The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Trial in the wilderness

A clergy spouse finds a space of his own

Ben McDonald Coltvet enjoys some cake
Ben McDonald Coltvet enjoys some “cake for the journey” into his own wilderness as a pastor’s spouse.
If I were asked to give a metaphor for being a pastor’s spouse, I might choose the story from Matthew 4 where Jesus is tempted in the wilderness. You know, the part where Satan is leading Jesus to a high place and promising him great power in exchange for allegiance.

I’d start off with a family story about my parents arriving 35 years ago to a windswept prairie church in Canada, U.S. immigrants with a baby boy (my older brother) and open hearts.

They were embraced by this congregation of hardy German farmers. But soon after the pantry in the parsonage was stocked and the welcomes had died down, a small group came to the new pastor’s wife (my mother) and asked, “Would you direct our choir? You have such a beautiful voice and fine musical training.”

My mother, Margit Coltvet, didn’t give in to the temptation—and it was a very good thing. The job was already taken, but a few members were looking for a way to oust the current director. Rather than stepping into the middle of a brewing conflict, my mother took a different path.

Fast-forward a few decades and I’m the new pastor’s spouse accompanying my wife, Joy, to her first call in southeast Wisconsin. Many things have changed in the intervening years—even the title, “pastor’s spouse,” is different, although some of the older men in the congregation insisted on calling me the pastor’s “wife” once or twice with a wink and an elbow jab.

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February issue


Embracing diversity