And yet, there are moments and memories that are “precious and priceless,” as one clergy mom said.
Here’s a heartfelt list of what it’s like to be a clergy mom during a pandemic. Happy Mother’s Day.
Rev. Leslie Daniels, Dunlap UMC, Dunlap, TNWORST: The hardest part for me has just been an inner struggle. I’m trying to balance the inner drive to be productive and responsible in my appointment with the truth that God may be providing an opportunity for me to slow down and have quality time with my children. Sometimes I need a reminder that it’s OK to enjoy that opportunity.
BEST: We have had some really great conversations and enjoyable moments since being sequestered together in our home. I think we will always remember this time we have shared together.
Rev. Elizabeth Hamilton, Mountain View UMC, Kingsport, TNWORST: The worst part is the very real struggle of balancing pastoral duties, preparing sermons, recording Bible study and Sunday service while trying to be a parent in the middle of a worldwide crisis. They are both full-time endeavors, requiring high amounts of energy and focus. Some days your children get neglected, some days your pastoral duties and preaching get neglected, but at the end of the week they are both expected to be done, and done well.
BEST: The best part is actually being at home with your children. It’s precious time, quality time, and priceless time that we have been gifted with in the midst of crisis. It’s a good time to bond, create memories, and teach valuable lessons not found in public-school textbooks, and watch them grow. It’s these very difficult times that refine us not only as pastors but also as mothers, preparing us to lead our churches and our children into the future.
Rev. Sarah Slack, First United Methodist Church, Maryville, TNWORST: Trying to balance online learning, Zoom extracurriculars, pandemic anxiety, and pastoring virtually.
BEST: Easier evenings with plenty of time to cook, often with my girls, and time to play with no rush of homework and bedtime.
WORST: The worst part is trying to do live worship videos, Zoom Bible studies, etc. in our home while my husband and son are just going on with their daily activities. For instance, one Sunday morning, my son John was cooking sausage in the kitchen while I was on Facebook Live leading worship in the living room. He burned the sausage and smoked up the house. When he realized he was about to set off the smoke detectors, he grabbed a towel and began frantically waving the towel at the smoke detector. It sure was hard to keep a straight face and keep from coughing and gagging from the smoke.
Rev. Lisa Bryant, Madam Russell/ Tate’s Chapel UMC, Saltville, VA
BEST: Typically, I spend Saturday evening through Thursday in Saltville, and Thursday evening through Saturday with my husband and son in Kingsport. So, for me, the best thing about being a clergy mom during this pandemic has been the ability to be home with my family full-time. This has been the most time I’ve been able to spend with them in over a year and a half.
Rev. Clair Sauer, Wesley Memorial UMC, Chattanooga, TNWORST: Feeling like a total failure as my kids' "teacher" -- because I can't be a full-time pastor and a full-time or even part-time teacher.
BEST: Seeing my kids growing together in this time because they are together 24/7 and they are each others' only playmates. They really are spending a lot of time together that they wouldn't otherwise have, and they are loving it. I also appreciate dinner at home every night with no reason to rush through it. There is time to really talk to and listen to our kids.
Rev. Elizabeth López, First UMC, Gatlinburg, TNWORST: The worst part is knowing there are people in our Hispanic community in need, where both parents are unemployed, and as a pastor, not being able to meet their need. But when I do go out, I have to take my kids everywhere, knowing the virus is in the places where I take them. So we are trying to be extra cautious with our masks and Lysol and Germinix, spraying the kids down and making sure those little hands don’t touch everything.
BEST: I get to spend more time with my family. My husband is working six days a week since he’s in construction, so it’s been just me and the boys. So we’ve had all kinds of cool stuff to do. We’ve done puzzles, we’ve watched movies together, we’ve gone biking. It’s just amazing to see how our kids are growing and having that family bonding time together.
WORST: Juggling my responsibilities to my congregations (that I miss tremendously), my seminary studies, and being a 24/7 mom and teacher to my daughter. I'm blessed to have an awesome senior pastor, though, who has helped our churches (and me) navigate these unprecedented times.
Rev. Jennifer Spieth, SunOak Parish, Sunbright/Oakdale, TN
BEST: Spending more quality time alone with God and my family.
Rev. Amy Jo Cook, Loudon UMC, Loudon, TNWORST: The already constant pull between parenting and pastoring is amplified. It’s hard when people do not follow precautions and I have to explain this behavior to a confused seven-year-old. How does this disregard for community health reflect love of God and neighbor?
BEST: At our best, the church is a sacrificial, nurturing, and powerful helper. I get to see that daily as well as model it! We celebrate finding and being helpers, as a church and as a family.
Rev. Jodie Ihfe, First UMC, Johnson City, TNWORST: The worst part is feeling like I am always working. Before the pandemic, I had tried to create healthy boundaries for work, family, home, and sabbath. But now, I feel like there are no boundaries. Everything is always work, family, home and very little time for sabbath or rest.
BEST: I have loved getting to sit with my kids while we watch the worship service. We prerecord the services, so we watch them later and discuss what’s happening and what things mean. As a clergy couple, we have had few times to worship alongside our kids, and worship time during the pandemic has been really special. Also, continuing their education while school is out is really hard, but I love seeing how much they have learned, hearing them read, and watching them learn and grow.
Rev. Paige Wimberly, Newbern-Mountain View UMC, Dublin, VAWORST: During the pandemic with us doing schoolwork and church work and worship and meetings and pastoral care from home, the tri-vocational lines between mom, pastor, and teacher have been swept away. I remind myself, though, that my struggles pale in comparison to what Gracianna is going through. She’s an extrovert isolated at home with no friends and no clear end in sight. This means that her introverted mother is also her primary playmate. With all of these additional duties and stressors, it has been difficult for me to get my church work done and get enough sleep.
BEST: Hands down, the best part is all the time I get to spend with Gracianna -- learning, playing, exercising, working through challenges, enjoying fun activities, making the best of it out of the worst of it. I am the luckiest mom in the world!
Did you like this article? There's more to come. Sign up for a free weekly subscription to The Call.
Holston Conference includes 864 United Methodist congregations in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.