On Saturday, two new pastors received their red stoles during an ordination at Living Word Lutheran Church in Alexandria.
They were joined by their 14-month-old son, Mick, who has the distinction of being not just a pastor’s kid, but the child of two pastors. His mom and dad, Lexy and Jesse Carson, are each starting their first clergy jobs in the Alexandria area.
“That’s exactly why we landed here," Jesse said. "It was difficult. To find one position for one of us really wasn’t that hard. We would have had lots and lots of positions to do that. To find two positions for what we were looking for and weren’t 100 miles from each other was trickier.”
Jesse, who graduated from seminary in 2020, will serve as the pastor for Living Word Lutheran Church in Alexandria. Lexy, who graduated from seminary in 2021, will serve as the pastor for two Lutheran churches located four miles apart, Salem Lutheran and Sauk Valley Lutheran. They live in a parsonage in Osakis. The Sauk River runs through their backyard, which delights the couple, who kayak, fish and enjoy exploring the outdoors.
They serve in the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ, a denomination that formed about 20 years ago by more-conservative churches who left the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.
They each came to the clergy from different directions. Neither had pastors in their family, and Lexy originally wanted to be a lawyer before feeling drawn to the ministry. She was so torn that she went to Australia to take some time to reflect on which direction to go. Conversations with professors helped, she said, and she settled on a career path as a pastor.
At first, she said, she went into her studies thinking she wanted to work with kids.
“Actually through seminary, I realized — I still like working with youth — how much I liked having those pastoral care conferences with people of various ages,” she said. “It really surprised me how much I liked serving in that capacity as well.”
Jesse, on the other hand, knew from third grade that he wanted to be a pastor.
“It was fulfilling to me to work with people who were having a hard time and give them something to hope in,” he said.
Lexy had decided on going into the ministry by the time she met Jesse. They had grown up 20 miles from each other in South Dakota. Jesse came from a family of teachers, and Lexy grew up bottle feeding calves on a farm. They didn't meet until they signed up to work at a Bible camp in northeastern South Dakota, called NeSodak. They started dating a year later, and married in 2019.
They each face unique challenges in the churches they serve. For Lexy, it's spreading Jesus' message at a time when COVID has made some feel uncomfortable about attending church.
“The devil’s always at work in different ways to make sure you don’t have an ear to hear the gospel,” she said. “COVID is an example of that. ... But Christ will always have the last word. Our job as preachers is how do we get the word in people’s ears.”
For Jesse, it's attracting youth.
"That’s one of the biggest challenges, attracting young people to the church and to Jesus," he said. "That is probably the biggest challenge."
As parents, they have a unique challenge, in that in the event they are both summoned urgently, they need someone else to care for Mick. They’ve been creating a network of people in each church who can care for him at a moment’s notice.
“It’s worked out really well so far,” Jesse said.
Marrying someone else in the ministry was never much of a concern for them. They find it has more advantages than disadvantages. They get ideas from each other, share problems with each other and understand the other's job.
Clergy couples aren't an every day phenomenon, but they're not unheard of, said Sharon MacFadyen, director of operations for LCMC, who has worked for the denomination for 19 years.
She guesses that of the denominations 1,000 pastors, there are about 10-15 couples. The oldest married couple is now retired, she said.
Often, a pastor brings a spouse into their job as a "two-fer," someone who can run children's ministry or play the organ. MacFadyen said that generally isn't the case when both spouses are pastors, although that's not necessarily a drawback. While pastors do seem to pair well with nurses, educators, musicians or others who would seemingly serve a good supporting role in a church, it can prove a dicey mix depending on the personalities.
“A lot of it has to do with the personality of the pastor and the spouse,” she said. “To me, I think there’s some great positives to a young couple who are both clergy. I think that they have a unique ability to help each other work through some of the challenges.”
Married clergy is no different than having two teachers in the family, she said, or two doctors.
They will be able to help each other with challenges common to pastors. Pastors, MacFadyen said, tend to be overextended and underappreciated, and the public doesn't realize the hours spent with those in the hospital, or others who need pastoral care.
“If you have two people that are clergy that are married, they have a unique understanding of that and help each other work through some of those things,” she said.