What are the Women doing in the Seminary?
It is an unusual calling – to support an ordained man who has been called to marriage, family life, and ministry – each a special vocation in and of itself. How does one prepare for this ministry? Where do the women find their support? What is the gift underpinning this undefined and yet creative ministry? How does the ministry continue if the husband dies? Each woman lives her ministry in a different way; it is the unstructured essence of this calling that provides its greatest creative potential.
My work in parish ministry over the past 18 years has taught me a few essential concepts that provided a platform on which to shape the Spiritual Formation program:
The needs of ministry are infinite. No matter how much time I spend at the parish, there is always more to do. My late husband insisted that I maintain good boundaries in parish ministry. Our marriage and our children had to be held in proper balance with my pastoral work.
Having someone listen to my feelings is healing. Whenever I returned from an especially difficult ministry experience, my husband would listen. While I also shared the happy, life-giving moments, it was his ability to hear my pain and frustration that really offered me healing.
Listening inside myself is essential. Taking time to be alone, to seek spiritual direction, and to pray provide opportunities for me to be with my feelings. The Ignatian tradition of spiritual direction recognizes feelings of consolation or desolation as indicators of where God is leading the individual.
The theme of listening kept resurfacing as we planned the first sessions of the Spiritual Formation program. The women in the diaconate community have an amazing power to support each other through dialogue. While listening to her spouse is an essential part of ministry, listening to the other wives in a loving and supportive way can provide a more complete vision for the women’s ministry.
Our first session in October 2013 was about getting to know each other. We discussed the expectations that were being placed on the wives – both spoken and unspoken. The level of sharing was incredible! People in the parish had begun to see the future diaconate couple in a different way. While this is certainly appropriate on some level, there was also a higher level of expectation for increased holiness, knowledge, and impromptu confidential sharing by members of the parish community.
By speaking about these expectations, the women were able to hear common themes. The presence of the Mentoring Wives provided a source of sound support and good practical advice. Strong bonds of community had begun to form. An introduction to effective listening skills – both with others and with God – held some surprises for the participants as well as an affirmation for things they were already doing.
Two years later, I am very excited to be gathering again in October. Our formation program will continue to evolve and respond to the needs of the women in the program. Together we will listen to the women's hope and fears, their desires, and their dreams for their part in living out the diaconate ministry.