Re-post: Marriage and Money

On June 9, 1947, When Kathleen and I agreed to marry, we hadn’t even talked about money. There really wasn’t much of it to talk about. She would be leaving a teaching position that paid $100 a month and I was a student and part time staff at Lorne Park College near Toronto.

For us, it was not love at first sight – but close. We both seemed to know from the beginning that we were meant for each other. We were committed Christians and had a strong sense of providence in the matter. But there were questions to be faced.

I had left high school at sixteen years of age to attend and later graduate from Moose Jaw Bible College. Afterwards, I traveled in Canada and parts of the Eastern United States as a  singer and song leader. Now, as an adult I was doubling back to make up the deficit in my high school education.

Because Kathleen knew that I was on my way to the ordained ministry she knew that if she married me there would be several years of post-secondary education ahead. There would be the completion of a college program and possibly three full years in seminary. Because she was from a family that valued education, she was prepared for that sacrifice.

Kathleen had begun a teaching career two years earlier at the age of nineteen. At that time, five years in high school and one year in Normal School were sufficient for her to begin to teach in the public school system. But back in the forties of the last century it was not so common for a wife to support her husband financially in school. Female teachers were expected to retire from teachers once married. When children came along the husband would have to be the sole breadwinner.

So, there was the financial question to be answered: Where would the money come from to keep us afloat if I were in school through college and possibly through three years of seminary?

The question of how we would survive was not a big issue with me because I was adventuresome and entrepreneurial. I was increasingly getting modest financial returns for singing and speaking and I had sold books door-to-door. I was sure I could provide for both of us.

We married on December 20 of that year in the home of Kathleen’s brother-in-law and sister, Wes and Muriel Smith, in Niagara Falls, Ontario. It was a modest event. The day of elaborate twenty-to thirty-thousand-dollar weddings had not yet dawned.

There was also no premarital counsel for us except that one older minister took me aside and warned me grimly that “marriage isn’t all roses.” As I recall, counseling as an expected pastoral service to engaged couples came much later in the century. Back then, it was generally assumed that if two were getting married they were expected to know what they were doing.

In the first weeks of our marriage, I carried the money, as my father had done. He had a roll of bills in his left front pocket, held tightly together by an elastic band. I began our marriage taking the same responsibility for our cash.

But about two months into our marriage I became ill and was in bed for several days. Kathleen had to do the grocery and any other shopping on her own. During that period I discovered that she could make money stretch further than I.

In grocery shopping she was much more deliberate and selective; she was slower to decide on a purchase; she compared costs. In a word, I learned that she was a shrewd shopper. Money restraints in her family while she was growing up — though in many respects unpleasant and confining — had been disciplines to train her for life.

That revelation set us on a new course. We decided that she would take over the primary money management, which she continued to do throughout my years of active ministry. For example, in the early months of our marriage she set -– and adhered to — a grocery budget of $7.00 a week for many months. Only after I retired did it fall back on me to participate significantly in the keeping of our finances.

What were the circumstances I referred to that had trained Kathleen for this responsibility? She and her six siblings had been raised by a widowed mother on very limited means.

In 1933 her father died unexpectedly after a surgical procedure. She was seven years old at the time. The oldest of the seven children was thirteen and the youngest three months from birth. Their Saskatchewan farm was heavily mortgaged and that year the Great Depression dipped to its severest level. They were a family in crisis.

After one year her mother moved the seven children to Niagara Falls, Ontario, to come under the care of an unmarried brother, Uncle Oswald. Three years later when he died of cancer, she moved the family to a more modest dwelling across town and continued to raise this family on a widow’s pension of $60 a month.

The house where I visited Kathleen during our courtship was small for eight people but always well-kept and appealing. Though poverty was real, I detected no sense of it there. That is probably where I learned that poverty is first of all a state of mind.

Growing up, the financial limitations had made Kathleen resourceful. There was no money to buy clothes off the rack so Kathleen learned to make her own. She also made clothes for her mother and three sisters. If a room needed to be painted or papered there was no money for professionals so she and an older brother tackled the job, learning as they went. When she was 13 she began to babysit, and on Saturdays to scrub and wax floors for a wealthy family across town.

Later, in her teens, one summer she worked on a production line for canning peaches and another summer for assembling batteries. This money she saved to finance her upcoming one year of Normal School. Her masterful skill in stretching what a dollar would buy was just what we needed when we married.

So we launched our shared lifetime together. She was supportive of me as I studied to prepare for a life of ministry. We welcomed four children into our union, Carolyn (a teacher), Don (an editor and publisher), Robert (a doctor), and John David (our severely handicapped son).

We happily provided what the children needed. There were piano lessons for all three and a flute for one and a French horn for another. We settled their squabbles and held before them high standards of achievement. In the process we made our parenting mistakes for which the children freely forgave us.

After our first three-and-a-half years as a married couple, we left Lorne Park College, and during our two years at Greenville College in Illinois I began going out weekends as a singer and speaker. Then, during three years at Asbury Seminary, I served a student pastorate in the north end of Lexington. The denomination covered the cost of my seminary tuition.

We closed out the eight years of educational effort and left Kentucky for our first full-time pastoral assignment, in Western Canada — with no debt! This was partly due to my additional summer experiences here and there as a youth speaker and partly due to Kathleen’s skillful management of finances.

Along the way, the denomination taught us well that money is a trust from God and must be managed accordingly. It’s called stewardship. Kathleen and I, in spite of our sparse income, tithed the first money we owned jointly, setting aside ten percent for the Lord’s work. That wasn’t always easy. And several times across the years Kathleen has reminded me that she tried to treat the remainder of our funds with care because she remembered that they came from the Lord’s people and in some cases were from sacrificial giving.

After seventy-three years together, we believe that one of the most unnoticed but important challenges of pastoral ministry is that of managing money to the glory of God. Because we took the challenge seriously, we are comfortable in our retirement. But how well we have done this will only be disclosed when we “all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Image info: Alan Cleaver (via

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