Being a Clergy Couple takes Strong Roots and Leaning on Church Family for Help
By Lindsay Peyton
Pastors are often married to their jobs, completely committed to their churches and their members. Being married to someone else in the field can help; husband and wife understand their scope of work and share a similar vision. Couples are both pastors often provide a sanctuary for each other, holding on to faith as they face stress as ministers. In this series, we visit with clergy couples, starting with pastor Rev. Christie Hale at Faith UMC Fannett and Rev. Josh Hale, pastor at FUMC Liberty.
Christie and Josh have learned to balance work and life as a clergy couple, at the same time as being busy parents to four children -- 15-year old Ben, 13-year old Ellie, 10-year old Sam and 7-year old Tim.
As pastors, they are prepared to weather any storm. Sometimes that is literal, like lately with Hurricane Harvey, Tropical Storm Imelda and Hurricane Laura. Now they are guiding their churches through COVID-19.
“How it happens is by the grace of God,” Christie said. “It’s being open to letting God work through us. I don’t always know how it’s going to work, but I trust if God’s called me, and I have faith, we’ll work it out.”
The roots of their relationship actually prepared them for the pastoral life that awaited, she explained. Christie and Josh’s paths converged in seminary at Emory University's Candler School of Theology. Both wanted to their university experience away from home. He is from Texas, and she is from California originally. Josh showed up at a murder mystery party set in the 1920s that Christie and her roommate hosted. That was 18 years ago.
“We flirted as characters – and the rest is history,” Christie said.
Only a few days later, they made plans to travel to Texas to spend Thanksgiving with Josh’s family, and 13 months later, they were married.
Josh said they shared interests and hobbies. “But it wasn’t only a sense of compatibility,” he added. “She had a genuine interest in people, including me, and that passion for serving others came from a genuine place of kindness and wanting everyone to have a place.”
It didn’t hurt that Christie was a great cook and loved Star Trek, he added with a laugh.
Before long, the newlyweds would travel to the UK, as Josh was accepted to a British Methodist exchange program. Christie also found out she was pregnant.
“We had our first year in ministry and parenthood together in another country and loved it,” Christie said. “It was beyond formative. That very much shaped our marriage and our ministry.”
Lessons from the Hales’ time abroad never left them. The couple learned to spend time together and truly connect. They also leaned to lean on their church family, because they were otherwise alone in another country.
In addition, the Hales found a different pace of life in Great Britain. They learned to think of time as blocks, instead of hours on the clock. Work followed a different schedule. “It feels more like ministry and less like a job,” Christie said.
Upon the Hales’ return in 2006, Josh joined the Texas Annual Conference and was appointed to the Wesley Student Center at Lamar University in Beaumont. Christie joined the staff of Woodcrest UMC. The couple welcomed their daughter Ellie in May 2007.
Christie was commissioned at the Texas Annual Conference in 2008 and then appointed to FUMC in Port Arthur, where she served for three years. The couple welcomed their third child Sam in June 2010, just after Christie was ordained.
In 2011, Josh was appointed to Perritte Memorial UMC in Nacogdoches, and Christie became Associate Pastor at First UMC also in Nacogdoches. Two years later, Tim was born, eight weeks premature. He was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition while still in the NICU.
The beginning of Tim’s life was filled with surgical procedures, doctors’ appointments and therapy. At the time, Christie was working part-time at two congregations in Henderson -- Pine Hill and Blossom Hill UMCs.
The Hales asked the Bishop if they could be together in Houston, closer to the hospital to help their son, and in 2014, both were appointed to Mission Bend UMC. “We served together,” Christie said. “Josh was the lead pastor, and I was the associate pastor.”
The couple stayed until 2017, when Josh was appointed to FUMC Liberty, where the family lives in the parsonage, along with Christie’s father. She commutes to serve at Faith Fannett.
The Hales said there were blessings of working together at the same church – as well as now that they are each at separate congregations. Before, they only had one church calendar to coordinate, and the entire family could be together on Sundays.
At the same time, if something went wrong at the church when they were together, it weighed heavily on both pastors. “Now, Josh having a bad day and me having a bad day at the same time is rare,” Christie said.
Their children actually prefer having two churches – and the embrace of two church families. After all, that was their routine before Mission Bend, bouncing back and forth between services at two congregations and enjoying two churches full of members.
“In moving to Liberty, God was absolutely involved,” Christie said. “Our kids have flourished.”
Ben goes to church with Josh at Liberty, while the other three children attend Faith. Ellie even sings with the choir at Faith and helps with VBS.
These days, Christie said the couple applies what they learned in England. For instance, they trust their church family and have built rewarding relationships with members. That allows them both to delegate work when necessary – as well as to ask for help with a babysitter when a church event is pressing.
