By Johnnie Godwin
Contributing Columnist, B&R
“When things aren’t right in the parsonage, they won’t be right in the pulpit” (anonymous).
On a Saturday night 65 years ago at a drive-in movie, I got my first glimpse of Phyllis. She was in the car next to mine on a first date with a guy I barely knew. Besides my saying howdy to the guy, I did notice Phyllis. “Noticed?” For the whole movie, I was unaware of the two pals with me, everything on the movie screen and most everything else.
I alternated in trying to think about time frames to prepare for preaching and pastoring and also that I knew nothing at all about Phyllis. How old was she? What was her name? Where did she come from? Was she going steady with the guy who took her to that movie? Nevertheless, I tried to take my eyes off Phyllis and focus on the need to prepare for preaching and pastoring and the year that lay ahead of me.
The calling of a pastor’s wife? Overnight, on Sunday morning, I had mostly forgotten about that first Phyllis sighting. I had refocused on worship, my need for training to pastor and then to move on into God’s next chapters of His calling. But then it happened! God’s amazing maze of grace had been working at warp speed. When the pastor gave the invitation, two girls came forward.
He announced that Phyllis Murphy from Oklahoma City was moving her membership to our church, and her good friend Eloise Hatfield had come forward with her. Blow me away! Eloise was also one of my good friends. After the service, I rushed to the front of the church and whispered to Eloise to put in a good word for me because I was going to ask Phyllis for a date to a church social on Tuesday night. I knew then that God was alive, active and working on His timetable in my life.
Meeting, dating, courting, marrying, mating, becoming a pastor’s wife! I called Phyllis for a date the next morning. Eloise had done her good work for me. Phyllis listened to my invitation for a Tuesday night date at a Church Training social and then said, “Well, alrighty!”
We had that date and within 10 days, we were engaged and talking about the rest of life. I was barely 18 and had just graduated from high school. Phyllis was nearly 17 and about to enter her senior year in high school. On March 1, 1956 we got married. In June 1959, I graduated from Baylor University with a wife, two sons, and a degree. Oh, we had also felt called to become foreign missionaries during the Baylor years.
So we moved right on from Waco to Fort Worth and seminary to prepare further to meet the Foreign Mission Board’s requirements for career missionaries. What had we been thinking? What were we thinking? Obviously, we weren’t thinking logically about much of anything. But both of us had felt God’s call to the ministry: at first, to become a pastor and a pastor’s wife; then to prepare for foreign missions. But above all, we were listening to God’s call and saying yes to everything He called us to do.
Preparing for missions and getting rejected. Relatively few people knew what the requirements of the Foreign Mission Board were in 1965. That was when the Foreign Mission Board [now the International Mission Board] rejected us after all our years of preparation. We had met every educational requirement. We had three sons by then, and they were in good physical and spiritual shape. We had worked hard to get some financial debts down to the $300 maximum required then for foreign missionaries.
Phyllis had paid the price of becoming a pastor’s wife, serving in almost every role the church had for a pastor’s wife, supporting me as her husband spiritually and joining me by laboring and commuting to seminary to meet a wife’s missionary, educational requirements.
We had spent more than two years of service on a church field. And for over two of those years, I had commuted 225 miles a day to seminary and back. We had sacrificed, paid the price and waited anxiously — after our medical tests — to receive a phone call saying we would be appointed as career missionaries. Instead, we had a call informing us we had received a medical rejection from the FMB.
When you try to say yes to every call from God and work hard to go through every door and window and still get rejected, what do you do? First of all, you don’t give up on God. You pray. You listen.
And instead of finding God’s will to have doors that open and close, you discover that God’s will is “an amazing maze of grace.” Next, I became a pastor again and Phyllis once more found joy and fulfillment in all the roles she had had before and in serving again as a pastor’s wife. All of these years and preparation had been pauses and turns in God’s amazing maze of our calling.
Interlude in God’s calling. I write this in June after having my first glimpse of Phyllis 65 years ago in June of 1955. But you’ll have to read parts two and three — and perhaps more — in a future B&R issue if you want to find out how I can say that God’s calling has become richer and more evidence in our lives since 1965 than it was up to that time.
Here we are in 2020, and you wouldn’t believe all that God has done in our lives and calling since 1965. I can truthfully say that God has led me to become a spiritual Forrest Gump in all my journey. But more than that, I can say that I wasn’t suited to be a solo Paul — unmarried and answering his own calling of apostleship. Rather, I’ve been more like the married apostle Peter and feel other than my salvation in Jesus Christ — God’s greatest gift to me has been a pastor’s wife, named Phyllis (Murphy) Godwin. I’ll tell you more about her next time.
In the meantime, I would ask you if you realize what it has cost and what it does cost for your pastor’s wife to serve in her role. I would ask you to consider how invaluable your pastor’s wife is to her pastor-husband. If there is power in the pulpit, I want you to know that my conviction is the power behind the pulpit in the pastor’s wife that God provides. Early in marriage, I began to call Phyllis my better two-thirds. And with all my heart, I believe that to be true.
Things aren’t always all right in “our parsonage,” but they almost always are great, forgiving and getting better. Pray for your pastor, but pray that much and more for his wife: his strength in God’s provision!
— Copyright 2020 by Johnnie C Godwin: firstname.lastname@example.org.