SOUTHERN OHIO: Couples make marriage, ordination vows

February 13, 2011

This time at the altar, Brian and Amy Turner wore the same outfit – a simple white alb and red stoles embroidered with the flames of the Holy Spirit and a dove of peace. On Jan. 8, they responded to their ordination vows to the priesthood, "I will, with God's help."

Six months earlier, a different set of vows confronted the couple, and they answered, "I do."

Part of a small but growing trend in the Episcopal Church, the Rev. Brian and the Rev. Amy Turner are a dual-clergy couple.

The pairing of love and vocation creates both opportunities and obstacles. But the young couple wouldn't have it any other way.

"I think it enriches our spiritual life, being able to share our calls to the priesthood," said Brian, 30 and canonically resident in the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio. "Being ordained together emphasizes the fact that we're in this together. We've taken marriage vows with each other, and our ministries – even though they're separate – are side by side."

But, they laugh, they do have a few worries: After all the anecdotes about wild preacher kids, they wonder how having two preachers as parents will affect their children, once they start a family. "We'll just have to figure that out when it happens," Brian said.

Embracing each other's gifts
The Diocese of Southern Ohio has nearly a dozen dual-clergy couples. Some are a mix of priest and deacon; others answered the call to the same ordained order. And still others took an ecumenical route, with one spouse in the Episcopal Church and the other serving a different denomination.

Regardless, they say, their relationships have been both deeply enriched and occasionally challenged by their dual vocations.

Lynn and Frank Edmands had a six-year jump on marriage before they plunged into seminary. Frank was an environmental scientist, and Lynn planned a career as a forensic pathologist. But through their involvement as lay leaders in an Episcopal church in California, they both felt a call to ordained ministry.

"We laughed that if we could get through our first year of seminary, we could get through anything," said Lynn, who serves today as rector of St. James' Episcopal Church, Columbus. Frank retired a few years ago but serves as priest-in-charge at Trinity Episcopal Church, London, Ohio.

At General Theological Seminary in New York City, they had to navigate their sense of competition and ego. At one point, both were considered for election as head sacristan. When Frank was elected, others wondered how Lynn would react.

By then, she said, "we were able to embrace each other's gifts and celebrate each other's triumphs."
The couple, who will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in May, made a decision before entering seminary that their first vocation was their marriage.

"We're of the mind that God wouldn't call us to one vocation to break down another," said Lynn. "It's difficult to be in the same vocation, to be different and to be received differently and still be OK with that. But we both knew we would say no to the ordination and continue to say yes to the marriage, if it came down to that. That was the deal. And we still operate that way."

They take the same Sabbath day – and rarely let work interfere, said Frank.

"Our vocations can run 24-7, so we realize how important it is to have some personal time together," said Frank. "We are deliberate about spending time together without church."

Speaking the same language
The Rev. Bruce Smith, assistant rector at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Upper Arlington, and his wife, the Rev. Susan Warrener Smith, also lifted up the importance of spending non-church time together.

When both spouses are in the ministry, "one of you is at church meetings most nights," said Bruce, who was ordained in 2000. Susan, a Presbyterian pastor ordained in 1995, retired in 2009.

Still, he said, the benefits far outweigh the challenges. They both work to be active in the lives of their respective congregations. And each can empathize with the other about workplace stresses, Bruce said.
"If I have something I need to unload about, she understands completely," said Bruce.

For Brian and Amy Turner, this ability to integrate their vocations with their marriage is a gift.
"Sitting at a bedside with a husband who's trying to figure out whether to pull life support on his wife of 50 years is not something that most people have experienced," said Amy, who serves as a hospital chaplain in the Diocese of Virginia. "But I have a husband who understands that, and we talk about it. We're able to speak the same language."

They also can carpool together for diocesan meetings and share sermon ideas.

However being a clergy couple adds a challenge to the job hunt. After graduating from seminary last spring, they both started looking for positions. Brian received a call first to serve as assistant rector at Trinity Episcopal Church, Fredericksburg, Virginia.

"We've already decided," said Brian. "The next job search will be for Amy."

Trusting God
Friends tease the Rev. Paula Jackson, rector of Our Saviour Episcopal Church, Mount Auburn, Ohio and her husband, the Rev. Daniel Watson, a Presbyterian pastor.

"Sometimes people look at us and says, ‘You have no social life. You have no life," said Paula, who married Dan in 1975. "But we like our life. We love what we do."

Saturday nights are sermon workshop time. And when one spouse drives, the other reads the lectionary aloud.

Being the child of a Baptist pastor, Paula knew intimately the dynamics of clergy families.
"If you're both pastors, there is hardly any way to keep work from following you around. I knew that long before we got married," she said. "I grew up with it so I knew what I was getting into when I said yes to the call."

As for advice for clergy families, Jackson said, "I learned by observing my mother. What saved her – what saved our family – was her wicked sense of humor – which of course, parishioners never saw. She taught me that you can't take yourself too seriously. That God is going to get the job done one way or another."

Whole new conversation
As a child, Sallie Schisler organized the neighborhood kids into playing church – and she served as the priest. But her early calling to ordained ministry didn't reach fruition until decades later, after having married, raised a family and enjoyed a successful career in corporate marketing and communications.
In the late 1990s, she and her husband, Dick, started talking about the vocational diaconate, and in 1999, they started together in deacons' school.

"A lot of times when children grow up and leave home, couples suffer from an empty nest," said Sallie. She and Dick celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary last year. "Suddenly, with deacons' school, we had a whole new conversation going on in our relationship."

When they were ordained together as deacons, they both cried, and served communion at the same station to their family and friends.

What the Schislers didn't anticipate was being assigned to different congregations after ordination. Dick was assigned to their home parish, All Saints' Episcopal Church, Portsmouth, Ohio while Sallie was assigned to Christ Episcopal Church, Ironton, about 30 minutes away.

"It never occurred to us that we wouldn't be serving together," said Sallie. "It meant that for the first time in our married life, we wouldn't be worshipping together. Personally, I still find that hard."

Followers of Christ
Roger Greene already had been a priest for seven years when his wife Nancy Hopkins Greene took her ordination vows as a priest. At first, they had a strict ground rule: They would never work together.

But when St. Timothy's Episcopal Church, Anderson Township, Cincinnati wanted to expand its clergy staff, the couple decided to try working together for one year. That year turned into nine. Roger served as rector, while Nancy was the part-time assistant.

"The key for us was to have very distinct responsibilities and not co-mingle anything," said Roger, who has been married to Nancy for 30 years. "It's enough to co-manage life. It would be too mixed-up trying to manage the life of the congregation as well."

Eventually, Nancy took a year off and then accepted a part-time position on the staff of Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in the Hyde Park area of Cincinnati.

Even though they rarely see each other on Sundays and other holy days, "we learn a lot from each other," said Roger. "Sometimes I take it for granted the fact that we're in this together. This discipleship journey is something we do together, not just as priests but as followers of Christ."