By ROBIN GALIANO RUSSELL/ Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News
(This article appeared in the Dallas Morning News 12/4/04 and is used with
permission of both the author and the paper.)
Every Sunday morning, a few people line up after services at St. Paul United
Methodist Church and greet Robert Patterson as "the Reverend."
He's never had any ambition to be a pastor. But some habits, apparently, are
hard to break. It's his wife, Sheron, who is senior pastor of the downtown
It's the sort of thing men get used to when they are married to the pastor or
rabbi. Men may not sense the same expectations to serve the congregation
that are directed at the wives of clergy, but they've often had to break new
ground – and old stereotypes.
I don't play the organ. I don't bake cookies. I have simply been allowed to be
myself," Mr. Patterson said. "The congregation has accepted the fact. While it's
unusual, it's been comfortable for me."
In the past, many congregations considered a clergy spouse to be a de facto
part of the staff – a sort of two-for-one deal. Pastors' wives led the choir,
taught Sunday School and organized social events. They were at their
husbands' sides every time the church or temple doors were open.
With today's dual-career families, those old patterns no longer hold.
Spousal roles, as a result, are less clearly defined.
And for men who are the "first husbands" of their congregations, it's a whole
new ball game.
Men who are married to pastors have different concerns from those of pastors'
wives, according to a survey this year by the United Methodist Church. Male
respondents – who made up 15 percent of the 183 spouses surveyed – said they
worried about time demands and the potential for burnout by their pastor-wives. Female spouses, on the other hand, were most concerned about feeling isolated,
and about the high expectations placed on them and their families. They also
complained of frequent moves and the loss of friends.
The United Methodist Church, which has more than 150 female clergy in Texas,
provides moral support for spouses through retreats and conferences.
The Rev. Pat Beghtel-Mahle, superintendent of the Paris-Sulphur Springs
District, said her husband, Jerry, has been asked to serve on a panel to talk
about what it's like to be married to the pastor. Before being appointed
district superintendent in 2002, she served as senior pastor at four churches.
"My husband always has had his own identity. That has made it easier," she said. "You don't expect the man to play the piano as you do a woman."
Not that there haven't been faux pas. Some people still get tongue-tied
when they meet her husband.
"People have said to him, 'Oh, you're Pat's wife,' " she said. "I have to be
willing to let him vent that. He needs to be able to say, 'I didn't like it
tonight when such and such happened.' And then we go on in ministry because it's
ultimately not about us."
Dr. Patterson, the first ordained black woman in her Methodist conference,
credits her spouse for his constant support, especially given the "tremendous
sexism" in the African-American church. One male pastor, she recalled,
physically blocked her from taking the pulpit during a funeral. She prayed from
the floor instead.
"I had no role models. I was out front alone, but I had a very loving spouse,"
Mr. Patterson, a financial representative for Northwestern Mutual, watches over
sons Robert, 16, and Christian, 12, and handles other household duties. "I can
do everything but prepare a gourmet meal," he said.
But at church, his pastor-wife said, there are no spousal obligations for him. Mr. Patterson teaches Sunday School and sings in the choir, but only because he
"As a general rule, he is a behind-the-scenes, out-of-the-spotlight person,"
Dr. Patterson said.
That's the way Robert Patterson likes it. He knows there are churches where
the "first lady" tries to run things, but he prefers to sit in the balcony and
support his wife with "loud amens."
"I look forward to what she has to say each Sunday," he said. "From time to
time, I'm able to ask her questions afterward. There are certain privileges you
get when you're married to the pastor."
Who's the rabbi?
As the husband of a rabbi in East Texas, Alan Coretz, has been asked lots of
spiritual questions by the congregation, as if he were the expert. "A lot of
people assume I'm the rabbi, not her," he said.
His wife, Heidi, has been a rabbi at temples in Tulsa, Lubbock, Arlington and
She now serves a small Reform congregation in Longview. She is also director of
the Jewish student association Hillel at Southern Methodist University. (The Coretzes live in Dallas, and she commutes to Longview.)
He remembers the time when women in the Jewish clergy were still an oddity. Once, when his parents announced at their synagogue that their son was dating
the rabbi, many assumed he was gay.
Back then, rabbis' wives, called "rebbetzin," were expected to attend all
services, help in the kitchen, teach in religious schools, head up the temple
sisterhood and open their homes for community meals.
