One of the greatest blessings in my life has been to share not only parenting and friendship with my husband but also pastoring. When we began our call at a small rural church in South Carolina, my husband served as senior pastor, and I, as associate. Within a year, we had comfortably settled into a routine of sharing pastoral duties and administration. We tag-teamed both parenting and church responsibilities, switching and swapping based on the needs of our families or our congregation.

We shared great joys in baptizing our two children as their ministers and as their parents. We nurtured their burgeoning faith from the pulpit, at the kitchen table, and at the foot of their beds. We grew together as husband and wife in sharing our days and nights together, weaving our strengths and weaknesses to complement each other’s style of ministry.

My husband and I also shared much tragedy in the years we served that congregation. We held the hand of a child dying of a self-inflicted wound, held a child whose father would never see him grow up, and embraced a mother who bravely donated her daughter’s young, strong heart. Our grief followed us home and often shrouded our family time. As much as it was a comfort to share these burdens, it also meant that we could not escape them as we prepared for family visits and funerals. We learned how important boundaries are for pastoring couples to keep church-talk from dominating every shared conversation.

One of the most important things we took away from our experience as co-pastors was how to support and love each other in each of our capacities as spouse, colleague, and parent. In a small congregation there was no room for husband-wife anger or frustration to bleed over into church administration, nor was there space for differences of opinion about ministry to boil over into family dynamics. We had to have each other’s backs at all times and in every way possible. Our trust and faith in one another grew in those years. We admired the skills and talents of the other without being threatened or jealous. We supported each other during times of challenge without being accusatory or assigning blame.

Although our next vocational calls were ones in which we do not work together, many of the insights we gained as co-pastors about balancing career and home-life have stuck with us. We are careful with our boundaries in not allowing our current congregation to become the sole source of our social connections, the primary center of our “down-time,” or the focus of all of our conversations. We try to eat supper together every chance we get, and make up for the times when evening meetings or activities usurp family commitments. We have learned that one of the most important gifts we can offer the congregation I serve is to strive to love each other well first as family–then the love grounded in our home is free to spill out into the lives of all those with whom we journey.

Stephanie Totty Patterson is a proud Virginian, having grown up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. She is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where she met her husband, Brett, at the Baptist Student Union. They were married after her graduation in 2000. Stephanie then attended and graduated from Duke University’s Divinity School. Throughout their marriage, Stephanie and Brett have served in various ministry roles, and in 2013, Stephanie accepted the call of Boulevard Baptist Church in Anderson, South Carolina, to serve as minister of students and families.