A certain woman plays a unique role in her community, a role unlike any of her neighbors, no matter if she lives in a large city or the smallest of towns. This woman lives in the spotlight, her behavior decreed, expected, even demanded to fulfill certain expectations. She is both invisible and glaringly present, her every move whispered about, observed for flaws and imperfections. She is the preacher’s wife.
In the South, the role of the preacher’s wife is especially demanding, regardless of the denomination of her church. The preacher is often one of his town’s leading citizens, taking an active part in all aspects of the community in addition to serving as a moral leader for his congregation. Whether the church is fundamentalist and evangelical or progressive, high-church in tradition and prestige, the church’s expectations of the preacher’s wife are the same: she is her husband’s moral equal, his number-one helpmate, unpaid and often unsung.
Married for twenty years to the Reverend Benjamin Lynch, a handsome, ambitious minister of the prestigious Methodist church, Dean Lynch is one of these women, a Sunday wife, who has never quite adjusted her temperament to the demands of the church. A new town, a new church, much bigger and more challenging than any before, and perhaps most important, a woman friend enters Dean’s life, a beautiful but troubled woman who serves as the catalyst for Dean’s change. At mid-life, Dean finds herself torn apart from her husband, the church, and the community, questioning everything she’s always clung to, including her faith.
Raised in a small town in the South, from a family active in the community and the Methodist church, I observed the unique role of the preacher’s wife up close, since the church doors rarely opened without me and my family present. I watched as the wives sent to our church every four years were either revered or reviled as they were held up to unbearable scrutiny, expected to be models of virtue and propriety. Appalled, I often wondered how any woman could live such a life. I had no way of knowing that eventually I’d find out—that like Dean Lynch, one day I would spend twenty years as a Sunday wife.
— Cassandra King