Give your take on Clergy Spouse life – The Clergy Family Network survey is live

Give your take on Clergy Spouse life – The Clergy Family Network survey is live

If you have not come across them already The Clergy Family Network is an organisation which is aimed at improving the support offered to clergy families in the Church of England. As part of this they have set up a survey to help them start to get a sense of what sort of needs we feel we would like support with. The more people they hear from the better picture they will get of how clergy families can be supported so if you can spare a few minutes to fill it out they would really appreciate it. I have just done it myself and found it very straightforward. It is a preliminary survey to help them get a sense of where to focus other information gathering activity so it cannot cover every aspect of clergy family experience as we are such a diverse set of people but I think it is a great start to getting a better picture of what life is like for clergy households. We don’t often get the chance to be heard like this so let’s make the most of it!

This is the link to the survey: Clergy Family Survey (google.com)

If you have any questions or would like more information please use this link: http://clergyfamilynetwork.simplesite.com/449211831

The Clergy Spouse Christmas in 2020

The Clergy Spouse Christmas in 2020

For several years in a row I have done a post about Christmas as I have found it to be a time when many of the tensions of clergy spouse (CS) life seem to be amplified. However with 2020 being the year it has been it is harder to know what to say as I have no previous experience of Christmas during a pandemic! My thoughts so far are:

  1. Let yourself grieve if you need to

One piece of advice I have always given in previous Christmas posts is that some of us need to allow ourselves to go through a mourning process when it comes to doing Christmas as a CS. I found the first few years especially hard at Christmas as I adjusted to this life and I had to let myself grieve Christmas as I used to know it so that I could move on to embrace the new reality. Having come out of the other side of this I have been able to get Christmas into a healthier perspective and enjoy how we celebrate it as a clergy family.

We’ve all had different challenges this year and Christmas will be the same. Perhaps you are not able to spend Christmas with all your children because of the 3 household limit. Or are not able to see elderly relatives because they are shielding. Maybe it is your first CS Christmas and that combined with a pandemic just feels a bit too much right now. It is normal to feel sad/angry/disappointed/bereft about this. Let yourself feel what you feel. When you accept the situation and allow yourself to mourn you are enabling yourself to move on. Suppressing how you feel often leaves you stuck and unable to move forward positively. Being married to an ordained person does not magically protect you from finding things hard so don’t beat yourself up if you find the next few weeks challenging.

2. Ask for help if you need it

I am giving this advice as someone who is absolutely terrible at asking for help. I don’t know if it is that weird British stiff upper lip thing or not wanting to put people out but asking for help makes me really uncomfortable. I think there is also often a culture of self-sufficiency in clergy families where you feel you should have such strong faith that you can get by on prayer alone. What I’ve realised is that trying to be self-sufficient denies people the blessing of helping you. If we never ask for help we miss out on so many different gifts that people have, on relationships that could have gone deeper. Obviously the forms of help we can offer and receive right now are limited by the restrictions but if you are having a hard time do ask for help. Fellow CSs are a particularly good source of support so see my previous blog posts for information about Facebook support groups.

This advice does come with a warning: not everyone will respond well when you ask for help. I’ve observed that some people find vulnerability in their vicar/clergy family difficult to deal with. This is their issue not yours. If you get an unhelpful response please don’t think there is something wrong with you, that person just doesn’t get it – there are plenty of people out there who will so do not be disheartened.

3. Be realistic about what you can do

This is another point which applies in non-covid times but I think is even more important this year. Be realistic about what you can do as a household. Some people may think that the restrictions on holding events means less work for clergy but the opposite is actually the case. Many, if not most, are balancing in person events with all the extra work that comes from having the safety measures in place, as well as providing various forms of online content. The pandemic means more people are in need of help from the church than ever before. I know many CSs are involved in all sorts of activities at the moment from organising Advent window trails to making sure those in need do not go without this Christmas. Alongside this there is paid employment/studying/children/elderly parents…the list goes on. So just remember that you are only human and you cannot do everything. Just because an idea is lovely does not mean that it has to happen. I had several lovely ideas for things I would like to do and have done exactly none of them. And that’s ok.

4. Do what works for you

Writing this is making me realise that most of my normal observations about Christmas actually apply just as much, if not more, this year. In previous years I have observed that although we heap huge significance on the date of 25th December it really is just another day. As a Christian I love celebrating the birth of Jesus but I can acknowledge that most of the Christmas traditions I grew up with are completely irrelevant to his birth and can be done any time. If your OH is too knackered on the 25th to be a meaningful participant in present opening etc can you do it on a different day? Can you all have a pizza in your pyjamas in front of a film? Or do whatever seems fun/restful/life giving to you.

