Clergy Marriages in Crisis
The Holston Conference Foundation is helping to fund a volunteer organization that helps ministers' spouses survive after separation or divorce.

By Suzanne C. Hickerson

"It's a big problem,” said Betty Hurlock, founder of the Partners in Crisis ministry. "Much to my horror (the divorce rate) is the same among clergy as the general public."

Over the years, Hurlock saw how divorce affected ministers' wives. She remembers thinking how horrible it would be for a pastor's spouse to lose his or her home, furnishings, church family, minister – and in some cases, a job – due to divorce.

After witnessing the pain and abandonment clergy spouses experience following a divorce, Hurlock took action in 1995 and formed Partners in Crisis.

"I really decided I needed to do something about it since the good Lord kept it on my heart," she said.

The volunteer organization, which is dependent on donations, provides resources to clergy spouses following a marital separation or divorce. The volunteers stressed that confidentiality is essential.

"We think of Partners in Crisis as an emergency room," said Martha Chamberlain, who actively supports the organization.

The group offers a number of resources to those in need, including names of attorneys and financial advisors willing to offer emergency counsel and guidance.

When a spouse is facing separation or divorce, there is often a need for financial assistance. The The Holston Conference Foundation is helping to fund a volunteer organization that helps ministers’ spouses survive after separation or divorce. organization has been able to provide financial assistance to spouses by helping them pay for brief hotel stays and apartment deposits as well as utility hookup fees.

If more money was available for this ministry, Partners in Crisis might be able to offer job-retraining funds to spouses forced to reenter the job market.

Several crisis volunteers agreed that clergy spouses are in a unique position following a separation or divorce. Many churches provide a parsonage and furnishings for the minister and his/her family, but a separation or divorce means that the spouse suddenly becomes homeless.

In some situations, the spouse may feel isolated or abandoned by the church. Gerry Hauk, treasurer of Partners in Crisis, told the story of a friend who lived in her car for three days following separation from her minister husband.

"She felt there was no support system," Hauk said of her friend. Because Partners in Crisis had not yet formed, Hauk's friend was unable to benefit from the crisis ministry. However, she made the first $100 donation and met with volunteers to share her experience and advise them on how to help others, Hauk added.

Since 1996 the organization has provided emotional and financial support to many individuals and families. Eight families have received more than $4,000 to get back on their feet, according to Hauk.

"It's a great way to witness and let people know we care about them," Hauk said.

Volunteers have assisted men separated from minister wives as well as women separated from minister husbands. Several crisis volunteers, who are themselves clergy spouses, added that a pastor's job is very demanding and can cause stress in a marriage.

The minister carries the burden of the congregation and is often called away from family activities or vacation to tend to church business, said Chris Bowles, co-chair of Partners in Crisis.

Hurlock added that a spouse is put in a position of sharing his or her minister spouse with the church.

In an effort to expand the ministry, crisis volunteers are hoping to raise more money for Partners in Crisis. They want to continue providing assistance to those in need as well as be more proactive in providing resources to clergy couples.

Bowles would like for Partners in Crisis to have the means to provide marriage enrichment retreats for clergy couples, she said.

One way volunteers hope to raise additional funds is through the Holston Conference Foundation. Roger Redding, executive director of the Holston Conference Foundation, recently met with volunteers to discuss ways to raise money for the crisis ministry. "We are going to help them tell the story," Redding said.

The foundation's board meets in April and is scheduled to consider providing a grant to the Partners in Crisis ministry to help address the short-term funding need. The foundation will also continue to work with volunteers to establish an endowment, which would provide a permanent source of funds.

"We are the perfect vehicle to help them do the work they need to do," Redding added.

For information about assisting Partners in Crisis through Holston Conference Foundation, contact Roger Redding by email or (865) 690-4080. If you know a minister's spouse who needs help, contact your district superintendent or Betty Hurlock at (865) 531-7501.


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