Saturday 12 April 2014

A Vicar's Wife's Life

Curious little post in the Guardian, and quite sad, about the life of a "vicar's wife".

I'm intrigued by the idea that the wife concerned didn't "sign up" for the job. The thing I'm told is, that the forms which wannabe vicars fill in before being considered for Vicar School include a question broadly along the lines of "is your wife/husband/significant-other-we-won't-ask-questions about OK with this?"

Now I realise that the form doesn't mention at this point the loss of quite a lot of private time, the idea that the retired colonels feel like they own your attention, the expectation that you will become an expert at baking cakes, and the loneliness of ending up in a house, maybe hundreds of miles from your friends and extended family. That's the job of the vicaring candidate's assessors, and Director of Ordinands, and advisory committee, and current vicar. But he was asked the question, and gave an answer that didn't lead to further investigation.

Unless, of course, the vicar lied on his form. Said "yes, it's fine", despite the fact that the Misses was throwing crockery at him for thinking he had a calling.

Or worse. Maybe she wasn't even asked. Maybe the soon-to-be vicar had been sneaking out to meet selection people, claiming he was just late at work? He'd been going off for weekends on a ministerial training course, under the pretence of golfing trips with his cronies? Having to write essays late at night, terrified that his wife  would find a book by Hauerwas hidden under the bed and his secret would be blown.

And then that dreadful day when, having invited his wife and family on a day trip to Ely, he appeared in a white cassock and dog collar and her worst fears were confirmed. He wasn't having an affair after all, and the mystery of why all the furniture had been removed from their house was solved.

I'm concerned about what this poor woman's life is like. She doesn't seem to have a job, and there is no mention of a family. So her life must revolve around the identity she hates - of "vicar's wife" - and wondering when her husband will be home. His flock  consists of a dwindling number of retired colonels, yet he works every hour God gives.

A correspondent suggests this couple need a sabbatical. Yes. And a good look at what their lives are. And a consideration of what the blessings and curses of what they do are. And maybe a look at another place. Or another career. Maybe she needs to tell him what her problems are, not the Guardian.

My correspondent also points out that God is nowhere in the piece. Obviously not - the word wouldn't have got through the Guardian's automatic filters. But it's the most important word about any ministry. To put this in context and for anyone who's been confused by the Vicar of Dibley or, perhaps, Rev: Despite some areas of overlap, the ordained Christian ministry is not social work, nor is it counselling. It is about the sacrificial service of God, directly and through the service, leadership, comforting and inspiring of God's people. God may seem far away sometimes. Some may see that as a bug, others as a feature. But it happens - even in Jesus's ministry. But if you want to do the job without God, and you don't want to do it for God, then do another job instead. And if your spouse is the vicar and it's just you that doesn't do God, make it clear that you may be the spouse of a vicar, but you're not the Vicar's Spouse.

It's a warning to the partners of all people considering ministry though - think very hard about what the future's going to be like. Think about your finances, your time, about where you'll live when he/she is Dunvicarin'.  Talk to plenty of people who already live it. Find out about the good bits, and the bad ones.

Living in a vicarage ain't really roses round the door of an ancient cottage rectory, like Midsomer or something. Oh no. You'll be tempted to murder far more often than DI Barnaby could cope with.  But also remember that, while the work is hard and often emotionally terribly draining, vicars report generally good job satisfaction. And if you're surrounded by your partner's flock of retired colonels, you are a person in your own right. You are not defined by your partner's job - even though your house might be.


  1. Well yes and no about signing up for the job! I think my husband survives by only joining in with the bits of church life he's genuinely interested in for which people come to respect him. However this doesn't mean there is no sense of invasion on finding the equivalent of an archdeacon, an area dean and several gentlemen of the road in your kitchen of a Saturday morning, just as you were about to have a bath, however much God is there too. I'm not sure I would have written to the Guardian about it, but the poor woman deserves somewhere to blow a gasket!

    1. Archdeacon Janet. I'm shocked. That in this day and age, people living in Yorkshire still have baths in the kitchen? I hope you took the coal out before your poor husband, tired out from his stint down the lead mine, got his well-deserved soak.

  2. I agree with all of you - the vicar's wife, our archdruidical host and our archdeacon commenter above. But I would just like to point out in a tiny whisper that the position of clergy spouse is not unique - there are also diplomatic spouses and army spouses to name but two further examples (I was a diplomatic spouse in Calcutta, Delhi, Dar es Salaam and Abu Dhabi). It was then I decided to write/research full time as I needed some identity of my own - it's the one about when God gives you lemons, get the gin and tonic out of the cupboard...

  3. Read and understood, all. But you know, no-one can really prepare you for what the life will be like, and even when you know you were called, and when God is "there", it can still have its moments!

    (As a Vicars husband) I can identify with some of what this "Vicar's Wife" says. Though it's not like that all the time, thank God, your perspective can get a bit skewed.

  4. Hmm! - The piece you link, suggesting Vicars are among the happiest, also includes farmers in that category, but it's only a couple of years since a Suicide Prevention strategy was being talked about that identified farmers as a "high risk group."

    Meanwhile in The Church Times of 28th March a former-vicar-turned-writer (Simon Parke) reports an encounter with a former-vicar-turned-plumber who said "I knew I couldn't do another December, it made me ill; so I started looking at job adverts. They all wanted 'the Messiah-plus' - You know, Jesus with a family and extensive PR experience - and I just thought 'No, I've had enough of this.'"

    I'm not drawing any conclusion. - Just saying!

  5. Now I want to see Rev crossed with Don Camillo so that there's a bit more of the dialogues (not just monologues) with God


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