Our children have just reached the age where they are aware of what other families are doing for Christmas (our 7 year old seems to be the only child in his class who does not have an Elf on the Shelf) so I’m all too aware of the pressure we can feel under to do things a certain way. But if Christmas day is just becoming associated with stress around how we celebrate then we are robbing ourselves of our own peace of mind to fulfil expectations we don’t need to have. This year of all years don’t put yourself under the pressure of ‘making Christmas happen’ or having the ‘perfect’ Christmas; Christmas can look after itself and you look after you and your household in whatever way works for you.

5. We have basically been unknowingly training for this moment

It was sort of fascinating to hear various MPs talking about ‘saving Christmas’. From their rhetoric I would have to conclude that some of my past Christmas days were not the real deal as we did not spend every one of them with family! Most CSs (along with many other people such as NHS staff, prison staff etc) survive every year with a Christmas that does not look like whatever Boris Johnson had in mind and has apparently saved through the magic of bubbling. If you are an old hand at the vicarage Christmas like me my feeling is: Our moment has come! We can calmly face Christmas 2020 knowing that having to do things differently may not be what we want but is perfectly doable. I never expected the CS life to have such a specific application to a pandemic situation but that is just one more surprise in a pretty surprising year.

Whatever Christmas 2020 looks like for you I really hope you find some form of joy and blessing in this season. If that doesn’t happen and it all feels terrible then see points 1 & 2 above – some times in our life are just really difficult and some seasons are bleak. If that’s how you feel you are not alone and you are not failing. Be kind to yourself and ask for help if you need it.

Support for Clergy Families

Support for Clergy Families

With the coronavirus pandemic ensuring that life is continuing to be particularly uncertain and stressful I have quickly put together a list of potential sources of support. Some of these are only accessible to Anglicans, others are open to any denomination. If you know of other organisations and groups offering support please do pop them in the comments for others to see. It is also always worth checking out what your diocese or other local network can offer – I know many dioceses offer access to free counselling, grants for financial hardship etc but this is not always well known so do explore your options if you need help.

The Church of England website

The CofE website has links to many forms of support or things which they think might assist clergy family well being: https://www.churchofengland.org/more/clergy-resources/national-clergy-hr/supporting-clergy-health-and-wellbeing#na

The Methodist Church website

The Methodist Church site has a wellbeing section: https://www.methodist.org.uk/for-churches/guidance-for-churches/wellbeing/

Clergy Support Trust

Formerly known as Sons and Friends of the Clergy this organisation has had a makeover and is now called The Clergy Support Trust. Continuing their centuries long mission to support Anglican clergy they offer grants and other forms of support to clergy and their families – one recent initiative is to team up with Sleepstation to offer help to clergy and clergy spouses who are having issues with their sleep. See their website for more information: https://www.clergysupport.org.uk/

Clergy Family Network

You can find the Clergy Family Network on Facebook. Started by a clergy spouse it is working to set up support for clergy families across the country. News on support for clergy families is shared on the page so follow it to stay up to date.

St Luke’s For Clergy

St Luke’s for Clergy is a charity which exists to support clergy and their families with their health and wellbeing (both physical and mental). They can help with access to healthcare services and also offer wellbeing training. Checkout their website to find out more: http://www.stlukesforclergy.org.uk

Sheldon

The Sheldon Hub offers an online space for clergy and clergy spouses to support each other. If you are not on Facebook or wish to be anonymous this is a great alternative to Facebook support groups. They also share all sorts of resources for doing ministry in a healthy way, including a specific section relating to Coronavirus. Sign up or find out more at: sheldonhub.org

Ministry Life in a time of Covid

Ministry Life in a time of Covid

Well hello my friends. It has been a very long time since I wrote a blog post. Yet having just looked at my blog statistics I can see that quite a few people are still finding the blog and reading my posts from past years. I wonder if, like me many years ago, people have been googling ‘clergy spouse (CS) support’ in the hope of finding something, anything, that will help them with the challenges of being married to a minister. I suspect that the past few months will have increased the feeling of need for support; I know it has been an intensely stressful time for so many of us.

So I am determined to renew my efforts with this blog and start posting regularly again. My intial vision was to have contributions from others as my perspective will always be limited to my own experience and observations. We are such a varied bunch one person cannot adequately cover the whole range of CS experiences – it would also help as my life is much busier than when I started the blog so I find it harder to find the time to think and write. If you feel you have something you could write about which would be of benefit to others please do get in touch with me at clergyspousesupport@outlook.com – please note that your post can be completely anonymous if you wish.

