The Preacher’s Wife

When I was in high school, my father was asked to pastor a small mid-western church, so we dutifully packed up our lives and migrated.

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There were only fifty-some people who attended the small country church, and most of the members were related to each other. Brothers. Sisters. Cousins. Uncles. My mother would joke, “If there’s ever a family argument, there will probably be a church split!”

(Which there was. And it did. But not for a few more years.)

While my father may have been the church pastor, my mother held an even more important role: She was the Pastor’s Wife.

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She shook hands, hugged shoulders and always knew to juggle the Purell bottle to the opposite hand before greeting Harold (a permanent lefty.)

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Harold was an older member of our church who had lost his right arm in a freak animal incident. Rumor had it that a large, feral dog attacked him… and people would always add, “if you thought his injury was bad, you should have seen the dog….”

Harold was an adult when he lost his arm, but whenever nosy children would point and ask,  “What happened…?” he’d lift the stump into the air and wiggle it.

“One day… ” he would respond in a low whisper, “I didn’t listen to my mother…”

And he’d leave it at that.

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The child was always traumatized…and subservient for at least a full afternoon.

“Oh, Harold,” my mother would laugh.

My mother’s other responsibility was obligating people.

Now some people really like small churches because it gives them a chance to get involved. And some people really hate small churches for that exact same reason… they’d rather not.  So if you were the latter and saw my mother approaching…

 

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…you better hope you already signed up for nursery duty (if you were a woman) or offering duty (if you were a man), otherwise, you’d be singing a solo at next week’s service…which… was a lot like forced karaoke. (You know…if you took away the alcohol, the chicken wings, and… well… free will.)

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As Christmas approached, my mother was in full pastor’s wife mode. She made her rounds signing up every man, woman and child (and even a few goats… she was that good) for our church’s first live nativity scene.

If you’ve never visited a live nativity scene, it’s pretty simple. Imagine walking in on a couple who just had a fight.  That’s pretty much it.  Sure, Mary and Joseph may not have had a fight, but they aren’t speaking to each other either.  There’s no dramatic monologues. No musical numbers. No soft shoe. Just a silent, awkward, holy night as two adults in bathrobes sit around a baby doll while discreetly checking the time.

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Anyway, kids love it, so my mother signed the entire church up and divided us all into shifts.

After the first shift, it became apparent that, indeed, Mary was blessed among all women…. and men.

Mary may have been chosen to carry the son of God, but that night her character was chosen to sit closest to the outdoor heater.

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It’s amazing how open-minded people can be with their interpretation of scripture when they are wearing nothing but bathrobes in the dead of winter.

In a church act that could only be described as “Unitarian”, our church’s men and women alternated as the roll of Mary. During the first nativity “shift,” Mary was a teenage girl, but by 9pm she had become a 40 year old man…

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…a 60 year old woman…

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…and then a 19 year old college boy.

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The part of Jesus wasn’t so blessed. Being subjected to shift after shift, the plastic doll’s face slowly melted from the steady burst of heat.

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Which brings me to my mother’s third church role: optimist.

Thankfully, my mother had the foresight to throw a bath towel over the doll’s body, shielding visitors from the gruesome scene.

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As guests lined up, my mother would intervene before they could inquire about the Lord’s curious sleeping arrangement. “He’s a good God… ” she’d say on cue, then quickly add, “and a good sleeper!”

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