Pastors' Wives Come Together

Their roles have changed with the times. Now they're finding fellowship--online

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Andrew Kaufman for TIME

Two women share a moment at the Free To Soar conference, where they met to discuss how to lead a productive life while being married to a pastor in Orlando, Fla., January 2007.

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Though often educated and deeply thoughtful, many PWs say they can't partake in theological debates at church lest their opinions be interpreted as their husbands'. There, too, the Internet provides an outlet. Lora Horn, 35, a mother of two from Las Vegas, moved to rural Garrett, Ind., in 2004. "I never fit into the mold," says the former social worker. "I was a tomboy. I'm not domestic. I'm intellectual. I'm an introvert. I'm a person who likes to buck the norm." She began blogging a year ago as RebelliousPastorsWife to "have the conversations I wasn't having in real life"--about "theology, politics, family life, knitting, baseball." Recently she struck up a heated conversation online about the role of the sacraments, a subject she would never bring up at Bible study. She has learned that any pronouncement by a pastor's family is fraught. During a tense discussion about renting the church to another congregation, their son asked where Sunday school would be held, leading churchgoers to think the pastor was against the plan (he wasn't). It's hard to separate her husband's identity from hers, says Horn. "Our teachings are clear, that it's the pastor who's called, not the wife. But in reality ..." she sighs, then chuckles. "I like to blame Katherine Luther, who ran a hospital and brewed beer and cared for people with the plague. She did everything. And a lot of congregations expect that."

PWs say they feel most alone in their marital struggles, so perhaps it's not surprising to find separate Web networks of FPWs: former pastors' wives. Stephanie Elzy, 36, was driven to launch her FPW website after a brush with divorce, a crisis that led to her husband Rod's leaving the ministry (making her an FPW of another sort). She and Rod, both Seventh-Day Adventists, married when she was 22 and he 29. Though she felt called to her new role, his job soon strained their marriage. Rod earned $38,400 as pastor of a church in Athens, Ga., not nearly enough for the lifestyle Stephanie says the congregation expected them to lead--"to live in a certain kind of house, drive a certain kind of car, you know, to represent them." Her $12,600 income as a dental hygienist helped, but she hated to skimp on her other roles as mother and PW. The couple separated in 2002.

About to sign the papers at the divorce lawyer's office, watching as their children played on the rug, the two decided to give it another shot. Rod left the ministry and began advising small businesses. They moved to Holly Springs, a suburb of Atlanta. And now it is Stephanie Elzy who has found a ministry, on the Web: the triple Ls for love, life and living. She even muses about becoming a pastor. Who knows? Rod may one day join a community of PHs looking for fellowship online.

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