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The Pastor’s Mistress

Dr. Oswald C. J. Hoffman, D.D. Former Lutheran Hour Speaker Ministry Health Archives Number 141

Editor’s Note: The following article, “Who Ministers to the Minister?”, is reprinted from the Winter 1988 Concordia Journal, a publication of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri, a seminary of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. It was originally written in letter form to Missouri Synod pastors by then-Lutheran Hour speaker Oswald C.J. Hoffmann in February 1987. This article was submitted to Ministry Health by Rev. Kelly Bedard, then-Editor of Concordia Journal. Ministry Health thanks and gratefully acknowledges Rev. Bedard for this excellent submission.

In response to these letters over the years, I have learned that they are read sometimes by the women of the parsonage who, apparently, come across them during their periodic cleanup of the unholy mess on top of the desk in the “study.” They are addressed to “Brother in the Ministry,” but there must be a lot of sisters around who read things with remarkable intelligence and frequently with deep feeling.

Not too long ago the wife of one of our pastors serving a large congregation wrote to me that for a long time she had great difficulty living with her husband’s “mistress.” There was this “other woman” in his life! She was very demanding! She monopolized his thoughts and took most of his time. When asked “What are you thinking?”, 85% of the time he was thinking about her.

In bed at night his final thoughts seemed to be comments on her health and well-being. She seemed to have his permission to invade privacy any time of the day or night. She took him out of town on trips. She dictated the house in which they were to live and when repairs were to be completed.

This pastor’s wife tells how the situation affected her: “I couldn’t fight her and I wasn’t about to compete with her, so I just turned my feelings off. I’m sorry that I did, but I reckon that was the only way I felt I could cope with what was happening. The biggest problem was guilt. How could I possibly resent the fact that he was spending so much time and energy doing the Lord’s work?”

This manager of the manse learned how to cope. “One thing I learned was to understand what was happening, to identify what I was feeling, and to discover how I was reacting to the situation. God helped me realize that through His power He could enable me to control my attitude in the situation. No longer do I find myself competing with a mistress but, rather, participating in a ministry. I too can care for those whom God has placed before us.

She asked me, “Why do I share all of this with you? Because I hurt for those who have so much brokenness in their lives, especially in their relationships with their husbands, the Church, and their Lord. They don’t know what’s happening. They haven’t identified the problem and then don’t know how to deal with it. They are missing the job of the ministry. Their faces show anger, loneliness, and pain.”

I wrote back to this lady of the parsonage and told her of my own discovery after reading the first paragraph of her letter: “She’s got something to tell me.” I had no idea how my wife felt during the early days of my ministry. Men are so obtuse that we do not notice. Women have many perceptions which pass us by.

I had to make a personal confession in response to her letter: “I admire Marcia more every day for her very great contribution to my budding understanding that ministry in a Lutheran parsonage is really a partnership. I should have understood that, having been raised in a parsonage. I guess everyone has to learn it for himself (or herself), just as Paul had to learn for himself what love really is.”

All of us in the ministry have a lot to learn. An important thing needs to be learned: love begins at home. In this ministry there is altogether too much pride parading around strutting its stuff. Puzzled people in congregation and community cover their faces with their hands to conceal their laughter, sometimes just amused and at other times plainly scornful. More than a good face, the Lutheran ministry needs a good heart–receiving grace from God, there for the taking with forgiveness and love that really do fulfill the law of Christ.

With so many people of all kinds and descriptions inhabiting the Lutheran parsonage, God has got a full-time job on His hands. With everything else that demands His attention, it would appear that His gracious touch does some remarkable–not to speak about superb–jobs of instilling patience and fortitude with faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Reprinted by permission from Dr. Oswald C.J. Hoffmann

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