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!
My previous post outlined some of the challenges which may be faced by a CS at Christmas. Below is a list of thoughts on dealing with these pressures. Some are practical, others are about our own perspective on Christmas. The more I think on it the more I feel that we need to reassess our approach, as individuals and as a church, to Christmas. Is the exhaustion of so many clergy and CSs (and often many other people within and outside the church) by the 25th a sign of a deeper problem? I would argue that it is and that many of us need to find a new way of doing things so that Christmas can be a joy-giver rather than a joy-stealer.
- 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 not necessary and could be prevented with a bit of common sense and compassion. So I try to avoid encouraging CSs to grin and bear whatever sacrifice others require of them as the unnecessary difficulties many experience was my main motivation for starting this blog. 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. So you probably will have to accept that being married to an ordained person will require the sacrifice that religious festivals will be different for you 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. Keep communicating with your spouse and let them know how you feel, not to make them feel guilty but so you can be supported. Keeping your feelings under wraps often just leads to brewing resentment and then some sort of explosion further down the line.
Having come out of the other side of this I have found I have been able to get some perspective on Christmas and some of the more excessive aspects of how we celebrate it in Britain (I say this as someone who cried on our first married Christmas because my OH just didn’t do my stocking as well as my mum – I find this amusing now but at the time it made me truly homesick) I’ve been able to see the many positive things in our vicarage Christmases and have learnt to hold traditions a little more lightly; after all as a Christian I have to believe that Christmas is still an important day regardless of whether I get to eat my own weight in turkey or not.
2. Put family time in the diary now
As at all other times of the year your family unit is important and should be a priority for your OH. There is no getting away from the fact that things will be busy but if you put time in the diary you can ensure you get time together. If getting the tree as a family is an important tradition put that in the diary so it can’t be booked up by something else. By having time set aside for family and friends you will all be better able to spread the joy of the season to others. It is a sad state of affairs when the people most closely involved in Christmas in the church are the ones who come to find the least joy in that time of the year through being overworked.
3. Be realistic about what you can manage as a family
When both partners are heavily involved in Christmas events along with all the other aspects of their life it can lead to a very exhausted pair of people. Be truly realistic about what you can reasonably do. Learn to say no. Keep a close eye on the diary and ring the alarm when it is getting too full. Do not feel you have failed if you buy mince pies instead of making them from scratch (unless like me you find making mince pies and eating them fresh from the oven to be one of life’s greatest pleaures, in which case set aside time for that in your diary so you don’t miss out).
This realism also needs to extend to arrangements you make for celebrating Christmas as a family. If some of the relationships between people in your family are a source of tension or conflict combining these difficult family dynamics with a very tired vicar and/or CS may not be for the best for anyone. There is so much pressure to see family on Christmas Day you may find not everyone understands if you choose not to but it may be worth standing firm in this decision if it avoids huge amounts of stress. You can make time to see extended family at another time when you hopefully have the energy to deal with it better.
4. Christmas is just a day we happen to have labelled ‘Christmas’
There is a tremendous amount of pressure to have ‘the perfect Christmas’ and although we seem to do Christmas for all of December the climax is still the 25th. It is easy to become fixated on this one day and feel you have to have the special meal/open presents/see all your family otherwise it will all be a failure. However it is worth taking a step back and asking whether all of these things really do have to be done then at all and if they are essential elements of Christmas Day or even of Christmas altogether. If they don’t fit with your OH’s schedule could you just do things completely differently to how we have learnt to think things have to be? Having a special meal a few days later with family feels just as great as doing it on the 25th. If opening presents on Christmas Eve makes more sense why wait for the next day. If you are too tired to cook on Christmas Day why not have a tradition of having pizza in your pyjamas. We’ve had years where New Year’s Eve has been our second Christmas with extended family and it has been lovely to enjoy it with a husband who has had most of the week off and is well rested. A bit of creativity and flexibility can go a long way and you may even find it refreshing to break with the old way of doing things.