The Hales also hold onto to thinking about time in blocks. Not everything has to be completed today. Sometimes later in the week will do. “You get creative,” Christie said. “It’s about balance.”
Having an iPhone helps. Christie can make her office portable thanks to the technology, answering emails, texts and phone calls from anywhere. Reading scripture, taking notes, listening to a helpful Podcast are all accessible. Also, when the Hales’ congregations were threatened by storms and had to evacuate, Christie had all of their information stored in her phone.
The Hales’ congregations flooded during Hurricane Harvey. Josh had to open his church as a shelter, and Christie cooked meals to take to the church. Members of their congregations lost everything.
Not long after, Tropical Storm Imelda hit. Josh again opened the church. “The doors were barely open when the first wet people came in, about 730,” Christie recalled. “As we got tables and chairs set up, more and more wet, scared and hungry people showed up.”
Christie’s congregation was also evacuating, including those who had recently finished repairs from Harvey. “By the end of the day, nearly everyone who had flooded before, suffered again – and had even more water this time,” she said.
There was no water inside the church at Faith Fannett, while nearby schools and childcare centers flooded. The church stepped up to offer a Recovery VBS for weeks to allow parents to return to work. When school did resume, the Red Cross held three days of aid at the church for people with qualifying water damage. More than 1,500 attended.
The Hales did not have to evacuate during Hurricane Laura. Christie explained that the storm passed to the east. Still, Faith Fannett is working to help Moss Bluff UMC in Lake Charles. The church helped Faith during Harvey – and was devastated by Laura.
“We have promised to walk with them during recovery,” Christie said. “We are collecting items that they need, as well as working with the needs in our district.”
Josh said that FUMC Liberty started staging supplies before Laura came ashore. “We sent all those tarps and flood buckets to Orange,” he said. “Our Liberty County Responds coalition, in partnership with Houston Responds, is also collecting supplies for Lake Charles and southwest Louisiana. Those are beginning to go to Louisiana this week.”
The church is also sending financial aid to UMCOR and the Louisiana Conference.
During the quarantine, both of the Hales’ churches ceased worshiping in person. At first, Christie gave Faith Fannett the option of watching Rev. Tommy Williams at Trinity UMC in Beaumont, who has a program on TV, or tuning into Josh’s long-running radio broadcast. She and Ellie sing with his organist.
From the beginning, Christie said they were told that clergy couples can be difficult. She thinks the opposite is true. For example, when one pastor is appointed to a new church, the other understands that it is time to move instead of having to uproot a career.
Also, there are plenty of clergy couples in the TAC to guide the way. Christie said that Rev. Alicia and Rev. Robert Besser and Rev. Romonica Malone-Wardley and Rev. Julius Wardley are among their inspirations.
Her advice to other couples – clergy or not – is to develop patience. For pastors, that includes patience for their congregations.
“It is all too easy to get frustrated when things don’t work, meetings run long or people don’t understand, even when they should,” she said. “This doesn’t mean allowing people to walk over your needs as a family. It’s a balance and everyone has to work out what works best for them. What works best for us may not work for another clergy couple. Be willing to try and fail until you figure it out.”
Christie said to take time for yourself and your partner. “In this time of finding a work life balance when everyone is at home it can be difficult, but don’t give up,” she said. “Take a walk together, feed the kids early and let them watch a movie, while you enjoy an adult meal in the next room. Just find a way to nourish your relationship.”
She also recommends listening to your children. “They have needs and insights that are important, not just for themselves but the community,” she said.
Josh said that being a clergy couple is not unlike both spouses being in public service or finding themselves in a similar field. “I spent an awful lot of time as a young parent worried about what being a dad and clergy spouse would mean to ministry or church or whatever,” he said. “I worried about how kids would act or how to split time, to balance work and family.”
Now, Josh wishes he would have been less concerned. Almost everyone ended up being supportive and understanding. He found that having a sense of humor has helped as well.
Faith remains at the center of who the Hales are and how they live their lives. That includes making room for prayer and allowing themselves grace.
Josh explained that talking to God is foundational to their marriage. “You learn a lot about being in a relationship with Jesus through the covenant partnership of marriage -- and vice versa,” he said. “You can’t have almost 17 years of marriage without practicing forgiveness and asking forgiveness. So to with generosity or gratitude.”
Walking in faith, as in marriage, has taught him to seek the good of everyone. “You learn how futile trying to win a fight actually is,” he added. “And that begins to shape your relationships with strangers, neighbors, church members and others.”
The Hales have navigated seminary and leading various congregations, they have faced floods and evacuations. Through it all, the couple has learned how to work together, and their experiences have shaped their ministry.
“It’s not who is doing what and where, it’s how we can serve the Kingdom together,” Christie said.