Reflections on 25 Years of Marriage and the Wonders of Pastoral "Polygamy"

Being married and being a pastor is a bit like polygamy. It demands remarkable grace from my wife and worshippers. And I have been a doubly graced husband. 56% of my married life with Noël has been spent in the double relationship with Bethlehem. Both have treated me with amazing grace during the 14 years of our common life. (It was December 7, 1979 that I first met with the search committee of Bethlehem at Marvin Anderson’s house. They even let my wife join me as the courtship began!)

The tribute I owe to Noël and to Bethlehem is that neither has murmured against me with resentment for the other. In 14 years I can only recall one critical word about Noël, and that person eventually left the church. I doubt that you all think she is perfect. I only know that you care enough about her and me that what I hear is positive.

On the other hand, Noël has never once (and this is no exaggeration)—not once has she ever come close to suggesting that Bethlehem and I are a bad partnership. To my recollection she has never murmured that the church has done me wrong. Unlike the case with most relationships of this sort, Noël constantly sticks up for my other partner when I am discouraged.

Similarly Bethlehem has stuck up for her and my relationship to her. Noël has never been pressed to take a role she doesn’t fit. She has never been made to feel as if the other partner were jealous if we take our day off or go on vacation. Bethlehem has always quietly carried in prayer the stresses and strains of our home without exploiting our imperfections.

Now this is something to wonder at. Two deep commitments of my life—each wanting more of my time and more of my love and more of my energy and more of my creativity—but each sticking up for the other, and pleading the cause of the other and caring about the other.

This is a wonder. How do we account for this?

Here is my explanation.

There is no true polygamy here. Bethlehem has only one husband—Jesus Christ. And Bethlehem’s husband is Noël’s first commitment, not I. And since you both have one common allegiance, namely, Jesus, you are of one mind concerning me—grace. If there is any competition between Noël and Bethlehem, it is to see who can outdo the other in making sure that the other gets the attention from me that she needs.

In other words Jesus is the key to peace in this three-way alliance. Which is one of the messages of Christmas. Jesus means peace. Twenty-five years of marriage and 14 years of pastoral relations make me stand in awe of the peacemaking power of Jesus. I love him. I love you. And I love Noël. But Jesus comes first for all three of us. And that is why there is peace.

Peace to you this Christmas,

Pastor John

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