First Ladies: The Unsung Pulpit Partners (Part 1)

The following four-part series of posts is from a previously unpublished article, originally titled “Ladies Keeping God First,” that I developed because of the general mystery I perceived around pastors’ wives. One of my best friends from high school has been a pastor’s wife for several years, but to me, that’s different because we grew up together (her story is included here). However, I was recently a member of a church with a single pastor who married during my time there, and for whatever reason, a few years went by without me really getting to know her or hear from her regularly. Thus the “mystery” ensued, and so did my curiosity.

The recent and currently unresolved scandal with Bishop Eddie Long and his alleged indiscretions again raised issues about the loyalty of a pastor’s wife.  (She has been no more vocal than her husband, but I won’t get into that here.)

I currently worship at a nondenominational church in Georgia, but I was raised as a Baptist in New York. Once I moved south, I noticed that many denominations, including Southern Baptists, did not condone or allow women in the pulpit, nor women to speak to or teach men. This practice disturbed me, and the ladies I interviewed for this story touch on this and other issues.

I’ll post Parts 1 and 2 this week, with Parts 3 and 4 to follow next week. If you haven’t already, I invite you to subscribe to my feed right now, so you won’t miss a thing!

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Ladies Keeping God First

What does it take to manage a household as a wife and mother, take care of the kids, a husband, work full-time, all while working in full-time ministry side-by-side with your husband, who pastors a church?

The life of a first lady is anything but ordinary. She—like her husband—has a divine assignment that is not to be taken lightly.

The five first ladies you’re about to meet all go by different titles, come from different parts of the country, have different ethnicities, and practice different denominations. What they have in common is the role of being a pastor’s wife, and overcoming their own personal challenges with leadership in ministry, including issues of whether to befriend other women in the church, managing weariness and public expectations of their image and duties, and creating “me” time while managing the balancing act of children, work, and ministry with their husbands.

  • One was a college girl who assumed the role shortly after graduation.
  • One survived an “inoperable” brain tumor and moved several states away during treatment.
  • One was reluctant and had to overcome shyness and extreme humility in a large congregation.
  • Two rejected their husbands’ calling from God for a time.

The Call/The Wonder Years

Courtesy of lbcmin.com

Tammy Ethridge, wife of Pastor Grant Ethridge at Liberty Baptist Church in Hampton, VA, says God called her to ministry as a senior in high school, and has wanted nothing more than to give her total self to Him ever since. In college, Tammy majored in elementary education with a minor in missions. “You don’t major in pastor’s wife 101,” she says. She met her husband Grant while as a youth pastor at the church where her parents were members. They developed a close friendship and he surprised her one day with a proposal when they had never been on a date, and married three months later.  Tammy is grateful for the close friendship she shared with Grant prior to their marriage. “We got to know each other on a personal level without dating, with our focus on what God has called us to do,” she says. “I knew God wanted me to give my life to Him—so it was my desire to marry a man in ministry.”

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District Elder Germaine and Denise Hurst

Denise Cerina Mathis was just 22 when she married her high-school sweetheart, Germaine Hurst. Four short years later, with her B.A. degree in Speech Therapy and their first child (four-month old Jeremiah), Hurst became the pastor of Greater Emmanuel Temple in Buffalo, NY, the church Denise began attending as a student at Buffalo State University.

Denise says the call to ministry was always on her husband, but they didn’t know it would manifest so quickly. Rev. Hurst would help other ministers or speak at churches, but he didn’t know that he would be chosen as pastor after their current pastor passed away unexpectedly. Germaine took on the role as a mission from God, a challenging assignment that he was always willing to take on, and contribute to the legacy of the 70-year-old church.

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Iris Lundy is the wife of Pastor Antonio Lundy of the nondenominational Grace Tabernacle Church in Virginia Beach, VA, where they have been pastoring for the past 14 years, since the days when they spun off from the United Pentecostal Church.  When Iris met her husband, she knew he was a Christian, but she never thought he would become a pastor. When Antonio told her that God had called him, Iris’ reaction was, “Oh no, because if God called you, he would have told me, too.” She was resistant to the idea at first, but God started dealing with her and she came to accept the call.

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Sharon Houston, or “Sister Houston”, as she is called, worked in hospitals for 18 years in the field of social work before becoming Director of Ministries, working alongside her husband, Pastor Kirk T. Houston, Sr. at Gethsemane Community Fellowship in Norfolk, VA. Houston has been a pastor for 23 years, and their son is a minister as well.

Sharon says she was in denial about her husband’s calling when they were dating.  “I did not want to believe that my boyfriend was going to become a minister,” she says. “I refused to believe all the evidence that was presented before me, because everything about him stated “man of God” and “preacher”. I was a PK and I had my own experience of what it mean to be married or raised by a minister or pastor and I did not desire that life style.  I did not think it was something bad, but I have had negative experiences.  So I wanted my future husband to be a Christian man, but not necessarily a minister.”

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Reverend and First Lady Jerome and Mona' Barber; Photography by Nadere

Mona’ Barber used to sit quietly on the back row of Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Temple with her children before marrying the pastor in the Spring of 2008. Now they sit front and center, but Mona’ is not totally comfortable with the attention. Mona’ is reluctant to be called “First Lady” because all the attention that comes with that title pushes her out of her comfort zone. She prefers to work in the background and stay “behind the scenes”. In talking to her, I noticed that she is somewhat uncomfortable with public recognition, but she accepts compliments gracefully, always giving God the credit.

“I enjoy my personal relationship with Christ and fulfilling His assignments,” Mona says. “I don’t like to draw attention to myself without honoring God. That’s why the change in my title, and sitting in the front row are really something special. I had to adjust to all the attention I was getting as First Lady. I really struggled with that title because I don’t feel like I’m any different. I didn’t know how to accept the attention without feeling like it was ‘unChristian’. When I prayed about it, God told me to flip it around as in ‘Lady, keep Him first’. That was a source of encouragement for me and it helped me accept my new title. Whenever someone calls me “First Lady” now, I tell myself—‘Lady, keep Him first’.”

To Be Continued…

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9 thoughts on “First Ladies: The Unsung Pulpit Partners (Part 1)

  1. I thought this was a very interesting article. I have always wondered what those pastor’s wives are really thinking….I wont like to know more.

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