Reform congregations began ordaining women in 1972. Reconstructionists followed
in 1974, Conservatives in 1985. Orthodox congregations still do not ordain
By 2001, more than 500 women had become rabbis, according to Deborah Lipstadt,
author of Women and American Judaism: Historical Perspectives. The number may be
closer to 600 now, said Jonathan D. Sarna, professor of American Jewish history
at Brandeis University.
"When I began teaching at Hebrew Union College in 1979, it was assumed that
single women rabbis would not be able to marry," Dr. Sarna said. "Who would date
a rabbi? That assumption, like so many others concerning women in the rabbinate,
turned out to be quite wrong."
Alan Coretz, a network engineer and a self-described introvert, prefers to give
technical support and do repairs at the synagogue. He and his wife will co-host
small Seder meals and other services at home, where, they said, there's no
"Alan has always been good about that. I'm a wife, mother, daughter and friend
at home. Nobody goes through us to get to God," Mrs. Coretz said.
When Mrs. Coretz serves at her Longview synagogue, Alan is free to stay at home,
if he wants, with their daughter, Hannah, 6. (And just before Thanksgiving, the Coretzes adopted two Russian orphans, Eugenia Meshova, 14, and her 11-year-old
"Certainly, they [synagogue members] love when Alan and Hannah come, but there's
no expectation for them to be there," Mrs. Coretz said.
Stained glass ceiling
It's a little different for Dawn Darwin Weaks and her husband, Joe. Each of
them is both a pastor and a pastor's spouse.
She heads up First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Rowlett, a
congregation of about 275. He pastors Bethany Christian Church in Dallas, where
60 to 80 people attend.
Mrs. Weaks grew up Baptist and was ordained a minister, but switched
denominations when she ran up against a stained glass ceiling and was informed
that she couldn't serve as the preaching minister of her congregation.
"I have just so much energy. Do I use it to fight or to minister?" she said. "In
the Disciples of Christ denomination, it was arms open wide."
Mr. Weaks graduated from seminary at the same time as his wife. They like
sharing a vocation, he said, but being a two-pastor family does present
challenges, such as figuring out where to work and live. The better-paying job
His wife serves the larger church now, but when they were in Lubbock, his was
the bigger congregation. Mr. Weaks also is completing a doctorate at Brite
Divinity School and teaches at Austin College in Sherman.
Someday they'd like to be co-pastors of the same church, but he first wanted her
to have the experience of being senior pastor on her own.
They split the caregiving tasks for their two children, Arwen, 2, and Sam, 10
months. Sam spends two afternoons a week in his mother's office at the church.
"I always ask people who want to see me, 'Is this a conversation we can have
with a baby in the background or do I need to have someone watch him so we can
visit?' " Mrs. Weaks said. "I have an incredibly supportive congregation. They
make it possible."
Yet nearly every Sunday, it's still a surprise for some visitors to learn that
the pastor is a woman. Mostly, it's a happy discovery, she said, but there are
those who still find it confusing or even offensive.
"I've gotten past the place of judging that," Mrs. Weaks said. "The church is
slow. It's always slow. There are very few denominations where you can think of
the pastor as a woman. That's starting to change."
Even though he heads another congregation, Mr. Weaks feels some pressure to
attend his wife's church.
"The expectation is for me to be there, to be visible and supportive.
Especially for visitors," he said.
"If they don't see that, it feels weird. 'Yes, she's married, but her husband's
not here.' "
Robin Galiano Russell, a Dallas freelance writer, can be reached at
WORDS OF WISDOM
Pastors and their spouses offer tips on how to handle things when the wife leads
Dr. Sheron Patterson, pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church: "Don't listen
to anybody but God."
Robert Patterson: "Develop a role you're comfortable with. Believe me, church
members will define your role if you let them."
Heidi Coretz, rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, Longview, Texas: "We are a partnership
family. I'm not his rabbi."
Alan Coretz: "It never crossed my mind about marrying the rabbi. Maybe the
marrying part, but not the rabbi part."
Dawn Darwin Weaks, pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Rowlett: "It's really not very different than two doctors, or two lawyers, who
are married to each other. It's kind of neat that we share the same vocation.
Joseph Weaks, pastor of Bethany Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Dallas:
"I take the back seat and show respect for her authority. It's important for me
to be mindful of that in our society, which is still patriarchal."