Photo courtesy of Elaine Hundley

Of love and faith

The Hundley navigate changing plans together
“Every time I make my plans, the Lord has other ideas,” Steve said. Elaine responded with, “like marrying a Catholic!”

Steve and Elaine Hundley spent their first holiday season apart last year since they married in 1978.

Steve traveled home to Virginia to spend time with his mother during her final days. It was originally meant to be a week-long trip that turned into six. “It makes you appreciate each other a little bit more,” Elaine said. Though, it seems they have never lacked an appreciation for each other.

The couple met working at a summer 4H camp in Virginia, Steve a lifeguard and Elaine a camping instructor. “I took a look at this guy and said, wow this is the guy I want,” Elaine reminisced. Love at first sight, if you will. They got married the next summer at the same camp. Right off the bat, Elaine had a bit of a curve ball to navigate.

Raised Catholic, she had to learn how to be a Presbyterian pastor’s wife. She described the hardest part as dealing with her preconceived notions about taking on this role and wanting to remain her free-spirited self. The pressure to be a certain way did not necessarily come from the outside. Elaine, in her mid-twenties, put it on herself. She would ask, “what was a Presbyterian minister’s wife supposed to do or be?” Steve would answer, “preachers are just humans, too!” “We spent a lot of time on Smith Mountain Lake in canoes talking about faith, talking about life, and the world,” Elaine said. Steve supported her through the whole process, and she ended up successfully bridging the denominational divide with the support of her Catholic parents. Both came to the Hundley’s wedding, officiated by two Presbyterian ministers.

Steve was the pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Great Falls, Mont. for 13 years before the couple decided to retire in Ennis. Steve wanted to retire someplace small, not like the areas with mega-churches he preached at before. Churches change dynamics with attendance numbers. A pastoral church, typically fewer than 200 people in a congregation, is centered around the pastor and the relationships he or she builds with the congregation. Being Steve hoped to stay in these smaller churches, but the ones he was called to seemed to get larger and larger until Great Falls.

Coming to Montana felt like coming home, even though it was further in miles than some of the churches Steve served back east. The Hundleys loved the lifestyle and the mindset of Montanans, people who would share a bit of a tasty dessert with you if you did not order one for yourself at dinner. “Every time I make my plans, the Lord has other ideas,” Steve said. Elaine responded with, “like marrying a Catholic!”

And like moving to Ennis to retire and ending up the temporary supply pastor for Madison Valley Presbyterian Church in the fall. Steve took the pulpit a couple of times as Pastor Jean fell ill and did not fully recover from surgery. “We just loved the folks in the church and I just felt kind of obligated to help out in any way I could,” he said. Steve signed on for a half-time position, but really does all that a full-time pastor would including conducting Bible study, visiting hospitals and preaching each Sunday. Except when he was in Virginia visiting his mother.

During this time, Elaine stepped in. When Steve was in his fourth year of seminary, she started going through a program to become a Christian Educator. Eventually, she got a position doing this work in Delaware, became an associate certified Christian educator and was the Christian education children’s director in Great Falls. Also there, Elaine became a lay pastor and this allowed her to fill the hole left while Steve was away. “The church didn’t throw me out!” she said. 

Doing this was just another method she discovered that filled her position as a pastor’s wife. Through their relationship, she did this individualistically. She kept herself busy, filled her projects with personality and remained herself. And she still has time to correct Steve’s date recollection inaccuracies.

Finding a full-time pastor for Madison Valley Presbyterian Church may take a while. The church must go through a multi-step process before another pastor is chosen, beginning with a mission’s study of what the church sees its future to be and ending with interviewing people from a stack of dossiers. In the meantime, Ennis will be graced by the Hundleys.

Churchgoers will receive Steve’s sermons lined with humor and guided by his storytelling family history. “I think it helps people to take what they’re hearing with their ears and their mind and bring it down to their heart,” Elaine said. Those with a knack for talking and instructing others know humor and anecdotes make lessons more memorable.

After all, Jesus was a storyteller.

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The Madisonian

65 N. MT Hwy 287
Ennis, MT 59729

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