Since Reformation Day is kind of a big deal around here, I’d like to take a moment to remember those largely unsung heroes of the time: clergy wives. It is a role that many of us take for granted. History tells us that these women were treated horribly. Among other “fun facts,” they were called harlots and were often denied midwives in childbirth. An archbishop of the time recorded a visitation to a church by writing: “all the married priests in England are knaves and their wives are very whores.” As a priest wife myself, I am hoping no one spent time ordering this guy a cake from Costco.

While this attitude is appalling, it is not hugely surprising. It may be hard to wrap our modern minds around, but the local priest getting married was an abomination for 16th century church goers. Imagine seeing your priest, the guy who baptized your babies, preformed your marriage ceremony, and celebrated the Eucharist every week, getting a wife. This is the man who should be celibate and holy. And if there’s anything we know about marriage, it is that celibate and holy rarely happen at the same time.

03_173After all, marriage is truly the most sinful kind of relationship you can have. And no, I don’t mean sex. I mean the less exciting stuff. Like getting in a fight about who folds the laundry or puts the cranky toddler to bed for the 3rd night in a row. Marriage provides that unique opportunity to wake up in the morning with someone you are already mad at. Frankly, it may be the original definition of “living in sin.”

So, here sit the people in the era of the Reformation having to look up at Katharina Von Bora Luther (wife of Martin), sitting in the last pew (like we do), managing their brood of noisy children. That must have been hard. But you know what was harder? Being Katharina Von Bora Luther. Depending on which monarch was in power, those first clergy wives didn’t know from one day to the next if they were even still officially married. This lack of continuity would be what historian Henry Charles Lea meant when he referred to the end of clergy celibacy in England as “a process of far more intricacy than in any other country which adopted the Reformation.”

And yet these women persevered. They had babies. Raised families. And stood by their men. They Tammy Wynette-ed the situation, if you will. And their bravery made others brave to do the same.

Whenever I meet a new clergy spouse, I always ask them if they have ever seen the TV show Friday Night Lights. If you are not familiar, Mbird has well covered the magnificence this show brought to television. It is a compelling story that has nothing and everything to do with football in small town Texas. The protagonist, Eric Taylor, is the local football coach. He is incredibly inspiring and the parallels between coaching a football team and pastoring a church are worth making FNL mandatory viewing in seminary. It turns out that unsuccessful football coaches can be run out of town just as quickly as unpopular pastors. And Eric Taylor’s professional life runs the gamut of achievement. But as great as his character is, I never really watched the show for Eric. I watched Friday Night Lights for Tammy, his wife.

As the wife of a somewhat prominent figure in town, Tammy Taylor handles herself with the kind of vulnerability and grace that I pray for. Through the rollercoaster of her husband’s profession she stays by his side, encouraging him to live into the role he has been called to receive. For the modern day woman, there can be a lot of anxiety around walking hand in hand with our husbands into the deep blue unknown. And yet, that is precisely what Tammy does. At a moment of real struggle for Eric’s job, Tammy looks at him and says:

There’s not a person in the world that could do this except for you. This is what you do. I’ve seen you do it with my own eyes. I believe in you. I believe in you with every cell of my being.

Surely in the wake of the early Reformation, with Martin Luther’s calling as a priest being called into question, these were almost the same words Katharina whispered to her new husband as they laid in bed, hoping for sleep to cover their worries.

Being a clergy spouse is not easy. There are loads of night meetings. It can be lonely. There’s an endless amount of carbs and cake and good cheese. And yet the final word we get from those first wives of the Reformation is the same one Tammy Taylor gives us on Friday Night Lights. And frankly its useful advice no matter what your beloved does for a living: Marriage is about being honest, being vulnerable. Marriage is about attempting to offer your spouse .001 percent of the Grace God gives us in Jesus Christ. Marriage is about being all in.

So let’s hear it for those first Reformation clergy wives. Those ladies were all in.

No matter what happens, no matter where you go, no matter what you do, I’m always gonna be behind you. Always and always and always.

-Tammy Taylor, Friday Night Lights