From the Worldwide Faith News archives

District superintendents' spouses face loneliness: survey

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.UMC.ORG>
Date 27 Oct 1998 15:01:53

Oct. 27, 1998	Contact: Linda Green*(615)742-5470*Nashville, Tenn.

By Kathy Gilbert*
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) -- A sense of isolation exists among the spouses
of district superintendents in the United Methodist Church, according to
a recent survey commissioned by the United Methodist Board of Higher
Education and Ministry. 

"There is a disruption in people's lives (when a spouse becomes a
district superintendent) that leads to loneliness both personally and
professionally," said Sylvia B. Corson, a licensed marriage, family, and
child counselor in the state of California and the spouse of a former
district superintendent. Corson compiled the survey data and reported
her findings to the Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

"The survey results sound negative, but there are really a lot of
positive things that came from this," she said. "It will help the church
identify some issues and help bring them to the surface." The survey,
conducted from January to July, was requested by the Rev. Art Gafke,
director of supervision and support systems in the Section of Elders and
Local Pastors at the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and
Ministry. Spouses were asked about their experiences as a result of
being married to district superintendents and how their lives have been

Corson led a workshop for the spouses of district superintendents in
Nashville in 1997, Gafke said. From that experience, the board agreed to
allow her to conduct the churchwide survey, he said. 

Corson received responses to almost half of the 520 surveys mailed out.
The replies gave an accurate picture of issues that must be addressed,
Gafke said."A significant finding of the survey is that many spouses
feel disconnected from the local church community and do not have the
same clarity they had when they were pastors' spouses," Gafke said. Most
district superintendents came from local church pastorates, and their
spouses and family members were part of that community, he said. 

The district superintendent must visit and be acquainted with all of the
local United Methodist churches in an assigned area, while his or her
family needs a local church community. The family must also deal with
the fact that the superintendent may be absent from that church most of
the time.

In some instances, Gafke said, superintendents are treated differently
in the local congregation, and spouses may experience that also. The
superintendent's rigorous schedule and travel can require more absences
from home than was the case when he or she was a pastor.
The survey underscored the impact on family lifestyle, as the sense of
belonging to a local church community is lost and feelings of loneliness
result, Corson said."This hit a nerve," she said. "I received long, long
letters from people who poured their heart out. The church needs to
listen; there are things we can do to help." The survey results revealed
a need for better preparation and orientation for spouses of new
district superintendents. The church can help spouses deal more
effectively with the transition and the issues identified in the survey,
Corson said.Gafke said he plans to publish the survey results. Other
plans include developing a World Wide Web site for district
superintendents' spouses.
# # #

*Gilbert is a staff member in the Office of Interpretation at the United
Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

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