5. Do Advent and the 12 days of Christmas
Since you are forced to some extent to be out of step with how everyone else is doing Christmas this can be an opportunity to find a calmer way of approaching the whole season. Advent used to be a time of preparation and expectation but now gets little attention as Christmas events run throughout. Ian Paul on his blog http://www.psephizo.com/life-ministry/can-we-undo-the-consumer-frenzy-of-christmas/ draws attention to Ruth Grayson’s idea of reviving Advent and the 12 days of Christmas, even rescheduling church events to fall after Christmas to make Advent less busy. You may not be able to persuade your church to reschedule everything this year (although you have the Rev’s ear so you could give it a go!) but if you can revive Advent and the 12 days of Christmas in your own home you may find it takes some pressure off the 25th. I’ve found the important thing for me is having family time across the whole season of Advent and Christmas rather than focusing on what we do on just one day.
6. Do not do anything simply to fulfil expectations
I mentioned in my previous post that some people you encounter may have fixed ideas about how Christmas should be done both in the church and the vicarage. As ever with the expectations issue the advice is to do what you feel is right rather than what you feel (or have been told) is expected. Every family is different and just because something worked for the previous vicarage dwellers that does not mean every vicar who follows is committed to doing the same thing.
7. Make the most of the perks where you find them
There is an upside to most situations. Last year my OH did a christingle service which I took our toddler and baby along to, worrying it could be a bit challenging to manage Mikey on my own in such a big space as his little brother was only 6 weeks old. OH had a giant model of a christingle orange and had used dried figs as raisins. He recklessly left the open packet of figs on a pew at the front…and Mikey stopped running around for long enough to help himself, which then encouraged the other small children to tuck in too. There is a lot to be said for not feeling embarassed when this sort of thing happens because said child’s father is the one taking the service. It was also lovely that once other parents saw Mikey running around causing mischief they stopped trying to hang on to their own toddlers, making for a more relaxed time for everyone. Take the blessings where you find them, once you conciously try to notice them you find more and more even if you are simultaneously having a hard time.
My perspective is limited by the fact that our children are small and have no preconceived ideas of how Christmas should be. Our family Christmases will always have been formed to fit with the church schedule and will be their ‘normal’. I would guess that it can be harder helping older children to adjust to the change and that they will miss the parent who has to be very busy at this time of year. If you know other clergy families who have been through this it may well be worth seeking advice on how they coped. The CS support groups on Facebook are great places to ask what other people do and find inspiration for forming your own way of doing things. You never know, you may find rethinking Christmas leads you to a far more joyful way of experiencing the season….but if that doesn’t happen remember your fellow CSs know what you’re going through, you are not alone even if the festive season feels like a lonely time.
There are mince pies in the shops and I know more than one person who could tell you to the day where we are in the Christmas countdown. So I hope I will be forgiven for bringing this topic up in October but a bit of forward thinking and planning could help in tackling the interesting experience that is Christmas in the vicarage. I know that some CSs find this a particularly challenging season, especially in the early years of ordination when it is all new. I am now approaching my 6th vicarage Christmas and will outline below the challenges I have identified through my own and others’ experiences. In a second post I will look at potential strategies for dealing with them. It is by no means an exhaustive list but I hope it will help you in thinking about how to make Christmas a joyful time rather than a joy-stealer in your home. Continue reading
A couple of weeks ago one of the admins from a Facebook group aimed at supporting CSs got in touch and they have kindly said that I can write a post about the group to help spread the word to those who may not have come across it yet. The group is called ‘Mrs and Mr Vicarages’ but is secret so cannot be found through searching Facebook – only members can see it and the content. This allows for a high level of privacy and makes it a safe space for CSs to bring their questions, worries, prayer requests and on occasion to let off steam. It also means that word of mouth is the only way for people to find out about it so if you know a clergy spouse give them a heads up!
