by Laura Jackson
The first time I talked to Ardelle Walters, the founder of The Partner’s Path, I think we stayed on the phone for three hours. We were stunned our paths had not crossed before, and excited to discover each other’s work. Ardelle had spent two years creating a nonprofit to support and connect those of us who are married to ordained Episcopalians, and two decades dreaming and praying about the distinctive needs and insights that come with the role. I’d spent about as long counseling and coaching partners of seminarians and clergy, and brainstorming with my friend Cathy Boyd about how to provide more support. By the time we all connected, Ardelle had filled her first retreat only to have it cancelled by a pandemic; Cathy and I had, too. Between us we had thirty people excitedly waiting to hear what we could offer to replace the long-awaited in-person gathering. By the end of our first conversation, we had agreed we were stronger together, and the ideas for how to grow Partner’s Path were flying.
Who’s On The Path— What We Find There, And Why It Matters
The first thing we agreed on is that every single time we find ourselves in a gathering of clergy spouses, they turn out to be a collection of passionate, generous, bright, creative, resilient, fascinating people! How does this happen? The church chooses people for ordination through a long and excruciatingly intentional, yet often mysterious, screening process; those people choose (and are chosen by) spouses, before or after ordination, by even less predictable methods. And yet somehow through those two callings— of one person to ministry and another to marriage— the Spirit continually assembles a wildly diverse but consistently amazing tribe of humans.
There is no logical reason people who marry people with a particular job should all have anything in common. Indeed, we differ in more ways than we once might have: we are people of all genders, orientations, religious outlooks, racial identities, and vocations. Still— some distinctive common experiences remain. The greatest common challenge is that our own spiritual, personal, and professional nourishment and discernment are often neglected, not because any person wants that, but because of immense gravitational and historical forces. The second common need is connection: our relation to local community can be complex, and others in similar roles are often not nearby. And a third is perspective: that we have front-row seats on the powerful, irrational depths of human experience that religious life calls forth— and sometimes our seats are in the splash zone.
The rewards of such a life, when we are able to welcome them, can include deep meaning, community, and joy. It’s possible, with support, self care, and soul friends. When we succeed, so much else is transformed: our partner’s work, their physical and mental health, and the resilience of our partnership may benefit. But at the root, our own soul’s flourishing depends on our finding ways to meet our needs for connection, community, healthy boundaries, intellectual stimulation, and wonder and joy
What’s Happening Now?
So what, in these wild times, can we offer this talented, lively tribe of people, already embarked on the biggest adventure? First of all, we’d like to show you to yourselves. This Spring we invite you to a series of monthly conversations with five very different men and women who are living and reflecting on the Partner’s Path. Using an innovative model from Pathways for Baptismal Living (the lifelong learning side of Bexley Seabury Seminary), we will gather, connect, and listen as our guests share their stories with our moderator, Cathy Tyndall Boyd. If you know her, you know it’ll be a good time. There will be laughter, tears, and a goat farm— and more chances to connect with other people finding our way along the Partner’s Path.
This Spring Series is a beginning; we hope you’ll come to see, not only what we’re doing, but what a remarkable set of people you’re already a part of. When we hear each other’s stories, we discover that part of our strength is each other. Welcome, this spring, to a place where we can talk and listen, and dream about what might come next.
Laura Jackson is the founder of Holy Ground Coaching and a coach at Province V’s Leadership Coaching Project . She’s fascinated by human flourishing and unlocking joy. She lives in Chicago with a small dog, a middle-sized kid, and a seminary president.