On Being the Wife of a Seminary Student: What’s it Really Like?

(Guest post by Arenda)

* * *

To begin, a conversation between our nearly-four-year old son and me:
James
Me: “So, what’s it like having a dad who goes to seminary?”
James: “It’s like you don’t get to see your dad very much. Only when he has the week off.”
Me: “But that’s not quite true. You see dad for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.”
James: “Yeah, but I mean . . . after breakfast dad sometimes has to go to school and after lunch sometimes he has to work up in his study alone and we just can’t see him!”
Me: “What do you think about dad becoming a minister?”
James: “Thumbs up, thumbs down. It’s a little bit nice and a little bit not nice. We’ll get to hear the gospel and stuff, and learn more about God. We’ll get to hear the whole gospel preached by dad! Hey, mom, when dad’s a minister, will he be our minister? He’ll always preach to us?”
Me: “Yes, James. What’s the bit about dad becoming a minister that’s not nice?”
James: “I have to think about that for a bit . . . Well, that dad won’t just be on the bench beside us, he’ll be way up on the pulpit. But he’ll still be in church with us. And yeah, that’s pretty much it.”

* * *

When Jeremy and I got married, he was working at a cabinet door shop and I was working as a nurse at a local hospital. If you’d have told me then that six and half years later we’d be living in Hamilton while he finished his Master of Divinity degree, with the hopes of becoming a pastor in a Canadian Reformed church, I probably would have run away screaming. (Let’s just say that my life is certainly proof that God changes the hearts of his believers.)

But here we are, calling Hamilton home and getting ready to move to Fergus so that Jeremy can complete his third-year internship for CRTS this summer. You know how when you’re pregnant, women like to share their worst labour stories with you? Well, in similar fashion, before moving here I’d heard horror stories of “seminary widows” whose husbands had barely a spare minute to devote to their significant other (apparently our wedding vows should have ended with the phrase “till schoolwork do you part”). But, with the exception of a few dreadful weeks after the birth of our daughter during Jeremy’s busiest semester, we’ve managed to stay afloat. Having a schedule of some sort helps; here’s what an average weekday looks like for us:

0600 – Jeremy wakes up, makes coffee, does personal devotions, schoolwork
0730 – the kids and I wake up, I prepare breakfast
0800 – we eat breakfast together
0835 – Jeremy leaves for school
1230 – Jeremy returns home from school, we eat lunch together
1300 to 1700 – Jeremy works on schoolwork
1700 – Jeremy watches the kids while I prepare dinner, then we eat and do the dishes together
1900 – Jeremy does some more schoolwork, kids go to bed
2130 or 2200 – done schoolwork, we talk or read together

There are some pretty wonderful advantages to having a husband in seminary. One is that Jeremy spends a fair amount of time at home. We’re able to have breakfast, lunch and dinner together most days – not too many families have that luxury! And being able to put our daughter down for a nap after lunch and go grocery shopping with just one child, or taking the occasional afternoon nap if the kids have been up a lot overnight is pretty great, too. ☺ Unless there’s a pressing paper or looming mid-term, Jeremy sets aside 5-7pm daily to spend with the kids and me. He plays with the kids while I make dinner, and then we eat and do the dishes together. He doesn’t do any schoolwork on Sunday, so we have that full day together, too. Yes, he’s busy a lot of evenings, and there have been times when school has left little time for anything else, but overall I find this schedule works quite well for us. Jeremy worked in landscaping for the past two summers, and I found those summer months difficult in comparison to school days. He’d leave rather early in the morning and come back at dinner-time and those eight-to-ten hours in between would loom before me – especially if he had the van for the day and we had no choice but to stay home.

Probably my favourite advantage, though, is having lots of interesting things to talk about. Usually Jeremy will come home from school and we’ll talk about his classes over lunch. He’ll tell me about some tricky grammar found in Isaiah, some particular archeological evidence from the time of the Judges, a paper he’s writing on the history of a 1500-year old hymn, or a pastoral case study he and his classmates had to work out. Those seminary classes are vicariously quite fascinating! (Side note: studying for classis provides far less fodder for conversation.)

Without delving into this too much, it’s also pretty amazing to see God work in the heart of your husband, to see particular weaknesses eroding and other strengths being built up as he gets closer to finishing his time at CRTS and being eligible for a call.

There certainly are some challenges to having a husband in seminary, too, like living far away from family, sticking to a budget and knowing that your future will likely involve moving around from place to place. I’d love to be able to pop by my sister’s home for coffee, be able to drop my kids off at my mom’s on an important day (like Jeremy’s classis exam next week!), or occasionally shop somewhere other than a thrift store, but those are things that are out of reach at the moment. Incidentally, these are areas in which we’ve blessed by friends, too, like having a mom of older kids offer to watch my little ones on certain mornings, or having our amazing babysitter announce after June was born that she wanted to watch James for an hour every week just so I could have some quiet time at home with my newborn. (Ahem, do you sense a theme here? If you’re looking for ways to support moms of young children, a few hours of quiet will never go unappreciated.)

The idea of moving around frequently does not strongly appeal to Jeremy or me. We’re both homebodies and we love the idea of buying an older home with some personal charm, firmly settling in and not budging for the next sixty years. I think there’s something magical about finding ‘your’ home and watching your children grow into adults there. But this is a dream we’ve let go of. Every good thing comes at a cost. Like children: they’re beautiful and fill your life with love, but they also make for messy homes. June has been demonstrating this for us a lot lately, by giving us sweet kisses one moment and throwing food off her highchair if it’s not quite pleasing to her rather picky palate the next.

What's that proverb? "Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean."

What’s that proverb? “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean.”

