Well it is that time of year again – there are chocolate reindeer in the shops and the church fair organisers are asking for donations so it must be time for the annual Clergy Spouse (CS) Christmas post. This will be my seventh Christmas as a CS but the first remains the one I most vividly remember. 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 was pretty miserable despite having the company of my lovely in-laws. Since that first year 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.
This time last year I published a post about Christmas and it has been my most viewed post so far. I think Christmas is a time when the challenges of CS life can be keenly felt and many of us and our clergy other halves struggle with balancing church and family life. So here is a slightly updated version of last year’s post for anyone who missed it the first time, hopefully published early enough to give you plenty of time to think over how you will approach the festive season.
- 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. 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 some sort of explosion further down the line. Continue reading
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.
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
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
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
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