
“He has no official duty as far as I know. He’s there to back up Sarah if she needs any assistance,” said Irene Burgess, a member of Good Shepherd for 53 years.
While their titles might be fuzzy and their roles undefined, the husbands know their primary duty is to support their wives. To the female clergy, it’s really the only thing that counts.
“It’s a huge support to me that he is there,” said Sarah Bronos. “He’s just solidly there.”
On Sunday mornings, Mac McCarrick sits in the balcony of Winter Park Christian monitoring the audio system while his wife delivers her sermon. As she preaches, Leslie McCarrick gauges how well the message is being delivered by the expression on her husband’s face.
“My eyes gravitate to him most every Sunday,” Rev. McCarrick said. “That friendly face of the person you know is supporting you tells me, ’I love you, you’re doing a great job down there, keep going.’”
He might not be her shield, but he has her back.