There are almost 300 members so there is a wealth of knowledge and wisdom to consult if you need advice or information. I’ve been a member for a couple of weeks and already really appreciate the supportive atmosphere and seeing from others’ posts that I am not alone in the challenges and frustrations I have encountered. The normal way of joining is for a current member of the group to invite you and the admins approve new members before they are accepted. If you do not know a current member but are interested in joining you can contact Jo Perry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When I say how I wish I had prepared, what I really mean is that I wish I had prepared at all. We were in a parish 8 miles from where we went to university, how different could it be? Turns out ex-mining villages are a whole world away from prosperous university towns. Yes, I really was that naive.
I also wasn’t really aware of the likely challenges of being a clergy spouse (CS). The only thing people had really mentioned was that you might be expected to help run the parish. James’ boss had firmly reassured me that I would not be expected to be an extra pair of hands, so I was feeling optimistic; this is the 21st century after all, surely being married to a curate would not have the same impact on my life as it once would have. Again, yes, I was really was that clueless.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that if you’re moving somewhere completely different, and entering a new, alien role, you don’t know what you don’t know. How do you prepare for the unknown? As I have mentioned I was fairly clueless and some friends have kindly pointed out that common sense is not my biggest strength. So if the things I am about to talk about are outstandingly obvious to you, I apologise, but I hope they may be helpful for any fellow clueless folk out there. This is what I would do if I had my time again:
1) Do some research on the area. Find out as much as you can before you get there about the place and the people. If the incumbent who will be overseeing your spouse has a husband/wife they are likely to be a good person to chat to. You’ll only begin to get a sense of the culture but it gives you a head start.
2) Get a feel for what the church is like. I was once told that another CS on starting in a curacy had said, ‘No one tells you that you may end up at a church you would never have chosen to attend.’ If you know beforehand that this is the case it may soften the blow. It will also give you time to investigate other spiritual support networks available to you. When we started at our church there were no Bible study groups, which I really missed; if I had been more proactive I might have been able to find a group to join elsewhere.
3) Encourage/order your spouse to get an idea of their work schedule. I had no idea what James’ schedule would be like and struggled at first with how many evenings I was on my own. Going in with a realistic picture of how much they will be out at least helps you prepare (and gives you time to stockpile all the DVDs they never want to watch, so you can make the most of their absence). Once you know what the hours will be like you can discuss how you will carve out time as a family. Doing this from the start lets you set a firm boundary and stops your clergy person from taking on commitments which encroach on family time.
4) Get an idea of how much your house will be used for church business. It helps to have this agreed beforehand so that everyone has the same expectations. It is much easier to set boundaries at the outset than to try and change things once you’ve opened your doors to an event. If you know that meetings will be in the house, when you move in you can set up another room as a comfy space for yourself.
5) Plan in visits with friends and family. If you know you are going to really miss home book in your next visit there so you have that to look forwards to. I found my homesickness was worse when I had no idea when I would next see my family. Prioritise the travel costs in your budget and accept that you may have to visit on your own – the combination of distance and our work schedules meant that we often visited our families without each other.
6) Discuss beforehand how you will deal with chores. Clergy have very busy schedules. This can mean they have little time for household tasks. If either of you is a clean freak this can cause some tension. I remember the first argument James and I had when we were dating: it was about western interference/interventions in less developed countries. Such heady days of idealism! Once we were married we argued about cleaning. In fact we still do. Despite this, I do think it would have helped if we had talked about how we would manage chores before the curacy started.
7) Identify where your support will come from. As far as I know there is no official CofE system for supporting CS’s (I’d be interested to hear if other denominations have anything?). As is the CofE way, each diocese does things differently. Your best source of knowledge on what happens in your area is a CS already in the diocese. If this sort of support is lacking or not your scene think about where your support will come from. Your other half will not be enough!
8) Speak to CS’s about what to expect. Only fellow CS’s know what you are about to face. As the curacy comes with unique challenges it is particularly useful to chat to someone who is either a couple of years ahead of you or has recently left a curacy.
I’m sure there are many more things I could have done to prepare myself, but these 8 were the first to spring to mind. What are your top tips for starting out in curacy life?