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
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.
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
As a church-going Christian marrying a newly ordained curate I never questioned the assumption that I would attend the church my other half ministered to. I thought it would pretty much be just like going to church had been for me for the previous 23 years of my life. I soon discovered that this straightforward relationship with church was over for me. I struggled through the Sunday services but without really understanding why. With time, and having read some clergy spouse (CS) related books, I have come to realise that being married to your minister is far from straightforward. I now feel that for CSs of faith whether or not to attend their partner’s church is something which can benefit from being carefully thought through, rather than simply feeling you have no choice in the matter. Some challenges which I wish I had been aware of include: Continue reading
Although this blog is aimed at CSs I am aware that people outside this group read my posts. So I decided to write something aimed not at those married to clergy but those who can have a huge impact on the lives of clergy and their families – the people in the pews. This is my call to all churchgoers: ask not what your clergy can do for you – ask what you can do for your clergy. The following suggestions are a mixture of my own and other CSs’ thoughts.
1. Pray for them
2. Respect time-off
So far we have been blessed in this regard and had congregations who have fully respected days-off and holiday time. However I know that some clergy families have a very different experience and find that the clergy person seems to be expected to be available 24/7, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. So here is my plea on behalf of all clergy, whether married or not: please do not contact them at the times they have indicated are their time-off. What may seem like a harmless 10 minute phone call for you is something which drags their thoughts back to work when they should be resting. Clergy and their families cannot function healthily if they do not get a proper break from church life. 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
I was once at a gathering of CSs organised by an academic who had been doing research into CS life. I was a bit dismayed that when the topic of positive aspects of CS life was raised the only thing suggested was, ‘Your children are likely to end up going into ethical careers.’ Having only been a CS for a few months at this point I felt rather concerned that there were not more good things, especially as I’m holding out for our children to become bankers or accountants so they can keep us in luxury in our old age. Now I’ve had a few more years as a CS I thought I would list some of the things I’ve found positive so far.
1. The house
I know, terribly materialistic but on days where things have felt really bad it has helped to remind myself how blessed we are to have a roof over our heads without worrying about how to pay for it. I’m very grateful for the flexibility it’s given me in terms of family and work and to have the space at a time in our lives when we can really make the most of it. I think we value it all the more because we won’t be here forever.
2. The dogs
If you are a cat person you won’t appreciate how much of a perk this is but for me it is a big highlight. James working at home meant that unlike most people who work full time we could have dogs. I did wonder if getting them was the best idea when I picked them up as Patch spent the 45 minute car journey jumping up and down in the boot and barking. Molly hopped into the back seat and was sick on my coat. As soon as we got into the house Patch weed on everything within reach. James was not pleased. Luckily things got better from there and they have been fantastic companions, especially on lonely evenings. Continue reading
There can be a significant difference between the time clergy are entitled to take off and how much they actually take. If you also work this can make it even more challenging to get a decent amount of time together. Clergy by no means have a monopoly on over working but they do seem to have become renowned for it. As someone who has never come anywhere near being a workaholic I find the issue fascinating and frustrating in equal measure. So here are some of my musings on why clergy families may struggle to find time together and potential things you can do to help.
1) Your clergy person has too much work. Some clergy have so much work they can only get it done by working very long hours. If they realise that they have too much work the first port of call is their Archdeacon, with whom they can discuss their workload. The challenge here is that they have to recognise there is a problem. There are not many congregations who will complain that their priest is working too hard – you may be the only one who will point out that they have taken on too much.
2) You have too much work. Many spouses are in jobs which are just as demanding as clergy roles. If you do shift work you have the added pressure of not being able to guarantee you will have your day off on the same day each week. This is where you have to make the most of the clergy person’s flexible schedule and fit in time together wherever you can. As usual the key thing is to plan ahead – if you don’t carve out the space it will be filled by work or chores. Continue reading