Clergy Couples Conference held for priests, bishops

Posted Jun 24, 2014

Clergy from 12 dioceses met to celebrate the gifts for ministry that clergy couples bring to the wider church at the first Clergy Couples Conference held in the Episcopal Church in more than 20 years.

The conference and retreat, which was underwritten in part by grants from the Virginia Theological Seminary and the Gadsen Foundation at R.E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church in Lexington, Virginia, was held at Bon Secours Retreat Center in Marriottsville, Maryland. This event was the brain child of the Rev. Diane Vie of St. John’s, Lynchburg Virginia. Vie, who is married to the Rev. Todd Vie of St. Paul’s, Lynchburg, has been passionate about this topic since seminary.

“The project began before I could actually claim clergy status, when I was a seminarian married to a seminarian. I was deeply interested in the gifts and challenges of clergy couples and looked for information from the wider church on how clergy couples navigate this amazing life to which we are called not only as individuals but as a married couple. What I found was that there was little information and few resources for us. So, when I was a senior at VTS in 2006/2007 I began an independent study with my husband Todd and our friends the Revs. Chip and Lisa Graves, another clergy couple.” says Vie.   “My interest in clergy couples has deepened since ordination. Ten years later, I am back at VTS in the third year of my doctoral studies and I continue to study clergy couples in the Episcopal Church. There are still not many other voices out there, but there are many clergy couples who contact me anxious to explore.”

There were plenty of voices in mid-June this year as clergy from all over the United States, from 12 diocese including clergy couples, representatives from Church Pension Group, Transition officers from the Diocese of Atlanta, Virginia and Maryland and a new breed of clergy couples; bishop/priest couples. The conference was held to support, engage and celebrate the ministry of episcopal clergy married to other clergy.

This is an important topic as there are at least 428 couples in the Episcopal Church that are comprised of two ordained persons.

The Rev. Canon Richard H. Callaway, transition officer for the Diocese of Atlanta, says that he was surprised to learn that his diocese has 14 clergy couples. If you had asked him before the conference he would have guessed a much smaller number.

Lindsey Ryland, transition officer for the Diocese of Virginia, reports 15 clergy couples and the Rev. Stuart Wright of the Diocese of Maryland reports 17.

The clergy in attendance agreed that all priests have highs and lows in their journey – and clergy couples share some of those and can claim a few unique ones as well. “It’s not that we have it any better or worse than other clergy,” says the Rev. Lisa Graves of St. John’s Church in Huntington, West Virginia, “it’s that we have a unique set of joys and sorrows. Gathering together to identify the best practices and worst pitfalls is true gift. The camaraderie and immediate understanding among these couples is uplifting.”

Adaptability on the journey was a recurring theme at the conference, as couples spoke about the difficulties of navigating transition and search when there are two collars in the family. Many times one spouse will pursue parish ministry while another spouse pursues teaching, counseling or institutional ministry. Other times, clergy will take turns being the lead person in search with the “trailing clergy spouse” finding interim work, an assistantship or associate work or another call to ministry nearby.

The dual nature of the sacrament of marriage and the sacrament of ordination fed many discussion as couples discussed raising children (double PKs) in two churches, the give and take of discerning call, the joys of having a built-in clergy sounding board and the adaptability of ministry required to maintain marriage and mission.

“In the midst of tough times, I can’t imagine going through it without being married to another priest!” commented Todd Vie.

One of the interesting components of this conference were the two sessions that focused on a new phenomenon; bishop/priest couples. The Rt. Rev. Clay Matthews, head of the Office of Pastoral Development for the Episcopal Church, talked with the group, which had two bishop/priest couples attending, about the fact that the Episcopal Church now has six members of the House of Bishops who are married to clergy, and a seventh is the new bishop coadjutor in Mississippi.

Bishop Doug Fisher of Western Massachusetts is married to Betsy Fisher, vicar of St. Thomas in Amenia Union, New York. Fisher says that “the key to meeting the challenges and developing the opportunities of anything is an understanding of the situation. ‘Clergy couples’ have been part of the church’s reality for forty years. Diane Vie’s research and her willingness to document our stories will help the church go a long way in understanding, so challenges may be met, opportunities developed and God’s mission in the world celebrated.” The clergy in attendance agreed that all priests have highs and lows in their journey – and clergy couples share some of those and can claim a few unique ones as well.

Vie is beginning a registry of clergy couples and hopes to offer another conference for clergy couples that can handle even more clergy couples. “We’ve created a Facebook page and are working on a website,” says Vie. “Knowing other couples and being able to advise or seek counsel from our peers is invaluable and a great gift to us.”

Callaway said that it was an eye-opening gift for the transition officers to attend the event. “It was really meaningful for us to hear of the gifts and wonderful ministries of clergy couples. I came away more aware of the deep richness the couples have – even in the struggles – in their ministries.”

Comments (15)

  1. Bob Partlow says:

    As a member of a clergy team who just celebrated 52 years of marriage and 25 ydears of ordination, I regret not knowing of the conference. I suspect we could have made a contribution to the conversation.

