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.
I managed to avoid reality a bit longer than most by marrying my clergyman 6 weeks after he was ordained. I was able to focus on the wedding and starting a new job rather than the fact that my beloved had just signed his life over to the church and what this would mean for me. When we got back to the curacy at the end of the summer reality could be avoided no longer. I’m a CS! I’m living at the opposite end of the country to my family! I’m living in a town and house dictated by my husband’s job! I’m in a church I’m not sure I would have chosen of my own free will! I’m only 23 and we’re in this for life! I think people have expectations of me but I have no idea what I’m doing! What have I done?!!! And does anyone have a manual to get me through this?!
As everyone seemed very happy about my OH’s ordination I kept these thoughts to myself. After all he had been exploring ordination since we were first together – I had over 4 years to think this all through and made the free choice to marry him. But as I discovered there is a big difference between thinking you know what you are signing up for and actually living out that reality. I felt a tension between everyone else’s excitement and my own feelings of being out of my depth. I was also discovering a strange ability to be both visible and invisible. Lots of people knew who I was but amongst strangers who I felt saw me through the CS lense I felt the real me was invisible. I was discovering that not being expected to be an extra pair of hands in the parish did not mean that there were not expectations of me as the curate’s wife. I was freaking out even though like everyone else I was very happy for my OH – I wanted him to live out his vocation, I just had no idea where I fit into it. I was shocked by how hard I found it to adjust to our new life and felt I could not be honest about how much I was struggling.
It is those people who may be struggling who have been particularly on my mind this summer as I’ve heard about all the ordinations and moves and new starts. So I’ve shared my own struggle for those who may be finding the transition harder than they thought it would be. Who are torn between being happy for their OH and mourning a life left behind. For those CSs mourning their own calling to ordination or another vocation which has not been fulfilled or has been put on hold. Who are finding that their ideas about being a CS may not match with the ideas of the people around them or even their own OH.
It is ok to be sad. It is ok to not be 100% sure that this was all such a great idea. If you have moments when you think ‘get me out of here’ then I can at least tell you that I had those moments too. Most CSs make significant sacrifices so that their partner can follow their calling and it can take time to process what these sacrifices will mean – 8 years in I am still figuring much of this out. So don’t be too hard on yourself. Despite what others (or you!) may think being married to an ordained person does not give us CSs special powers – we are just regular people who have fears, struggles and vulnerabilities like everyone else.
I made things much harder for myself by thinking there was something wrong with me for finding things so difficult – other CSs seemed so much more sorted than me, if they weren’t struggling why was I? So just in case there is anyone out there feeling like I did almost 8 years ago and thinking you are the only one, you are not alone. Just now I read this comment in the Church Times from Patrick Regan:
‘we realised that lots of other people feel alone in their struggles; so we wanted to be vulnerable and open about hard times. This is the way that healing can take place, in safe and supportive spaces.’
So even though it makes me feel uncomfortable, I have shared my experience in the hope that a bit of openness might help someone out there. Another CS did the same for me a few years ago and helped me more than she would have ever realised.