Married with Children…and Ministry

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By Ellen Romer

Have you checked out Boston Globe’s new all-Catholic-all-the-time new site Crux? More specifically, have you read their piece by the married priest? Well go ahead and read it right now. I’ll wait a minute…

This personal reflection bursts with rich themes – power and authority, responsibility and accountability, faith and conversion, and the role of celibacy in the priesthood. I admit I initially clicked on the headline because a married priest had written it and I find the married/celibate priest conversation fascinating and important. I did not expect to come out of it realizing I have a lot more thinking to do about my own vocation to ministry and to marriage.

Rev. Duncan writes about priesthood and marriage/fatherhood as ‘two all-consuming vocations.’ While he focuses on his vocation of priesthood, I found that a lot of what he said rings true for myself and probably for many lay ministers. Ministry, in all its many forms, can be all-consuming. As I begin my fourth year working and studying at the School of Theology and Ministry, I see over and over again the great passion that lies in our lay and religious students.  The work our students and many others go into is not the kind of work that you can simply leave at work. Beyond explicit ‘church’ jobs, people in many fields – whether medicine, social work, counseling, and others – see their work as a vocation and more than simply a job. When faith deeply affects why and how you do your work, it also affects how you live your life. Little space exists between life at work and life at home; all of it grows out of convictions grounded in faith, remaining ever intertwined.

I have the gift and privilege of working along side my fiancee at this point in time. We share a love of ministry and mission and trying to keep God central in our lives. Amazingly, I have yet to get sick of him. When we have date night, we try to put a hold on work conversation – which doesn’t tend to stick because we care so much about what we do. Working with and for the church remains a steady goal and continued passion for both of us. This means that we likely won’t ever really leave work at work – ministry doesn’t stop and go on hold.  Whether actively caring for the people of God or planning and thinking about how to do that work better, such activity doesn’t simply stop when I go home. Ministry, in whatever form it takes, doesn’t have the luxury of being just a ‘day-job.’ For myself, my fiancee and many others, it is our life job, an ‘all-consuming vocation.’

So how do I balance my consuming life job with my other life job – becoming a wife and (hopefully) a mother? (I just needed to pause and take a deep breath for a moment.) First of all, I have absolutely no clue. This balance takes on greater complexity when I consider that my husband-to-be desires a life job and not a day job.  While we don’t prioritize finding jobs together, we have found that working together has been life giving in its own way and provided opportunities to share our passions. Incredible challenges will arise from that, but I still carry such gratefulness in my heart that God seems to call me to share my life with someone who also believes in the kind of work I love. Sharing a life together means really sharing the entirety of our lives – not just what happens when we come home at the end of the day.

Of course, we have not arrived at the point of knowing what life will look like when we actually get to come home to one another at the end of the day. With children. I know there will be challenges to balance all of these pieces. Challenges that will come will require great intentionality from us in our marriage, our children, our families and friends and our coworkers in the vineyard. We have to figure out the best, if always imperfect, way to balance these. Because, frankly, neither ministry nor marriage is an option for us. The call to lay ministry in whatever ways we will live it out remains incredibly real. The call to married life is equally real and profound. Saying ‘yes’ to both of these is certainly a choice, but in making that choice it has become so clear that living life without either wouldn’t just be unfulfilling but inauthentic and completely separate from how our faith informs our life and choices.

This life we choose might be a crazy ride and incredibly difficult to figure out how to do both. But the work of the church is never very clean or easy, but always beautifully  messy. Our life together will come out of the convergence of our vocations – a mess of marriage, children, ministry and whatever comes our way. The challenges to balance and stretch and grow won’t cease- and I have never been more excited for anything else in my entire life.

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