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
- 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.
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
Hello! I haven’t posted for ages as life has been pretty busy but I promise I have not abandoned the blog. The recent lot of ordinations got me thinking about all the new people joining the clergy spouse (CS) club – I hope it was a joyful time for you seeing your other half ordained but if you had more mixed feelings about it all please know you are not alone. I have now been to two ordinations and a licensing for my husband and to be honest I felt quite weird at all three even though I am very supportive of his work. I felt detached, looking on and feeling happy for my husband but aware that this all has a huge impact on me without really knowing where I fit into it all. Seven years on from that first ordination I am still figuring that out.
The ordinations and some conversations I have had recently got me thinking in particular of the expectations we face as CSs and how to navigate them healthily. Some advice I have come across declares that you should simply live without regard to others’ expectations. I find this strange because we all have expectations of the other people in our lives and many of these expectations will be reasonable. CSs are hardly the only people who encounter the expectations of others. However they are unusual in that it is their other half’s job which sets the context for many of the expectations they face. You are not the person in the job but are very closely associated with it. You have not been interviewed and selected, you do not get a job description and you have no official role. Yet you live in the vicarage and the community which your other half serves, you may well attend the church they work in and be involved in church work. You are a public figure without having a defined role. How you live with these expectations can have a significant impact on your well being. So far I have learnt the following: Continue reading
Eight days on from my last post I confess I have been amazed at the amount of views it has had. Clearly Angela Tilby’s comments have stirred up much interest in this area. I was equally surprised to find my blog referred to by Ian Paul in his own blog post on the topic http://www.psephizo.com/life-ministry/should-clergy-have-christmas-day-off/. The whole post is worth reading as it raises many important questions about Christmas and the wider topic of clergy work and marriage.
His comments on my post did leave me feeling that on some points he was arguing against something which I had not said. I realise that my writing may have lacked clarity in some areas and is perhaps open to being misunderstood so I wish to respond to his comments to (hopefully!) make sure that no one misunderstands what I am trying to say. Ian’s comments were as follows: Continue reading
If you read the Church Times you may have seen Angela Tilby’s column from the 9th December issue urging clergy to avoid family-olatry this Christmas. It would have caught my eye at any time but I was particularly struck by her words as I have lately been putting much thought into my understanding of marriage and ministry and how a couple balances these two demanding callings. Rev Tilby argues that ‘Clergy and ministers today often seem to buy into a view of the family which is difficult to justify from the Gospels.’ I totally agree but would suggest that this is far more likely to be in the direction of neglecting the family due to idolatry of the ordained ministry than the other way around. Rev Tilby claims that thirty years ago the parish came before family at Christmas; I can imagine many clergy spouses thinking that the parish only coming first at Christmas would be a marked improvement on their clergy partner’s current working practice. Continue reading
There has been a recent change to the Facebook groups offering support to CSs who are facing crises in their marriage or are separated. The original group ‘Beyond the Vicarage’ has given way to two new groups, ‘Clergy Marriage in Crisis’ and ‘Broken Rites’. ‘Broken Rites’ is for separated and divorced spouses of clergy who have become members of the Broken Rites support group, for more information about Broken Rites see their website: http://brokenrites.org/index.html. ‘Clergy Marriage in Crisis’ is aimed at those who are still married but are facing serious difficulties and need a space to vent, find advice, information and support. Both are secret groups so cannot be found through a normal search on Facebook, instead you can join them through the Broken Rites website here: http://brokenrites.org/support-links.html. For more information or help joining you can get in touch with Katharine Harrison through the Clergy Spouse Support Facebook page.
I have recently been contacted by a fellow CS who has stepped out in faith to follow her calling to help other people discover their gifts and calling from God. It has particularly been on her heart to help other CSs so on November 19, at St Saviour’s Church, Sunbury-on-Thames, she will be running a whole day dedicated to helping CSs discern God’s will for them. It is open to spouses of Ordinands as well as those already ordained and to men and women. Read on for Rowena’s story of how she found embarking on life as a CS (which I’m sure many of us can relate to!) and to find the link to the advert for more information.
Thanks to the Clergy Spice Facebook group I have recently become aware of The Society of Mary and Martha, a charity which is based at their property Sheldon in the Teign Valley near Exeter. They offer retreat and education resources for all but also have a specialist work in supporting those in Christian ministry. Their definition of ministry for the purpose of access to their ministry resources and discount is: Continue reading
The team at Broken Rites provided the following summary of the aims of their organisation:
“Broken Rites is an organisation which was founded over 30 years ago to give advice, support and information to clergy spouses/partners who have experienced or are facing the breakdown of their marriage or civil partnership. It is open to both women and men, including those who have been in a same sex relationship. For more information or to contact us visit www.brokenrites.org.uk”
Many months ago I posted about a secret Facebook page which has been created for CSs in this situation and you can now access this group through the Broken Rites website – just fill out an enquiry form on the ‘Contact Us’ page.
There is all sorts of information on the website including links to support which may be equally useful for CSs who are not experiencing marital problems.
I’m afraid these conferences are only for the ladies – if you are interested in meeting with other clergy wives at national conferences rather than diocese specific ones there are a few opportunities next year (2016).
The London Ministry Wives Conference Organising Team are holding a one day conference on Saturday 30 January, 10am-4:45pm in Tooting, London. This is a day of teaching and fellowship for wives of ministers with speaker Clare Heath-Whyte. For more details and to book a ticket go to the website: http://www.thegoodbook.co.uk/bookings/details?id=312
Wives of Evangelical Clergy are holding a two day conference from 1st-3rd March in Oxfordshire. There is also the opportunity to just go for the day on the Wednesday. This is another opportunity for fellowship and teaching with worship, prayer and discussion. For more details and to book see their website: http://weac.weebly.com/
The Proclamation Trust has a two conferences next year for clergy wives. 7th-10th March in Leicestershire (this is for wives of ministers who have been in ministry for 7 or more years.) The summer conference is for wives of those in training or who have been in ministry for less than 7 years and runs 4th-7th July also in Leicestershire. For more details see the website: http://www.proctrust.org.uk/conferences/index.php?type=24
New Wine have a conference for Women and Leadership in London 10th-12th November. This is for women whose lives ‘are wrapped up in leadership one way or another’. They also have several New Wine Women days which are not specifically for women involved in leadership but may be of interest. For details of all of these go to: https://www.new-wine.org/events
You will have noticed that these are all for women and are at the evangelical/conservative end of the church spectrum. I am yet to hear of anything aimed at men or both men and women or for those of other churchmanship. Having grown up in the more liberal end of the church I suspect this is at least partly because there just is not such a conference going culture in those churches. Gender differences may also be a factor in terms of level of interest in meeting up in this way and perception of the role of CS. There is also the practical complication of many conferences happening during the week which is tricky if you are in paid employment. So my apologies to anyone who feels left out, perhaps as more women are ordained into the church there will be enough men wanting a conference that someone will get organising – maybe you are that person and just don’t know it yet!