"When we first got married, I felt that handling the role of a pastor's wife might be something I would have to worry about," said Sharon Clark, who has been a nurse at Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center since the couple moved to Danville in 1976. A longtime obstetrics-gynecology nurse, she currently is facilitator for McDowell's newborn nursery and the infant intensive care unit.
"I did feel that perhaps some in the church would be judging me as far as what I was doing to support Odis and the church, how much time I would spend involved in church programs and functions. I did think about having to walk a fine line."
Leaving the judging to the only judge
But Clark decided early in her husband's ministry just to pursue her life and leave the judging to the only judge that mattered, her Lord.
"At the time we were married, the older generation did believe a pastor's wife should devote herself full-time to being beside her husband and serving the church. Few women worked outside the home," she said. "But times were changing then as more and more women were entering the workforce.
And early on I decided not to worry about those things that might worry other pastor's wives," said Clark. "I decided that if I am me - a devoted wife, mother, nurse and Christian - that I would be OK. I decided I wasn't going to live in a fish bowl. I decided I should not be judged any differently than anyone else, that I was no more or less special or important than anyone else.
"And, besides, I had my own calling. Odis was called to the ministry, and I have supported him fully in that, and I was called to nursing, and he has done the same for me."
Clark's calling is not surprising. "There are a lot of health care professionals in my family," she said, noting that there are two physicians and several nurses and medical technicians in her "strong medically-oriented family."
Clark earned a bachelor of science degree in nursing from the University of Kentucky and became a registered nurse. She worked at hospitals and health departments in Shelby and Estill counties, while her husband was serving as pastor of churches in those counties.
The Clarks moved to Danville in February 1976 when Odis Clark was called to Indian Hills Christian. Since then the couple have both tried to handle a balancing act familiar to many spouses, trying to manage careers and parenting. They have raised three children: Brian Clark, Lexington, marketing director of an asphalt company; Dr. Jonathan Clark, Danville, a local physician; and Amy Wise, Danville, a homemaker and mother.
"We have been very supportive of each other, and that really was the case when we were raising our children," said Clark. "We both have fairly flexible schedules, and Odis really helped with the kids."
Communication is most important factor
But the most important factor in the couple's ability to handle their roles, she said, has been communication.
"Whether it has been handling our respective careers and take care of the jobs we share or have in common, such as parenting and our roles in the church, talking about everything, making sure we have an understanding about everything, is important," she said.
"That has been especially important for me an my role as a pastor's wife. It has been important for Odis, the congregation and me all to have the same understanding about that role."
And that role has been multifaceted. She has taught Sunday school. She has sung in the choir. She has attended as many church functions, as well as services, as her schedule has allowed.
"Yes, I've done my share of baking for church dinners and bake sales," she said with a laugh.
"I've really enjoyed the role as pastor's wife. I have been there to support both Odis and his church, but I haven't felt pressured to do what I've done. I have done what I've done not just because I believe I should but, in most cases, because it's been something I wanted to do, not just as a pastor's wife but as a Christian."
As a veteran pastor's wife, Clark offers the following tips to younger women - and the husbands of the increasing number of women who are serving in pastors in some churches:
* "Keep communications open between you and your spouse."
* "Decide exactly what your role is going to be and make sure your spouse and the congregation understands that role."
* "Work out any conflicts over your schedule and duties as early as possible."
* "Be yourself and don't allow others to impose their ideas of what your role should be on you."
* "Live as the Christian you are and the only judge that matters will take notice."