For partners and spouses of ministry agents, life in the church is a unique existence that brings challenges and rewards unbeknownst to many in congregations. James O’Callaghan reports on Partners in Ministry to discover more about this unsung support system for many ministers in the Uniting Church.
Formed many decades ago, the Partners in Ministry group has been established to provide support for the partners and spouses of ministry agents within the Queensland Synod.
According to Andrea Hogg, current secretary of the Partners in Ministry group, being in a relationship with a ministry agent tends to entail partners joining in ministry as well.
“There are a number of rewards and challenges that are unique to being a partner in ministry,” says Andrea.
“The Partners in Ministry Group is our support network. We endeavour to support each other in a variety of ways; one is to have a retreat each year which allows time for prayer and reflection as well as social opportunities.”
The 2021 retreat was held at the Alexandra Park Conference Centre in May 2021 after being cancelled due to COVID-19 in 2020.
Mal Hamill from the Downs Presbytery is a partner of a ministry agent who attended the retreat and found it to be incredibly valuable.
“Some of those who attended the retreat where really struggling with their situation,” says Mal. “But one of the things that came out of it was an encouragement to connect with someone and use them as a support partner.”
When asked about some of the challenges of being the partner of a minister, Andrea says these are primarily associated with work/life balance: “The minister has a number of demands for their time and sometimes the spouse and rest of the family can feel torn.”
“There is also the fact that there is rarely a time when you are able to switch off given the ongoing expectations of ministry and the fact that in many instances, the manse is a short walk from the church building,” says Andrea.
For Mal, being the partner of a ministry agent has presented its own set of challenges.
“I’ve had to intentionally step back from many parts of congregational life to avoid creating a conflict of interest,” he says.
“Finding the balance between being involved in the congregation and where I need to let Linda as the minister be free and not interfere has been a challenge. But it creates opportunity and I have been able to become involved with fantastic people supporting school chaplaincy and organisations like Scripture Union Queensland as a result.”
When asked what the church and congregations can do to better support partners in ministry, Andrea says it’s important to be aware of the expectations that are being placed on a minister and their partner.
“We are there to serve, but we are there to serve in how we see God calling us.”
According to Mal, it is important for the church to understand that the role of a partner in ministry is very different to anything else in congregational life.
“It is important for the congregation to love, care, support and encourage,” Mal says. “I’ve been fortunate to feel this in all congregations in which Linda has been a minister, but I have heard of numerous situations where this not the case.”