Relocation is generally an unavoidable aspect of clergy spouse (CS) life. If your other half (OH) is a stipendiary minister you are likely to move several times. If your oh is a self-supporting minister you still find yourself in a relocation of role even if you have not moved geographically. At this time of year in particular many clergy and ordinand families are in the midst of adjusting to a new life. With ordinations over the summer many are at the start of curacies while others are starting at theological college – this is a very intense few years for these families as they will go through 2 major relocations within 2 or 3 years. September is the ‘back to business as usual’ month and now that the moving dust has settled this is perhaps the time when reality really starts to hit. The point where the novelty of being called ‘the new curate’s wife’ has truly worn off or you are really starting to miss your friends and family. I have now been through 2 relocations and have a few thoughts to offer.
- Let yourself grieve
There is always some sort of loss in moving even if you welcome the change. You have left something behind whether it be friends, family, job, house, church or a favourite cafe. Sometimes it is not something so tangible – when I married my OH a few weeks after his ordination and moved to his curacy placement I was in some ways mourning the loss of other possibilities and the life I had once expected to have. There is nothing wrong in being sad and taking some time to mourn. This is not self-indulgent but actually the first step to moving forward.
2. You are not alone
If you are struggling with the change you can be sure other CSs are too. There is not something wrong with you, you are not a failure, lacking in faith or being pathetic. I spent most of the first year of the curacy thinking there was something wrong with me and that it was my fault to be finding things so difficult. It was only meeting another CS who struggled with the same things which made me realise it was ok to find things hard. Don’t beat yourself up and remember that there are many other CSs out there who know just what you’re going through.
3. Connect with these CSs
It can be very helpful to chat things over with someone who understands what you’re going through. Depending on your diocese and deanery this can be easier said than done (theological colleges tend to be good at having support groups). Sadly it is the equivalent of a postcode lottery as to whether there are any organised opportunities to meet with other CSs in your area. If you are lucky there will be activities for you to plug into. If not you will have to be more pro-active and seek out other CSs. This can be more or less of a challenge depending on your personality (I say this as a shy introvert who finds meeting new people hard work) location and what the other CSs are like. A good place to start is getting your OH to be alert when they meet other clergy in the area as they may be able to give you an idea of who else is married (particularly good if they can tell you who else is new). You could try to get hold of local clergy contact details and ask them to pass on an email or letter to their other halves. You could also contact the diocese and see if they can help with contacting people but the answer may simply be ‘no’; again it varies across the country as to what they are willing to help with but potential people to try are the Rural Dean, Archdeacon or anyone who is assigned to clergy welfare (see your diocesan website to see who might be a good bet).
4. Get online
If all of the above fails, is not an option or you’re not too bothered about meeting CSs in person then get on Facebook. There are three good sized groups for CSs now and all act as a space to chat with other CSs. I’ve yet to see a question asked which no-one could answer and they also give you somewhere to express feelings which you may not feel able to share with those around you. The easiest to find is ‘Clergy Spice’ as it is closed (only group members can see posts) but not secret so you can search for it and ask to be added. Most of the members are Methodists but other denominations are represented. The two secret (only members can find group and see posts) groups are ‘Mr and Mrs Vicarages’ and ‘The Clergy Spice Noticeboard’. Both seem to mainly have Church of England members but also have people from other churches. Members of ‘The Clergy Spice Noticeboard’ can add CSs they know so you can try asking around to see if anyone you know is a member. This also applies to ‘Mr and Mrs Vicarages’ but if you don’t know anyone you can get in touch with one of their admins, Jo Perry and she will kindly help you out. Her email is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
5. Stay connected to your OH
With such a big life change it is more important than ever to be connected and going through the change together, especially if you and your OH have different feelings about the move. The relocation may be a very different experience for each of you. Your OH has probably been eager to finally get started on their training, curacy or new incumbency. They will have plenty of new activities to keep them occupied and will (hopefully) have support in colleagues and line-managers. They have had support in preparing for these changes and are following a calling they have been confirmed in by the wider church. Most CSs are making the move with little preparation or external support and may have no idea of what their life will be like when they get there. You need to keep communicating so that you can share each other’s joys and sorrows. A key aspect of this is that you need to both be physically present for a decent amount of time. Start as you mean to go on and don’t let your OH get into a pattern of doing ridiculous hours; make sure time together is built into each day and week and is proritised over everything except genuine emergencies. Ordination vows do not override marriage vows and if the job is allowed to come before the marriage both the marriage and job will suffer.
6. Be honest
Thanks to your own or others expectations you can feel under pressure to be absolutely thrilled about being a CS and whatever new place you find yourself in. I certainly found that everyone seemed so happy my OH was ordained that I didn’t see how I could be the one person saying, ‘well actually I would have really much preferred it if he’d done something else which didn’t require us moving to an ex-mining village in the north-east miles away from our families.’ People also tend to love their community, church etc so it is difficult to be open about how you’re really finding it. For quite a long time I kept how I was feeling to myself as I didn’t think my feelings were acceptable or would be accepted. The trouble is people can only help you if they know you are having a hard time. So I do wish I had been more open about how I was struggling. It can be tough to do because it makes you feel vulnerable but start with someone you trust and go from there. You also have to be prepared for the fact that some people will not have the most helpful response – there is always the person who tells you that you could be in a worse parish/married to someone in the forces/whatever worse scenario they can think of. But for every person who thinks suffering can be relativised you will have several people who will respond with empathy and sympathy.
7. Find a space to be you
Whatever your level of involvement in your OH’s work you are likely to be identified in relation to their role by many people. Some in your community may know you as ‘the curate’s husband’ but not have a clue what your name is. Carving out a place in your life where you are known primarily as yourself can be a sanity saver. If you are in paid employment this is relatively straight forward. If not you may have to be more creative and try volunteering/a hobby/doing a course, anything which interests you and lets you meet people on your own terms.
8. Beware of your expectations of others’ expectations
Sometimes we put a load of unneccessary pressure on ourselves by making assumptions about others’ assumptions. I find myself getting bogged down in trying to guess what other people are expecting from me. A much healthier approach which I aspire to follow is simply to be myself. Of course some people will be open about their expectations of you in which case you may want to have a polite but firm response prepared and/or a good sense of humour – a friend and I were able to laugh about her surprise that I enjoy a glass of wine. During the curacy I had to laugh that people at our local pub were told off by the owner for swearing in front of me, although part of me is sad that they felt they had to behave differently just because I’m around. The more you can be yourself the more you put other people at ease and gradually break down any assumptions they have about CSs – unless you really are a stereotypical CS in which case all power to you! – which is a good thing for all involved, not least the spouse who may follow you in years to come.