I never wanted to be a vicar’s wife. In fact, my fear of becoming one nearly killed me. Not because I’ve got anything against them – the opposite. I admire them too much. Many of the vicar’s wives I’ve known have been LADIES of LEGEND, feminine, capable, godly, and (apparently) normal. (You can never tell of course, but as soon as one breaks cover I’ll let you know)… The prospect of shouldering those expectations sent me spiraling into an eating disorder. I almost never recovered.
So I was interested to read the following article in yesterday’s Guardian: an anonymous comment from the wife of a vicar (and no, she’s not “The Vicar’s Wife” – blogger extraordinaire and author of a fab book). This other vicar’s wife says:
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?
It’s a moving piece. And there are bits that I (and others) may recognise. But whilst vicaring can be tricky, I don’t see myself, my church or my husband in this description. Leaving bible college, this is what I feared. The reality of it, though, has been an unexpected gift.
But, I can definitely sympathise. I mean, it’s not a great title, is it? ‘Wife of…’ Like ‘daughter of’ or ‘friends with’ – and no one wants to be an appendage, even to a bishop. Plus, with “vicar’s wife” you’re not an extension of your partner, but his job. I guess that reflects the nature of ministry. It’s a full-time thing; and the lines between work and ‘the rest’ are blurred. There aren’t specific hours and in many ways you don’t clock off. BUT. That’s the case for all sorts of people, right? In all sorts of relationships you share stuff and you care for each other and you care for others together. And whilst you might not always appreciate those late-night calls, there’s nothing as powerful and joyful and weighty as other people inviting you to share their lives.
It’s not easy. It’s not comfortable. Sometimes it’s heavy and painful: but it’s always a privilege. And it is, I think, the stuff of life. Connecting – properly – about the things that matter and with what is at the core of all of us. Not just the small talk – because (in my experience anyway), if you’re brave enough to be vulnerable, other people are too.
And there are a million ways of connecting; just as there are a million ways of ministering; just as we are a million different people, with unique gifts and experiences that don’t need to fit into any box, let alone one you’ve made up in your head. For me anyway, the VW role is purple lycra, not pink steel. It stretches to fit. And over time, it can even be comfy. Plus: when I think about the actual VWs I know; they’re completely different from each other: just like their hubbies and just like their churches.
Churches are people – family. And you might rub each other up the wrong way and dream sometimes about new siblings – a new reverend or a parish in the Caribbean…nevertheless, life happens as you love the family you’ve been given.
And we pray for Jesus to change us and make us more patient and give us what we need – the gift of baking or skydiving or whatever, but in the meantime, we trust that we are where He wants us; and we love who we have – and when we fail and get depressed or overwhelmed or frustrated, we take this too back to our Father. And He strengthens and blesses us in ways we could never have imagined had we pursued our international modelling careers.