I am a long-time minister of youth, a ministry/career path that I have followed for more than thirty years since college. Long ago it became natural for me to think of myself with that title: minister of youth. However, many other terms are also in my list of descriptors: Daughter, Sister, Friend, Wife, Mother, Teacher, Leader.
I gradually grew quite comfortable with each of these descriptors, although it sometimes seemed that I was alone in holding certain specific combinations. Was there really another youth minister out there who tried to balance being minister and mother to two of the youth in her ministry? Was anyone else the daughter of two of the leaders in the very church in which she served?
The one combination that felt most strange to me was being a youth minister while also being wife to a husband who not only refused to attend church with the family, but who also resented and struggled against my being in ministry. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. In moments when I was honest with myself, I added another descriptor—abused wife. That term, of course, could only be used in my own head. It was private. Surely no one else knew what my home life was like, and I was not about to tell them. After all, the majority of the abuse was not physical. For the most part, it was verbal and psychological. People couldn’t see my scars—or could they?
When after more than twenty years I agonizingly and painfully made the decision to file for divorce, I was anxious about the responses that I would get from fellow Christians, and especially from my church members. After all, I was a Christian and a minister. I couldn’t get a divorce, could I? Would anyone understand? Would I be asked to leave my church? Would I be ostracized? What would happen?
When the time came, I nervously steeled myself for what was to come. The divorce itself and the effect on my children and family were bad enough, but I was sure that what I faced within the church would be terrible. I simply could not wrap my head around the new descriptor that I would be applying to myself—DIVORCED Youth Minister. The two terms just did not go together. If I couldn’t wrap my own head around it, how would I convince the church and its leaders that I could continue as an effective minister after the divorce?
To make a long story short, my church accepted me, supported me, and even gifted my children and me with the necessary supplies to move into an apartment. With their support, I committed myself to continuing to serve in the ministry where God had placed me. That was over twelve years ago. I have since been called by another church, where I continue in ministry. It sometimes is still difficult to think of myself as a divorced minister, difficult to explain my story to others. Yet I have realized that no matter what other descriptors I add, the truth is that who I am is a minister. God has called me, gifted me, and placed me here to fulfill that calling.
Karen Pruette is minister of children, youth, and education at First Baptist Church, Plymouth, North Carolina.