I thought that with this being my first post in 2020 it would be strange not to talk about the incredibly challenging time we find ourselves in. Yet I barely know where to begin in talking about the particular stresses and/or joys of CS life in the midst of a pandemic. I know we’ve all had very different experiences. Some of us had to become amateur directors/technology experts overnight as church services went online; some have been homeschooling children and/or working from home and/or helping run community support such as foodbanks, spinning multiple plates; we may feel overwhelmed by how many people need us; we may be desperate for time alone; we may be desperate for company; we may feel we should be doing more but just don’t have the time/physical ability/emotional capacity right now; some of us and our family members have had the virus; lost those we love; been left with long-term health issues; some of us are worried about vulnerable relatives; some of us have not seen any family for months and are far away from our support networks; some of us had just moved to a new area and feel isolated; some of us have been where we are for years but feel intensely lonely; some of us have found being kept at home with our OH really difficult; we may be struggling with our faith and spirituality; we may have noticed that we check up on loads of people and not one person has asked if we are ok; some of us were already stuggling with mental illness and the anxiety has made things worse; some of us are struggling with mental illness for the first time; some of us have been on the frontline as retail staff, care workers, teachers, doctors; some of us have been made redundant or are on furlough or have seen our businesses struggle or go under; some of us are worried about the financial impact on our churches and whether our OH’s job will remain financially viable.

Some of us may have found lockdown a relief, a break from areas of life we were struggling with; we may have finally had proper time with a spouse who has been forced to stay at home; we may be loving working from home; we may have come into our own in helping others; we may be loving the opportunities ministry life gives us to help and connect with people; we may be loving having more time for ourselves; we may have become more connected with our local community; we may have been touched by the care shown to us by others; we may have had more time for things which bring us joy; we may have been freshly grateful for the vicarages many of us live in; we may have had quality time with family; we may have enjoyed new ways of doing church – or not having to go to church at all; we may have found new, exciting dimensions and depth to our religious faith; we may have found lockdown fine but now be struggling with ‘the new normal’; we may be thrilled to be out of lockdown and thriving in ‘the new normal’.

I should think we are all a complex blend of many of these things and others I haven’t thought of. For me the initial shock of lockdown was manageable and I was thankful for so many blessings we have as a family. However the long term uncertainty and constant changes to the rules is proving more challenging for me and more anxiety inducing. After months of having everyone at home the house now feels too quiet when my boys are at school (not something I ever thought I would say!) and none of my pre-lockdown activities are running. But at the same time it is great to be back to the routine of school hours, have child free time to do my studying in and seeing my children loving being back at school. The dogs are thrilled to be getting decent walks again without a moaning 5-year old in tow. It is just a really strange time in so many ways.

I always want to convey advice which I think will help at least one person but I think I am at a stage with it all where all I can say is ‘I see you’. I think one of the hardest aspects of CS life can be invisibility – you feel like nobody sees you or at least no one sees the real you. I think for some CSs the past few months could have increased that sense of invisibility. And then perhaps you feel guilty for wanting to be seen in the first place. This blog is a funny way of finding a way through that invisibility – most of you don’t know me personally and I don’t know you. Yet in acknowledging the struggles many of us face I hope you feel a little bit seen. I don’t know your exact circumstances but I know this life can be hard and the past few months have been incredibly challenging. If you need a safe space, somewhere confidential to be a bit more seen please do get in touch through the email above and I will always do whatever I can to help. It is ok to not be ok.

How Not to be the Perfect Clergy Spouse

Here’s a question to test how hard you were concentrating at your other half’s (OH’s) ordination service. Hands up if you heard the bit where they agreed to this:

‘to fashion your own life and that of your household according to the way of Christ, that you may be a pattern and example to Christ’s people.’

There is no prize (sorry) but if you did register this vow you are doing better than me. If I did notice it at the time I certainly did not remember it for long. It was only when I revisited the ordination service when I was trying to discover the Church of England’s view on clergy spouses (CSs) that I became properly aware of it. It surprised me to find it because I felt that generally as a CS I was invisible to the wider church. Yet here was this vow declaring publicly that I would be part of my husband living his life as an example to everyone else. No pressure people, we’re just supposed to be living ‘according to the way of Christ’ in such a way as to be a pattern for every other Christian you encounter – easy peasy right? Continue reading

