Clergy couple’s love of social justice, diversity and community service strengthens marriage
By Lindsay Peyton
Being a pastor can be hard work – but it’s a labor of love for the Rev. David Horton, Pastor at St. Luke’s UMC Gethsemane Campus and his wife, the Rev. Brandi Horton, Senior Associate Pastor at First Methodist Houston. They are an example of a clergy couple, completely committed to their churches and each other.
It’s tradition at the Horton house to stop what they’re doing, take time and gather around the kitchen table for dinner. They say a prayer before the meal -- and that usually sparks a conversation for the evening.
“It’s rare when the three of us are not at the table for dinner,” David said. “It’s so important for our family.”
David and Brandi enjoy the time to connect over a meal and to pray with their 3-year old daughter Caroline. Their conversations often center about work, what a certain passage means in scripture or what the subjects of their sermons will be on Sunday.
As a clergy couple, they have a lot in common – and a lot to discuss. They also both work at churches that are devoted to outreach and that promote diversity and inclusion.
In fact, Brandi said the two congregations – hers and his – are among the most diverse in the Conference. “There are some real areas of overlap,” Brandi said.
Sometimes, they discover they are at work on similar projects. For instance, during COVID-19, both have joined with the Houston Food Bank and held blood drives at their churches. “But we didn’t know about it until we were talking,” Brandi said with a laugh.
The Hortons believe that their shared sense of purpose and common goals benefit their marriage.
“It’s non-clergy couples who have it harder,” David said. “We have it easier.”
As a clergy couple, for instance, they have a similar schedule. “You know you are working on Sunday, that you have late night Zoom calls and Bible studies.” David said. “The expectations are similar.”
Everything can stop for pastoral care or presiding over a funeral, Brandi added. And she doesn’t have to worry that her husband will be disappointed. He’s the same way.
“In seminary, I did not want to marry another pastor,” Brandi said. “Now I can’t imagine not being married to a pastor. It makes more sense in how we handle everything.”
Lately, that has come into play with the coronavirus pandemic. The Hortons clearly recall when they were looking forward to a night at the rodeo, with their tickets in hand on March 11 and a babysitter booked, when everything was canceled.
“My entire ministry changed overnight,” David said.
His schedule of Sunday sermons, hospital visits on Tuesdays, staff meetings on Mondays was completely disrupted. “Throw it all out the window,” David said.
Brandi had the same experience. When in-person worship was canceled, she thought it would be only for a couple of weeks. Now, online church has become the norm. “And preaching to a camera is a totally different thing,” she said.
For a while, Brandi explained, their home transformed into a recording studio. “There were cameras and lights everywhere,” she said.
Childcare also stopped for months. The couple learned to juggle content creation for their churches, social media postings, large-scale community outreach, donations of thousands of boxes of food with being hands-on parents to a toddler, who requires bedtime stories. Play, love and attention.
Spending time with Caroline had its rewards. “There were some gifts for us,” Brandi said. “Caroline learned how to pick flowers. She got really good at riding her trike.”
The couple also learned a lot about their relationship. David said the reality of being partners in all things hit him during this time. He also focused on the importance of clarity, forbearance, not taking everything personally and giving the other person grace and the benefit of the doubt.
“You have to remember that they are also complicated, messy and stressed out,” he said. “I hope people in my congregation are also doing that for each other.”
And while COVID-19 presented numerous challenges, it also allowed the couple to work at home together, to see each other in action in a new way, since they do not serve at the same congregation. “One of the gifts of COVID has been being in the same space,” Brandi said.
Brandi and David met at Duke University Divinity School, both in their second year of a three-year master’s degree program. When Brandi needed help moving, with a broken arm, David jumped at the opportunity to be of assistance.
“I proposed six months later,” David said.
Nine months after that, they were married. They had dated through a few challenges already, including Brandi’s flu and David’s food poisoning. “We had been through that, we knew we could do this,” Brandi said with a laugh.
While in seminary, both interned at churches in the Texas Annual Conference – but they were not sure where they would head afterwards. David was from Raleigh, and they weighed staying in the North Carolina Conference or coming to Texas, where Brandi was born and raised.
“Texas loved us more,” David said. “It was one of those times in my life I just felt the spirit saying, ‘Go this way.’”
Brandi felt the same. The couple moved to Houston following graduation in 2014 and were both ordained elders in the Texas Annual Conference two years later. “I’ve never felt called to anywhere else,” Brandi said.
Even before they left, Brandi recalls sitting in their apartment in Durham, and David voicing a dream, to one day become pastor at Houston’s Gethsemane Campus of St. Luke’s UMC and to live in Westbury.
“It ended up being his first appointment,” Brandi said. “And we now live in Westbury.”
But first, they lived in Deer Park in 2014, while Brandi served as associate pastor at Deer Park UMC for two years. David commuted to Gethsemane. “It was definitely an adventure the first couple of years,” David said.
Now his drive is shorter – but he continues to be part of the type of community ministry that is his passion.
“Gethsemane is all about community outreach and social justice,” he said.
Brandi shares that love for community ministry – and has been able to dive into it at First Methodist. “That’s our life, and the life we love,” Brandi said.
They are together, walking in faith, in life and work. “It’s the water we swim in,” Brandi said. “There’s a deep, abiding sense of the spirit every step of the way.”
During COVID-19, she added, they both were placed in unknown territory and had to learn to be flexible and creative -- and continuing to be open to the Holy Spirit.
“Some people don’t want to change and that creates a hardness of heart,” Brandi said. “The church can’t move forward like that.”
The same is true of relationships, the Hortons concurred. They want to continue learning and growing in their marriage, being willing to follow God as their life takes them to new places.
“I still feel new to both being clergy and being married,” Brandi said. “I hope I always feel new to this – and never feel like I’m an expert. I don’t want to stop learning about marriage.”