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Partners as Pastors // CLERGY COUPLE

There was a time when the Rev. Laura Fisher felt uncomfortable with the term "clergy couple." It made her think of plastic and saccharine, of the former Tammy Faye Bakker.

But five years later, when she did not inherit a perky three-part moniker or sprout eyelashes like tarantula legs, she started to like the title.

And it fits, since Fisher, 27, and her husband, the Rev. Joe Fisher, 33, are both new pastors at Pasadena Community Church. They arrived last week.

The couple is settling into their new home near the church, a parsonage they share with two golden retrievers, a shepherd mix puppy and a cat. Pink plastic flamingoes are perched on the lawn, a joke from the Rev. William Moore, director of youth ministry at Pasadena Community and a friend of the couple since college.

The Fishers are Pasadena Community Church's first clergy couple, and the first serving together in the United Methodist Church's Florida conference, said the Rev. John Stroman, senior pastor. They are taking the place of retired singles minister Jim Campbell, who suggested that a younger person fill his spot.

"I discovered that their combined ages are less than mine," said Campbell, 66.

But taking the job was not an easy decision for the Fishers. Neither had been to Florida before. And a staff position at the 3,000-member Pasadena Community Church was a far cry from their previous posts, most recently in Grafton, W.Va. Between them, the couple pastored five small United Methodist churches there.

"We were praying and fasting and asking others to pray for us," Laura Fisher said.

They were used to difficult decisions, though. After all, the call to enter the ministry was not an easy one to answer either.

Joe Fisher, who grew up in a devout and conservative United Methodist family in Buckhannon, W.Va., considered becoming a minister after serving in the Air Force. But he struggled with an unshakeable image of a stereotypical pastor: pious, dour and boring.

"And ministry seemed like the worst possible job," he said. "You had funerals, angry parishioners. I tend to be shy, too."

Instead, he enrolled as a business major at West Virginia Wesleyan in 1986, and tried to compensate by being a "super lay person," teaching Sunday school and volunteering for anything that needed to be done.

After floundering in his studies for a semester, though, he took the advice of friends and family and re-entered the school as a Christian education major.

"I turned right around and graduated magna cum laude," he said.

It was there that he met another Christian education student, the former Laura Overly, an 18-year-old freshman from Hartford, Ohio.

The daughter of an American Baptist pastor, Laura grew up in a liberal church committed to social action. She was studying for a career in social work.

"I planned never to get married," she said. "I was going to have a career." When she spied Joe Fisher in their freshman sociology class, though, she abandoned her plans for the singles' life. "I followed Joe around campus madly in love," she said.

An offer to share her class notes for finals led to their first date _ attending the large, campus Christmas service. They married between their sophomore and junior years.

Laura Fisher said she too struggled with the call to ministry. By then, the couple were living in Atlanta, where Joe was attending seminary at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University.

"I was doing cartwheels," she said. "I was saying things like "I kind of feel like ministry is where I want to be. I'm sure that's the general ministry, though.' " But in 1991, she entered Candler "after I couldn't find anyone who would tell me this was a stupid thing to do," she said.

The couple believe his conservative background and her liberal one has taught them both tolerance and compromise.

"We stretched the space we started from," Laura Fisher said, "and ended up in a better space."

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