Andy (left) and Jim CastroLang are both UCC pastors/File photo by Tracy Simmons - SpokaneFAVS

Celebrating Easter in a two-pastor family

By Elizabeth Backstrom

Andy (left) and Jim CastroLang are both UCC pastors/File photo by Tracy Simmons - SpokaneFAVS
Andy (left) and Jim CastroLang are both UCC pastors/File photo by Tracy Simmons – SpokaneFAVS

For most families, Christmas, Easter and other holidays, if they’re celebrated, are marked by days off, time spent with friends and loved ones, and plenty of food and drink. The office is a distant memory.  For Jim and Andrea (Andy) CastroLang, both pastors at separate Pacific Northwest churches, holidays are the busiest workdays of the year.

It’s been a tough balancing act, especially when their two kids were young, but the CastroLangs wouldn’t have it any other way. They’ve pulled off 14 years pastoring in separate Spokane churches, Jim said, and along the way, they’ve learned to be flexible, communicate and do things a little unconventionally. Andy is a senior pastor at Westminster Congregational United Church of Christ in Spokane, and Jim is currently a pastor at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Colville. Both said it’s a constant challenge to find work in the same city. Once, Jim CastroLang was working in Walla Walla while Andy worked in Spokane, and commuted three hours one way to work.

“It’s definitely easier now than it was when the kids were growing up,” said Jim.

To work around the fact that both parents usually worked holidays, Jim and Andy did some creative thinking and celebrated Christmas the day of, since Christmas Eve was always filled with church activities. They agreed not to accept invitations to go out, and would often spend the whole day in pajamas, opening presents and playing games with their kids.

“We protected Christmas Day,” Andy said. “We were very careful. We had to negotiate with our kids that the CastroLangs do it differently.”

Sometimes, despite their efforts, both pastors found themselves pulled away from family events and milestones because of church work. More and more pastors find themselves working several jobs to make ends meet throughout the year, Andy said, and work-life balance isn’t just a struggle on holidays. Many of their colleagues are what they call ‘bi-vocational,’ balancing jobs in two to three cities or multiple career fields in addition to preparing sermons for Sunday. This is often due to budget cuts, especially in small churches, that leave congregations unable to financially support a full-time pastor.

“It’s becoming less and less common to just be a pastor,” Andy said.

Congregations usually expect pastors to still be available full-time, even if their hours are adjusted and they need to need to take other jobs, Jim said.

“Many of the people don’t make adjustments in their expectations,” he said.

At times, Andy said, she’s had to leave late meetings to make sure she saw her children at all before they were in bed for the day. Setting boundaries is a difficult but necessary part of being a pastor.

“You just have to say no to your church and yes to your family and your marriage,” Andy said.

Overall though, both enjoy their vocations, and neither feel pressure to perform or bring in the crowds for Easter. Andy said the expectation of a perfect Christmas or Easter service is one that doesn’t ring true to the spirit of the holiday.

“For me, they’re such great holidays, because they’re such an antithesis of the perfect anything,” she said. It’s not a holiday celebrating perfect people, perfect control or perfect strength. People come because theholidays give them hope that our messy, messy lives are still valuable and treasured.”

About Elizabeth Backstrom

Elizabeth Backstrom majored in journalism at Western Washington University and currently works as a content analyst and grant writer in Spokane. Her background is in newswriting and features, but if an overabundance of caffeine is consumed, she has been known to write a humor piece or two. Backstrom attended various Christian churches growing up in Spokane and currently attends First Covenant Church, an inner-city ministry in downtown Spokane.

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