The Clergy Spouse Christmas

Advent is not too far off now so I thought I should keep up with tradition and do my annual Clergy Spouse (CS) Christmas post. For longtime followers this will look pretty familiar but may be a helpful reminder of some coping strategies. If you are new to the blog, the whole CS thing or to the CS Christmas then welcome! I hope Advent and Christmas are a blessed time for you but am aware that this may not be the case for everyone. This will be my 8th Christmas as a CS and I have found each year easier but I found the early years tricky. Something about Christmas seemed to magnify the struggles I was already having – the sense of loneliness and displacement, of not knowing how I fit in with my OH’s calling and curacy church, feeling far away from family, friends and my previous life. I’ve often thought Christmas is a time when the challenges of CS life can be particularly keenly felt and many of us and our clergy other halves struggle with balancing church and family life. So here are some things which have helped me and which I hope will help others as you plan for the festive season. If nothing else I hope it will help you to know that if you’re having a hard time you are not alone and there is no shame in finding things difficult

  1. Accept, grieve, get Christmas in perspective

I often dislike people’s talk of sacrifice with reference to CSs because too often the sacrifice they are referring to is unnecessary and could be prevented with some common sense and compassion. In the case of Christmas I think that for most CSs the ‘normal’ family Christmas is a genuinely unavoidable sacrifice. I’ve found fighting the reality of this sort of sacrifice just breeds misery and resentment. Most of us have to accept that being married to an ordained person will require the sacrifice that religious festivals will be different for us to most people and to life before being married to a minister.  It is kinder to yourself if you accept those things you cannot change and take time to mourn the Christmas you would be having if your OH was not ordained.

Continue reading

I’m a clergy spouse…get me out of here!

Each summer sees people being ordained into ministry and starting new posts in churches across the country. With each married person who is ordained a new clergy spouse (CS) is created. With the ordination generally comes many big life changes – where you live, work and worship being just some of them. You may have had to move while your children still had a few weeks of school to finish and/or have had to deal with the new house, guests and preparing a celebration while your other half (OH) goes on pre-ordinaton retreat. You may have had to keep small children entertained throughout a long ordination service. Even if you have not had any major stressors to contend with you find yourself in a new role – you are now someone married to a clergy person. You may have gone into this knowing exactly what you think about being a CS or without a clue. You may be incredibly excited about this new adventure or have some significant reservations. Whatever your situation you may find yourself going through a steep learning curve as the dust settles following ordination. Continue reading

Help needed for clergy spouse research

Matthew Caminer, a clergy spouse and author of A Clergy Husband’s Survival Guide, is doing research into ‘what it is to be a clergy spouse’ for a potential new book aimed at both male and female spouses. He is asking clergy spouses to share their thoughts through a survey which can be found at: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/ClergySpouseSurvey

The more people who fill out the survey the more accurate a picture Matthew will get of how we feel about being clergy spouses so he would very much appreciate it if you can take the time (10-15mins) to do the survey. Thank-you!

The Clergy Spouse Christmas

Advent is not too far off now so I thought I should keep up with tradition and do my annual Clergy Spouse (CS) Christmas post. For longtime followers this will look pretty familiar but may be a helpful reminder of some coping strategies. If you are new to the blog, the whole CS thing or to the CS Christmas then welcome! I hope Advent and Christmas are a blessed time for you but am aware that this may not be the case for everyone. This will be my 8th Christmas as a CS and I have found each year easier but I found the early years tricky. Something about Christmas seemed to magnify the struggles I was already having – the sense of loneliness and displacement, of not knowing how I fit in with my OH’s calling and curacy church, feeling far away from family, friends and my previous life. I’ve often thought Christmas is a time when the challenges of CS life can be particularly keenly felt and many of us and our clergy other halves struggle with balancing church and family life. So here are some things which have helped me and which I hope will help others as you plan for the festive season. If nothing else I hope it will help you to know that if you’re having a hard time you are not alone and there is no shame in finding things difficult

  1. Accept, grieve, get Christmas in perspective

I often dislike people’s talk of sacrifice with reference to CSs because too often the sacrifice they are referring to is unnecessary and could be prevented with some common sense and compassion. In the case of Christmas I think that for most CSs the ‘normal’ family Christmas is a genuinely unavoidable sacrifice. I’ve found fighting the reality of this sort of sacrifice just breeds misery and resentment. Most of us have to accept that being married to an ordained person will require the sacrifice that religious festivals will be different for us to most people and to life before being married to a minister.  It is kinder to yourself if you accept those things you cannot change and take time to mourn the Christmas you would be having if your OH was not ordained.

Continue reading

Salisbury Diocese and London Area Clergy Spouse Days with Esther Ministry

There are two days for clergy other halves coming up in September both are being facilitated by Rowena Cross from Esther Ministry who has run a few days for clergy spouses across the country. Continue reading