Anyways, over the years we have made our peace with the fact that Jeremy being in the ministry comes at a cost. And in our federation, that often means living in a manse and moving around the country (or across the world). I haven’t prepared for this in any particular way; I think you just try to love each place that you’re in and stay open to new friendships and relationships. One thing that will probably help our children to some extent is that we plan to homeschool; I imagine that the consistency of our home schedule will lessen the upheaval that comes with moving.

As far as being prepared for the other aspects of being a pastor’s wife, CRTS does not offer training or classes for this. And that’s just fine with me for two reasons: one, I don’t think of a pastor’s wife as a vocation (should Jeremy get called as a minister, my role will still be as his wife and the mother of our children), and, two, there are plenty of informal opportunities available to help you get ready. Here are a few I’ve found particularly helpful so far:

– Seminary students at CRTS have a different practicum every summer: after first year they shadow a pastor for two weeks, after second year they shadow a missionary for two weeks; and after third year they do a three-month internship with a pastor. While they’re busy with those things, you have the opportunity to chat with the pastor’s wife and pepper her with questions. I’ve had interesting conversations that range from, “Would you advise homeschooling?” (No) and “Do you still have close friends?” (Absolutely!) to “How can you help your husband if he feels burdened by pastoring?” (This one requires more than a one-word answer.)

– This past year our seminary wives group (JOY) got together once a month to study a book on being a pastor’s wife called “You Can Still Wear Cute Shoes” by Lisa McKay. This light-hearted book came with some solid practical advice. I’ve heard good feedback about other books, too, like “High Call, High Privilege” and “Her Husband’s Crown” but haven’t read those ones.

– And our JOY group has gotten together with the seminary professors’ wives, too, to talk about various things, like the myths of being a minister’s wife (“The minister’s wife must bake boterkoek for every new mom!”).

JOY-ful gathering!

JOY-ful gathering!

Speaking of our JOY group, I should mention that this sisterhood of seminary wives has been a remarkable source of joy and comfort over the years. I was initially pretty nervous about moving across the country, but the group of seminary wives was like a bunch of instant friends. There’s a lovely camaraderie and understanding that comes from the shared experience of having husbands in seminary. When we get together and someone says, “Oh, my husband’s exegesis paper is due this weekend” we all know that he’s going to be crazy busy completing that 30- to 50-page paper, and if we shed a few tears over a difficult sermon session, we know the other person’s likely been in that same spot, too. And seminary aside, we’ve grown close together just as friends, too, sharing the ups and downs of life, motherhood, etc.

This coming summer will be an exciting one for our family. We’re moving to Fergus shortly and Jeremy’s looking forward to preaching for the first time and actually getting a feel for what day-to-day life as a minister is like. My summer goals are modest in comparison: to encourage Jeremy, to enjoy getting to know some fellow believers in the Fergus North congregation, and to birth a baby. Not necessarily in that order. 🙂

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10 thoughts on “On Being the Wife of a Seminary Student: What’s it Really Like?

  1. Man, I enjoyed that! Thanks, Arenda! I feel utterly privileged to be in seminary territory. It makes for a very interesting ebb and flow in the make-up of our congregation, and keeps us from getting stagnant. 🙂

  2. Many many years ago in the little town of St. Marys I would visit your mom and dad, young Jeremy, Heidi and Anthony. I lived on a farm with my dad and step mother and siblings, about 20 minutes away down highway 19. My dad Fred, my brothers Garry, Paul and my sister Carolin and myself all worked at the Egg Plant along side your dad and your uncle Ed. I went to elementary school with your cousins Ed and Angela, driving to London everyday in an old blue and white Chevy van…..at the time I was Theresa Boeringa but now I am Theresa Westrik and I live in Guelph with my husband Andrew and our 6 children.

    How exciting that you will be spending time in Fergus! May God bless you richly as you learn and grow as an under shepherd of our Lord Jesus. If you ever find yourself preaching in Guelph Emmanuel, we would love to have you over for lunch.

    Sincerely
    Theresa and Andrew Westrik

    • Thanks for this trip down memory lane, too! 🙂 I know we’ll be in the other Guelph church a couple times, but we’ll keep an eye out for you if we happen to be in Guelph Emmanuel this summer! 🙂

  3. Very nicely written Arenda! Thank you for sharing a little about your lives in
    Ontario. We wish you the Lords blessings as you make yourself at home in Fergus.
    Ian and Ang

  4. Loved reading this, thanks for writing Arenda! It’s so great to hear how positive you sound and how much on the same page you two seem to be, certainly a huge comfort and support for Jeremy I’m sure, now and looking to the future. Your discussions over lunch sound as interesting as I imagined 🙂 It’s amazing where God leads our lives to places we never imagined or even hoped, and how we find it’s right where we’re meant to be. Homeschooling makes a lot of sense with moving around a lot potentially, and I’m sure you’ll be able to make any place a home! Also, “You can still wear cute shoes”? Best book title I’ve heard all week 🙂

    • Ha, it is a great book title, hey? And yes, it’s amazing how God leads and directs our lives . . . in the most surprising directions. 🙂 Thanks for commenting, Anna.

  5. Just a little trip down memory lane, to humble beginnings in St. Mary’s. I had Jeremy for 2 weeks when his parents went out west for a trip. He was not quite 2 yet, and he always called me Mom, never missed his own parents, we said if they never came back I am not sure he would notice, such a easy natured boy! Our oldest child was born the same day as Kimberly in the same hospital, but a year later, they all moved back to the west and time moved on. Nice to hear Jeremy is at the Seminary, may The Lord continue to bless your studies and your wife and family as they walk this road with you.

    • What a fun trip down memory lane, Elaine! (James was totally different than Jeremy when we went to England for two weeks!) Thanks for commenting, and for your best wishes.

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