Cindy Evers has been a preacher's wife for 30 years.

As such, she has taught Bible classes and volunteered in the community, and yet if it were up to her, no one would ever know she's the wife of the Rev. Fred Evers.
Not because she doesn't love her husband, but because she hates the pressure of being the pastor's wife.

"When it's good, it's awesome," Evers said. "And when it's bad, it's awful."
Being the spouse of a minister is like being the spouse of anyone in the public eye. It's a pretty lonely existence, experts say, and not immune to the everyday challenges the rest of society faces --- such as keeping a home and raising a family --- to the more extreme problems like alcoholism and infidelity.

"There is a great deal of pain within the household of our clergy,'' said Kim Coffing, an assistant general secretary with the United Methodist Church.
Because they are expected to uphold certain moral standards, the burden can become so heavy it leads to feelings of isolation and depression.
Worse, Coffing said, many spouses are not aware of the resources available. Even those who are often do not seek help because of fear of the effect it will have on their spouse's career.

"When you are a minister, marital problems are inextricably bound together in a way that most other vocations don't enter in," said Tom Fuller, director of Samford University's Beeson Divinity School. "Ministry is not just your job, it's your calling. It's your life.

"I think many idealize, romanticize being a preacher's wife," Fuller said. "It's really only after they are on the inside do they discover what a fishbowl existence it is."
Empathy with suspect
Until the shooting death of the Rev. Matthew Winkler two months ago, glimpses into the sometimes troubled lives of clergy families were rare.
Winkler, 31, was found dead March 22 in a bedroom at the couple's parsonage in Selmer, Tenn. His wife, 32-year-old Mary, has been charged with first-degree murder and is being held without bail. Her case is expected to go to the grand jury in mid-June.
Winkler's attorney, Steve Farese, said he has received dozens of e-mails from ministers' spouses empathizing with her.

Farese said the women "finally have an outlet to say 'let me tell you what it's really like.' It kinda broadsided me to get this."
The lawyer, who visits with Winkler once a week in jail, said, "There are always reasons for things like this to occur and those reasons will be our defense."
Shifting expectations

"The biggest problem is expectations," said Evers, who has counseled ministers' wives and is president of the Georgia Baptist Convention Ministers' Wives Network. "Why should I live up to somebody else's expectations when the only difference between me and another woman in the congregation is I'm married to the pastor?"
Evers said those expectations change from congregation to congregation.
Northside Baptist Church in Tifton, where her husband is senior pastor, has been very supportive, Evers is quick to point out. But she recalled another church her husband pastored that "was an absolute nightmare."
Some congregants once complained because their two sons played football, saying "it was not godly." Others objected when her husband included the baby of a single mother in a Baptist ceremony.

"He and I stood with her on the stage where her husband would've been," Evers remembered.

"They got up and walked out."
Mary Cox echoes Evers' experience.

"It's just the joy of my life," said the wife of the Rev. Frank Cox, pastor of North Metro First Baptist in Lawrenceville.
But as the coordinator for ministers' wives of the Georgia Baptist Convention, she has talked to many wives who complain they don't have anyone to confide in and are frustrated by how little time their husbands spend with their families.
Many clergy spouses have jobs, yet still feel pressured to be heavily involved in the congregation.
Edward Wimberly, professor of pastoral care at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, said parishioners often expect ministers to have a "perfect" family.

"In a world that is constantly changing, the only place they expect stability is in the pastor and his family,'' he said. "They expect them to be available 24 hours, to be nurturing parents, that pastors would perform perfect empathy."
The problem comes when pastors and their wives buy into that and don't take the time to care for themselves or their families, Wimberly said.
Wide range of help
The scope of the issue is underlined by the wide range of help available, from retreats and counseling services to Web sites and blogs.

The Georgia Baptist Convention offers many resources and is working to build a support network, Cox said.

Cathedral Counseling Center can arrange for individual, couple and family counseling for clergy spouses of all denominations. The center is on the campus of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta, a satellite office of the Care and Counseling Center of Georgia.
Ministers' wives are gathering online at blogs such as and at

The United Methodist Church is trying to address issues raised in a 2004 survey. Leaders will meet this month to discuss them.
And once a year, Lois Evans, wife of senior pastor Tony Evans of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas, hosts a First Lady Conference to provide a "safe place'' for wives to reflect, renew and relax.

Evans started the event several years ago when she needed help and couldn't find any.

"My gifts and skill sets didn't match the traditional role of a pastor's wife, to be ready to teach, be just as fluid in Scripture," Evans said. "I needed someone to teach me."
The First Lady Conference, which draws hundreds of women from across the country, was Evans' answer to helping wives forsake the "cookie cutter image." This year's conference is June 8-10.

"I want to have a conference designed around the needs women say they have," Evans said.

"We'll be dealing with real issues."
Evans said churches should be more sensitive and view clergy spouses as humans who want to be loved unconditionally. At the same time, she said, wives could be "a little more open. A lot of us have built walls of protection around us because we've been hurt."

GETTING HELP: Advice for pastors' wives: Know you have a tough job and you don't have to be perfect. Know your ministry strengths. Know you aren't alone. Allow time to take care of yourself and get your needs met. Don't give up your own identity. Be yourself.> Don't keep everything inside. It will eventually lead to an emotional or physical breakdown.Source: Dwight Bain, nationally certified counselor and certified family law mediator.WIVESBLOGMinisters' wives are gathering online to discuss their thoughts, joys and struggles. Here are excerpts of recent comments posted at Only the bloggers' "screen names" are used:Susan: There have been times when the only thing that has kept me in the situation is my commitment to God, because not even my love for my husband could make me put up with the loneliness and isolation on this scale.Siobham: I have struggled for a few years to stay off any pedestals --- people do want to put the [pastor's wife] there, then enclose it in a glass case where they can look at you, but not really know you.A Small-Church PW: This is too much for one woman, mother, wife, Christian, worship leader, children's church teacher, women's leader, Sunday school teacher & church secretary. And I have a "real" job too!!!Hanna: It feels like the role of pastor's wife is the lowest in social rank because everybody thinks you are there simply to serve serve serve and serve some more and take in all the barrage of criticism while the whole time having a smile on.Julie: I love all the women in our church, but it's hard to have to be guarded in your conversations because you're the pastor's wife. Would someone out there be my PW friend?> Names are those chosen by blog participants for their e-mail accounts.

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