  2. Tom Momberg says:

    I, too, am married to a priest, she with 20 years of ordained life and me with 27.
    I wonder why we’re finding out about this after-the-fact?

  3. Jan Robitscher says:

    I was surprised not by the number or diversity of clergy couples, but that there was no mention of deacons, whether deacon/deacon couples, or deacon/priest couples (I know several of these) or deacon/bishop couples, if any. If deacons are a full and equal Order, then they should have been included in this conference, too, or if they were, more mention should have been made of them.

    1. Joanne Leslie says:

      Jan, thank you for bringing up deacons. I was thinking the same thing as I read the article. I do know of one Bishop/deacon married couple and several priest/deacon couples. I hope they were included in the discussion.

  4. Edwin Cox says:

    We do keep reinventing the wheel and losing memory. My wife Frances and I (33 + 30 = 63 years ordained and 15 married) responded to the 2006-2007 study (and she is a VTS grad and DioMd clergy), yet heard nothing of this conference. Bishop/Priest couples are not new — the first female Diocesan (VT) ordained in TEC was Mary Adelia McLeod, whose husband “Mac” was a priest (and who were both in seminary with me).

  5. Jo Popham says:

    Blessings to you all who share the same status as Jim and myself – 2 priests in one household and even sometimes in one church. We (and our 5 PKs) likely have shared many of the same crossroads on our similar journeys. We would like to know more about future meetings. Like our Episcopal Church – which has been described by Brian McLaren as the best kept secret of the church – this recent clergy spouse gathering happened under the radar. The CPG likely could be a good resource to reach us all.

  6. Diane Vie says:

    Thank you all for your thoughtful comments regarding this conference. It is thrilling to see the interest people have in a conference like this one. One thing that has been made clear through the research I have done so far is that clergy couples – of all orders – have a deep interest in connecting with each other. With that in mind I see this as a critical time for this ministry as a movement with the hopes of having a bigger gathering in the future (that will include childcare!).

    This initial conference was planned as a research tool for my doctoral program and it was not possible, for privacy reasons, for me to obtain from CPG or Credo the names of clergy couples (deacons, priests or bishops) in the Episcopal Church.

    The initial conference had to be limited in scope and size due to the fact that it was being planned as a research project, rather than being planned by TEC or CPG. I reached out via Facebook and word of mouth and through other avenues to as many clergy as I could.

    The Facebook page is a page devoted to clergy couples of all orders. We hope that ordained folks in all orders will like the page, join the group, and send in contact info in order to get it into the database.

  7. Nina Vest Salmon says:

    I’m on the State of the Church Committee and am aware that clergy couples have not previously been included of the committee’s triennial report. Because of Diane’s efforts to call attention to this significant demographic area of our Church, it will be part of the Committee’s report to the 2015 General Convention.

    What a great conference and opportunity for clergy couples!

  8. Nancy Baillie Strong says:

    I believe that my husband Daniel and I attended the FIRST Episcopal Clergy Couples Conference at Stony Point, NY in 1986. I seem to have missed the news about this conference as well — married 33 years, my husband has been ordained for 31 years and I will celebrate 30 years of priesthood in November. Glad to know there are so many of us now; there were not nearly so many in 1986!

  9. Bob Partlow says:

    I encourage you to contact the Rev. Mel Schlachter (ordained 1972) and Barbara Schlachter (ordained 1973) and married in 1968 who were very early advocates for clergy couples. They could give tyou a lot of history of the early struggles.

    1. Diane Vie says:

      Thank you Bob. I actually found Mel and Barbara’s names by reading an archived document on the first conference in 1986 and I contacted them prior to this recent conference. Fortunately they were able to be at the conference and provided a wealth of wisdom and information. I look forward to them participating in a future conference as well.

  10. gwen Buehrens says:

    I am wondering if there has ever been a study of clergy couples when they are in different denominations. My husband of 42 years, John, has served UU churches across the country, including eight years as UU president. We, too, were at the Stony Point conference and remember it fondly.
    Rev. Gwen Buehrens, Carmel CA

    1. Diane Vie says:

      As this movement grows we are expanding the data base to include clergy couples when they are in different denominations as well. It would be great to add you and your husband to the data base. If you would like to be added please email me your contact information to

  11. Diane Vie says:

    My previous comment mentions the Facebook page however if you are not on Facebook and you would like to be added to the data base we are creating for clergy couples (deacons, priests, bishops and both Episcopal or different denominations) please send an email with your contact information to

  12. Rev. Adrian Aaron says:

    I am Rev. Adrian A ron an Anglican and my wife Rev. Thamara Perera is a Methodist both of us ordained for almost 20 years and living in Sri Lanka. We have a daughter of 8 years. I have officiated in the Methodist on several occasions and it has been an joy and an enriching experience. Although we have not had such gatherings there are a few couples like that. As we might organize such gatherings in the future ecumenically I would like to study and learn the experiences in your context which can be a preparations for us to begin as well.If there are any documents I kindly request to E- mail to me.

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