Real housewives of the clergy

Jennifer Lee Preyss By Jennifer Lee Preyss

Feb. 3, 2011 at midnight
Updated Feb. 3, 2011 at 8:04 p.m.

Graff sings along to the music in Faith Family Church.

Graff sings along to the music in Faith Family Church.

Hat and glove-wearing, choir-singing and piano-playing, stay-at-home cookie-making pastors' wives appear, these days, to be stereotypes of the past. At least they are for Tamara Graff, wife of Faith Family Church's senior pastor, Jim Graff.

Tamara Graff, who also serves as Faith Family's co-pastor, joins many modern-day clergy wives who are stepping beyond the pastor's wife boilerplate, and embracing an identity independent of their husbands.

"When we're at work, he goes in his office, and I'll be in mine doing my own thing," Graff said, reflecting on her role as co-pastor at the church. "Sometimes he'll come in my office with his service notes and ask me what I think, but otherwise we don't really get in each other's way too much."

Graff admits her husband's role in the church is much more demanding than her own, citing his heavy preaching and teaching responsibilities throughout the week.

"I don't do what he does. I don't preach every Sunday. I don't carry the teaching load he carries," Graff said. "But I'm fully in it with him. And he gives his heart to this church."

Even though her husband's responsibilities to the church are many, Graff acknowledges her own full-time responsibilities are equally tasking. She also confessed her involvement with the growth and operation of Faith Family is rooted in a personal and longtime passion for ministry, rather than an obligation to uphold the cookie cutter pastor's wife role.

"I'm involved because I want to be. I knew as a very young girl I wanted to work in ministry," she said. And indeed, ministry enveloped Graff long before she married her husband 25 years ago. She's the daughter of former Houston-based Lakewood Church pastor John Osteen, and sister of best-selling author and internationally-known evangelist Joel Osteen, who currently serves as lead pastor at Lakewood. Graff also attended Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma, where she envisioned herself for a time, working in domestic and international mission work.

"I love that stuff. If I could have another life, I would do that," Graff said.

When asked if she feels burdened by the public role she faces each day as the wife of Faith Family's senior pastor, Graff responded, "You know, I don't."

"I know people have an idea of what a pastor's wife should be - they sing in the choir and play the piano, but they're just people, and they're not perfect people," Graff said, laughing. "I don't feel burdened by all that. I'm just me, all I can be is me. I try to do my best, and if God's happy with me, then I'm doing good."

Sharing Graff's nonchalant views on pastors' wives is University of Houston-Victoria Chief of Staff Margaret Rice, who's also the wife of the Rev. Gene Rice, senior pastor of the Church at Spring Creek.

"We used to laugh that Baptist pastors' wives knew how to play piano and sing, and if that was expected of me, we'd be in big trouble," Rice laughed. "But that's what's so great about being married to my husband, he has always encouraged me to develop in the ways that God is leading me, and not because it will make him look good."

Together, the couple have been married 35 years, and in that time, they have devoted their entire marriage to serving God, His church, and His people.

"I've talked to other pastors' wives through the years about the pressure of being married to a minister because it is a very public role," Rice said. "For me, I enjoy a lot of the social interaction that comes with being a pastor's wife. I've enjoyed the role."

But Rice didn't let the perceived pressures of her husband's vocation prevent her from pursuing her own life goals. She graduated with a master's degree in religious education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and received a Ph.D. in Educational Human Resources Development from Texas A&M University. She's also a licensed, though not ordained, minister in her own right.

"Whether or not we were in the ministry, we tried to operate like a normal family. So I have not felt the pressure of any expectations put on me, and if I did, it was early on in our marriage," Rice said.

Another Victoria pastor's wife, Lori King, married to the Rev. David King, of John Wesley United Methodist Church, agreed she too, feels unburdened by the expectations of her husband's congregation.

"Pastors' wives look differently than they did years ago," King said. "Since I've been in it, most of the pastors' wives I know work."

While her husband mans the church, King said she obtained a master's degree in education and currently works with the Goliad Special Education Coop.

Unlike Graff and Rice, King said when she learned her husband wanted to join the ministry, she wasn't entirely thrilled.

"We laugh about it now, but I told him if he ever became a pastor, I'd divorce him in a minute," she said. "Even though I'd grown up in the church, it was hard for me at church."

Eventually, King said it made sense when her husband decided to pursue the ministry, and she soon fell in love with his vocation and God, all over again.

"What I love about it is that people are the same everywhere, no matter where we go, we always have a loving family waiting for us," King said, discussing the many transfers she and her husband have endured in their marriage. "We have the luxury of automatic friendships."

King admitted when she first became a pastor's wife, she tried to live up to the "stay-at-home, needle-pointing, bake-sale organizing" Methodist pastors' wives she knew as a child. But she quickly realized living up to the stereotypical pastor's wife was unnecessary to serve God, the church, or her husband.

"Early in his ministry, I probably did a lot of that out of obligation, but I realized that's unhealthy," King said. "I've had so many friends who were pastors' kids, and the demands of that role took such a toll on them, that by the time they were adults, there was no way they were going to church."

After three decades as a pastor's wife, King said she's learned how to manage her role and the expectations of the congregation.

"What I've learned in the last 30 years is that I set the tone for how people treat me, or what their expectations are," King said. "I'm just always myself."



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