By Rev. Debbie Sperry

It was Christmas Eve, 7:00pm and time for the traditional service to start. The organist played and I walked down the aisle, cloaked in my white robe, liturgist by my side. As I neared the chancel, I saw my husband and daughter seated in the first pew.

My daughter waved me over. I thought she might give me a little hug or a kiss before I continued up the aisle. Instead, she handed me the packet of gummies that was in the “busy bags” for the kids. She wanted them open. One might never understand the logic of a 5 year old that dictates that the busier (read: working) parent needs to attend to their problem instead of the less busy (read: non-working) parent sitting next to them. I took a breath, knowing it would take longer to argue the point than open the package. 

Trying not to be overly conspicuous as I used my teeth to get it open, I simply sat on the pew next to her, opened it, and handed it back. I couldn’t help but smile and shake my head slightly. I stood, saw members of the choir smiling back at me, and finished processing.

The main thought in my head was, “I may be working, but I’m a mom first.” I might be able to state that easily, but trust me, the tension between being mom and being a pastor is not easy. As I imagine it’s not for most working parents.

Finding a work-life/home-life balance as a parent is never easy. Sometimes we sacrifice for our families and sometimes we sacrifice for our jobs.

Finding a work-life/home-life balance as a parent is never easy. Sometimes we sacrifice for our families and sometimes we sacrifice for our jobs. And often, either way, we feel guilty for the one we are not giving “our best”.

Healthy balance is not easy to come by. But, as a member Gen X (my age better known as the “Oregon Trail” generation), I believe my generation is working harder than ever not to sacrifice home for work or vice versa. Many are finding alternative sources of income to allow them to work from home or increase their income so they don’t have to spend 50-70 hours at the office. Others, like me, split their time between home and the office, using technology to do work in all kinds of ways and places.

As a young pastor, I was encouraged to get out of the office and into the community. Be present. Be visible. That meant I wrote sermons at Starbucks, saving files in Google drive or Dropbox, or checked emails while donating blood. In the last 10 years of ministry, I’ve found lots of ways to connect and relate, not the least of which includes texting prayers, connecting on Facebook, sending emails to arrange meetings or sending reflections after a meeting. I may make pastoral calls while nursing my baby, or prepare for worship as my 5 year old does learning games on the iPad.

Later in the Christmas Eve service, my husband had to step out with our 1 year old. There was no nursery care that night, so he had kept our busy son in the service. Only my son insisted on being up with mommy, so he was taken out. Then at my husband’s absence, my daughter was alone and unhappy, so she pleaded to come sit next to me. The lay leader was in the choir, so I allowed her to come to the vacant chair. She was great. She was quiet, not overly demanding, and was able to come help with communion by holding the gluten free plate.

It sounds simple, but it was a gift. Clergy moms often take a lot of flack for how our kids behave, where they “appear” in the life of the church, and how we include them. I serve a gracious congregation with lots of kids and they’ve embraced mine.

The service, in terms of my kids, may not have gone as I would have imagined. But for me, it was ok. It matters that my kids learn the rhythms of worship. It matters to me that all kids have that chance. So, if it’s a little busy, silly, noisy, or “out of order” that’s ok. They are God’s beloved.

I’m grateful we have the chance to share faith and worship God together. That is, after all, what we’re about, isn’t it?

Rev. Debbie Sperry serves as pastor to Moscow First United Methodist Church in Moscow, Idaho.


  1. Your church is fortunate to have you as their minister, your compassion toward your children translates into the compassion that you show to your congregation.
    You, are fortunate too, as your church seems to value children and does not have the “seen and not heard,” philosophy. The fact that the church you serve encourages you, your children and your community activities shows that they are truly a church that wants to be supportive, and help you do what God has called you to do.
    Kudos to all.

  2. Thank you for sharing your struggle. I’m the church secretary and at 62 in a congregation of an aging parishioners, I was give custody of our 11 year old grandson. We live in a small town and have to travel 2 hours to get to the city for care for him. It’s meant being gone days and afternoons and I feel your dilemma! My pastor, SPRC and congregation have wrapped their arms around our family providing volunteers when I need to be away and lots of prayers! We’re both so blessed!

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