On Nov. 8-10, women married to pastors found an oasis of grace in San Diego, Calif., at the annual Pastors’ Wives Conference. The gathering is underwritten by the Christian Reformed Church’s Sustaining Pastoral Excellence program.
This year’s theme, “An Oasis of Grace,” resonated with many of the almost 100 women who attended. Elizabeth Nanninga, from Ottawa, Ont., married to a pastor for 33 years, said, “Days felt like they went on way past 24 hours. There seemed ample time to breathe and just be.”
Women from all over the United States and Canada came together to worship, learn, and grow together through panel discussions, conversations, and reflection. Plenary speaker Rev. Heidi De Jonge was a highlight for many attendees. As a pastor in Kingston, Ont., married to a pastor, from a long line of pastors, De Jonge spoke out of ample experience. She encouraged participants to find God even in the wilderness, to “wallpaper our minds with images of hope,” and then to enter the promised land that God is calling us toward.
Shelley Norman, who ministers with her husband, Reggie, in a multicultural congregation in Fontana, Calif., said of De Jonge, “If you close your eyes and listen to her voice [you will] recognize spiritual superpowers at work. I soaked in the blessing of her message.”
The conference ended with a time of worship and communion. “We celebrated the Lord's Supper together at the end of the conference, and the moving of the Spirit of God was a beautiful thing to experience,” said Keri Fernandez, who serves with her husband in church plants and established churches in Florida.
A common theme among most wives was the amazing fellowship and safety to be found among fellow pastor spouses. Nanninga said, “The conferences are a safe and inviting place to be honest and be heard. Traveling and getting away for a time of refreshment is a great way to ‘catch up to your soul,’ as an African saying goes.”
Monica Groothof, married for 12 years to a pastor serving churches in northern B.C. and Iowa, is one of a few women who have attended every pastors’ wives conference offered by the denomination. She said, “I attended this conference knowing I’d be meeting up with a special group of women who share a common bond, some whom I’ve never met and some who I deeply looked forward to reconnecting with. These women understand each other in a way that many others are unable to.”
The SPE office has surveyed husbands of pastors and found little interest in the conferences, so the office continues to focus on programming for wives of pastors.