Illustration: Lo Cole for the Guardian
I didn’t sign up for this. When I married my husband, he wasn’t a vicar. And frankly I’m fed up with being known as a vicar’s wife. At first I fought against my image of smiley compassion and small talk, but I’ve accepted it now and even learned to bake bread. Inside I’m seething, and wish I could tell everyone to eff off, from the sniping parishioners to the controlling bishops.
My husband is becoming bitter and demoralised. He is an incredibly gifted, spiritual man, but the reason he joined the church is becoming less and less clear, to him and to me. You joke that Sunday is his busiest day, but he works from 6am to 10pm every day. There are no leisurely weekend breakfasts for us. All week he’s breaking his back, and for what? A tiny congregation of retired lieutenant colonels that dwindles each time he buries one.
Perhaps you are going this Easter. You might wonder aloud why you don’t go to church more often. The vicar is charming and it gives you a sense of wellbeing. But this is soon forgotten. You won’t be back till Christmas. By then the vicar will have spent hours on sermons few will hear, prayed alone in a cold church on frosty mornings, and wondered over and again what he is doing wrong. For 363 days a year he feels a failure, and if numbers are any indicator, he is. When you need him to marry you, baptise you or bury your loved ones, he’s always there, but why don’t you ever stop and consider that he needs you, too?
The Meenister says: much of this is very true. When I left Parish Ministry after 25 years to take up a post in full-time healthcare chaplaincy, my wife said to me: “Thank you for giving me back my identity”
And what old-fashioned expectations there must be for working spouses: teachers, doctors, lawyers etc. What too is expected of the husband of a minister who is female?
Once, when an interim-moderator at a neighbouring vacant church, the search committee was discussing what the new “minister’s wife” (note that: they assumed it would be a male clergyman that would be called) would do – be president of the Guild, run the creche, be the flower arranging convener, perhaps take a Sunday School class……” hey, wait a minute! how many stipends will you be paying?”, I asked. End of discussion.