Book Review: Reviving Advent, Reclaiming Christmas

Reviving Advent, Reclaiming Christmas by Ruth Grayson. Grove Books Ltd 2015

I have called this a book review but it would be more accurate to call it a booklet review. It is only 25 pages long but Ruth Grayson manages to give plenty of food for thought in this slim volume. Reading it made me realise how little thought I have given to Advent and that I have tended to see it as a countdown to Christmas rather than an important time of reflection in its own right. Grayson compares it with Lent and points out that there are many more resources to guide us through Lent than there are for Advent, which is ‘remarkable’ considering how important Christmas is in the church calendar. She suggests that this indicates a lack of time to spend in quiet reflection because the festive season is so busy, one of the problems she is keen for the church to tackle.

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Book Review: The Minister’s Wife

The Minister’s Wife: Privileges, Pressures and Pitfalls by Ann Benton and friends. Published by Inter-Varsity Press, 2011.

How helpful you find this book will probably depend to some extent on how similar you are to the authors. As Ann Benton explains in the introduction, all the contributors are evangelical Christians with a complementarian view of gender (male headship and wives as helpers). So as you probably guessed from the title, it is not aimed at clergy husbands. Despite this, much of the book could be helpful to many CS’s, especially those who would like to read something with a good dose of theology and biblical references. I think much of the content could equally apply to clergy husbands so don’t let the title put you off. I would think it will be least helpful for those of no/different faith as it’s focus is primarily spiritual and assumes you are attending, and being heavily involved in, your husband’s church. However, it may still be useful in helping to prepare you for being married to a clergy person. I found much that was helpful and was often able to agree with bits of advice even if I sometimes took issue with the theology and biblical interpretation behind it. As Benton says, they hope people outside their tradition will be able to benefit, even if they do not agree with all the explanations and applications. Continue reading

Book Review: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, John Gottman and Nan Silver, Orion

Clergy marriages are likely to face some unique challenges, however they will also face challenges common to all married couples. It makes sense to have as healthy a marriage as possible when embarking on ministry life as then you will be better able to weather any storms which come your way. With this in mind I thought it would be worth reviewing a book which looks at how all couples can make marriage work.

This book is compelling because it is based on years of scientific study by John Gottman. Gottman is a research scientist on marriage and family at the University of Washington, as well as Codirector of the Seattle Marital and Family Institute. The data he has accumulated has led him to the point where he can predict with 91% accuracy whether a marriage will fail or succeed, based purely on listening to a couple interact. His research has pointed him to seven principles which will prevent a marriage from failing. The exhaustive nature of the research is impressive so if you like to follow advice based on rigorous scientific evidence this is the book for you. Continue reading

Book Review: Holy Matrimony?

Holy Matrimony? An Exploration of Marriage and Ministry, Mary Kirk and Tom Leary, Lynx Communications 1994

I picked this book up in my pre-CS days when a library was having a clear out and on seeing that it is on a book list in the Rochester Clergy Family Handbook I thought I would re-read it. It is a fascinating read, if only as an insight into clergy marriages and the Church of England twenty years ago (other denominations are mentioned but the clergy couples involved in the case studies are all CofE). I felt that some of the issues discussed are less relevant to most clergy couples today due to significant changes in the church and society. However, much of what they cover is still very true for CSs and it left me with plenty to think about concerning how marriage and ministry relate to each other.

Tom Leary is a marital psychotherapist as well as an ordained minister and Mary Kirk is a trained marriage and relationships counsellor. The book is informed by interviews with 37 clergy couples (all the clergy were men in full-time stipendary posts), with each partner interviewed separately and then in a joint interview. It would be fascinating to see if interviews conducted with those currently in ministry would come up with similar findings, especially as it would include couples where the ordained person is female. I felt that some of the themes they found emerging would not be as prominent today. For example, they say that there is a large amount of evidence that clergy select spouses more for qualities that will assist their ministry than for their own personalities and rate sexual attraction low on the list of reasons for picking a spouse. Most clergy I know did not go into ministry as their first career and were married/romantically involved before exploring the possibility of ordination, which may explain why I found it hard to relate this evidence to clergy couples today. Many of the ideas the authors discuss as a result of the interviews are very interesting but I think so much has changed in two decades it is hard to know how much of their evidence is still applicable to clergy couples. Continue reading

Book Review: 10 Things Every Minister’s Wife Needs to Know

10 Things Every Minister’s Wife Needs to Know by Jeana Floyd, New Leaf Press, 2010.

Jeana Floyd is an American minister’s wife. From what she writes I get the sense she is well known in America but I had never heard of her. Perhaps because she is well known there, she is not explicit about her churchmanship but I am fairly sure she is at the conservative evangelical end. She definitely upholds the male headship view of gender. Unlike Benton’s book (find my review of ‘The Minister’s Wife’ in the Book Review category), I think that this one is more of a struggle if you don’t hold the same beliefs as Floyd. I doubt clergy husbands would find most of it useful. Continue reading

Book Review: How the Other Half Lives

How the other half lives: the challenges facing clergy spouses and partners by Johnna Fredrickson and William A. Smith. The Pilgrim Press, 2010.

I read this book a couple of years ago and had somehow forgotten how good it is. Fredrickson is a clergy spouse and Christian educator, Smith is a marriage and family therapist; both are American but most of the book is equally applicable in a British context and across denominations. The two have teamed up to create a resource which primarily focuses on the CS and the marriage and how both can be sustained through the challenges faced by clergy couples. It is for both male and female spouses and aims to be accessible to all CSs, regardless of their level of involvement in the ordained person’s ministry.  It is a very thoughtful book which digs deep into the complexities of the challenges. It does not shy away from the difficulties but discusses positive options for finding a way to cope with them. Rather than presenting one-size-fits-all solutions, it looks at various ways couples can tackle things, depending on their own situation and needs. I found it to have good practical advice and strong theological grounding. Even if the theology is not for you, or you are of a different faith, there are chapters which will be informative and thought provoking. Continue reading