Although this blog is aimed at CSs I am aware that people outside this group read my posts. So I decided to write something aimed not at those married to clergy but those who can have a huge impact on the lives of clergy and their families – the people in the pews. This is my call to all churchgoers: ask not what your clergy can do for you – ask what you can do for your clergy. The following suggestions are a mixture of my own and other CSs’ thoughts.
1. Pray for them
2. Respect time-off
So far we have been blessed in this regard and had congregations who have fully respected days-off and holiday time. However I know that some clergy families have a very different experience and find that the clergy person seems to be expected to be available 24/7, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. So here is my plea on behalf of all clergy, whether married or not: please do not contact them at the times they have indicated are their time-off. What may seem like a harmless 10 minute phone call for you is something which drags their thoughts back to work when they should be resting. Clergy and their families cannot function healthily if they do not get a proper break from church life.
3. Support time-off with practical help
Clergy families often live far away from family and lose the support networks they’ve built every time they move. They may also have limited financial resources. So offers of practical help are likely to be gratefully received and the offer will be appreciated even if it is not taken up. Such help may include but not be limited to: baby-sitting, pet-sitting, lending a holiday home if you own one, lifts to airports.
4. Spend time with them outside of church
This may be by inviting them over for a meal or a cup of tea or inviting them down the pub for a pint. A CS observed that some people may have the perception that you have to push the boat out if you have the vicar over but this is not the case – it is the opportunity to get to know people that is valued and clergy families could not care less whether this happens over a three course meal or a cup of coffee.
5. Welcome pack for new incumbents
When you’re new to the area it is really helpful to be given recommendations for local services – a pack of leaflets, take away menus etc can speed up the process of getting to know a new place. One lovely lady took us on a car tour to point out useful places, nice areas for walking the dogs and such like. Another CS suggested including a folder with photos and names of church members as a tried and tested method of helping the family get to know people quickly.
6. Try to resist imposing expectations on CS and clergy children (CC)
One of the most significant things you can do for the CS and CC is to take them as they are rather than holding them up to a set of expectations you happen to have. It is particularly hard for spouses who are compared to previous wives and husbands (unless of course the comparison is in their favour!) – every spouse is unique and will appreciate being given the space to decide how/if they want to be involved in church life.
7. Help with meetings
It can be tricky to balance the use of the vicarage as both a home and place of work. Sometimes the vicarage is the best place for a meeting but often there is no particular reason for it to be there, especially if the meeting does not involve the clergy person or CS. Depending on the time of the meeting and the age of any CC it can be disruptive to family life (especially for those of us who are not naturally tidy and end up frantically sorting the sitting room out 5 minutes before everyone is arriving). If you’re involved in a meeting and have space to offer your own home as a venue this can ease the pressure. It’s also worth being aware that if lots of meetings are hosted at the vicarage it can get quite pricey if food is expected so if you are able to bring the odd packet of biscuits with you that will help. Another CS observed that help with making drinks, answering the door and clearing up at the end would be appreciated.