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?