Preachers’ Wives Often Struggle With Isolation and Depression, Experts Say
SELMER, Tenn. – Mary Winkler was the quiet, unassuming wife of a small-town, by-the-Bible preacher, seemingly devoted to church and family. But now her husband, Matthew, is dead and she is charged with shooting him in the back with a shotgun.
Authorities won’t discuss a motive, and church members say they didn’t see any indication she was unhappy. But experts say preachers’ wives often struggle with depression and isolation, expected to be exemplars of Christian virtue while bearing unique pressures on their private and public lives.
Gayle Haggard, author of “A Life Embraced: A Hopeful Guide for the Pastor’s Wife,” said ministers’ wives can feel isolated because of a misconception about leadership, since they and their husbands are leaders of their congregations.
They can feel trapped, she said, by unrealistic expectations “to live a certain way, to dress a certain way, for their children to behave a certain way.”
And ministers’ wives often find themselves handling more jobs than they expected to take on, said Becky Hunter, current president of the Global Pastors Wives Network.
“You’re not really hired, and yet there is some expectation in most church settings that the pastor’s wife comes along in a package deal,” Hunter said.
Too often, ministers and their wives are reluctant to seek emotional help from members of their congregations because they’re looked up to as leaders, said Lois Evans, a former president of the Global Pastors Wives Network. They can become isolated, lonely and depressed.
“This family needed help,” said Evans. “It seems like there was no place to turn to and no place to talk and it became an explosive situation.”
Matthew Winkler, 31, was found dead in a bedroom at the couple’s parsonage Wednesday night in Selmer, a town of 4,400 people about 80 miles east of Memphis. Mary Winkler, 32, and her three young daughters were found Thursday night leaving a restaurant in Orange Beach, Ala., about 340 miles from Selmer. Orange Beach Police Chief Billy Wilkins said she had rented a condo on the beach after the slaying.
She was charged with first-degree murder and ordered held without bail. Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent John Mehr said authorities know the motive for the killing, but he would not disclose it.
Mary Winkler was working part-time as a substitute teacher and taking college courses to get a teaching certificate as well as raising her three children and serving the congregation as its preacher’s wife.
“You know she was weighted down,” said Jimmie Smith, a member of Matthew Winkler’s Fourth Street Church of Christ congregation and a retired psychiatric nurse.
Defense lawyer Steve Farese refused to talk about the Winklers’ private life or if they had personal troubles.
“I can’t discuss anything she’s told me,” Farese said. “But I think you have to look at the entire picture. You can’t look at the end of a story and determine what the beginning and middle were.”