The Value of a VW

StepfordI 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 notThe 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.

11 thoughts on “The Value of a VW

  1. Thank you for this. I don’t recognise that poor VW’s life either. The life of this VW isn’t a walk in the park, but all of it is part of an amazing walk with a great Lord and King. Hugely privileged today to have someone offload on me. Made me feel really loved. Isn’t that funny?

  2. Thank you, thank you! I read the post in the Guardian yesterday and it grieved me. I also do not recognise myself, the Church or my OH in this. We find that while there are frustrations about working hours and time off (no weekends away for us!). It is a lifestyle with very many blessings.

  3. Love it “For me anyway, the VW role is purple lycra, not pink steel”. One thing I’ve learnt in my decade of being a VW… Oh now I sound old! Is to be myself and let God open my eyes to the opportunities and people He wants me to care for, not fit into any stereotype. Just as our husbands preach truth through personality we too minister as God has made us! I’m a big advocate of connecting with other ministers wives in different seasons and learning from and encouraging them, there are tricky times in ministry as there are in life and it’s good to have support networks in place, and sometimes I’ve had to seek these out!

  4. I thought the original article was whiney. No one expects people to turn up to a football match just because the players have spent all that time training and practicing! You go because you support your team, and love the game and want to be part of the winning and losing. You go because you want to be there, not just because the team will feel bad if you don’t!!
    And what about vicar’s husbands? there’s plenty of them around. And it takes a special kind of male ego to cope with being referred to always in relation to your wife’s job. You have to decide for yourself what it looks like to be the vicars husband. And I havent come across any support groups, or help for them….

  5. Hi Lucy – not funny at all. It is a privilege, (tho some days you feel the privilege more than others…;-)

  6. I agree – and my heart goes out to this woman. I’m thankful this is not our experience; praying that there will those around her and her husband who will help carry this.

  7. Yes – that’s a good point. very important to have folks around us to talk to and we sometimes need to seek them out.

  8. Thanks Annabel. I don’t think it is whiney – but it’s certainly sad and desperate. It must be incredibly difficult to minister with these sorts of challenges; especially without community support. One reason God puts us in community because we do need cheering on, and this seems to be missing – which is very hard. Good point about husbands and support groups – similar to childcare provision for mums, but less so for dads.

  9. I read this with sadness but also déjà-vu as it’s a scenario I have seen where I live all too frequently. In my part of the world (an island just off to the left of GB) this is despairingly common. The writer says that she didn’t ‘sign up’ to be a vicar’s wife- I wonder if, like many of the my fellow ministry wives (spouses) here, she feels like she does because she hasn’t signed up to *Christ*. It is no requirement for ministers-in-training in my denomination to be followers of Jesus as he has been revealed to us in God’s word- so it certainly is no requirement for their spouses to be even ‘interested’. What a tragedy!

    This letter has reminded me not to be critical of these folk, but prayerful that they may know Jesus as loving King, especially when the ‘job’ causes hurt and disappointment.

  10. I’m appalled. Especially with Alex. There is no evidence this lady is not a Christian. What she is is lonely and desperate. She has no ‘community.’ And you’re not providing one either! Just a bunch of women going “ooh I’m not like that.” So bog standard “Christian” women letting another one know she’s not good enough. It’s her fault she’s not doing it right – she didn’t ‘connect.’ Considering the number of posts on this blog about other peoples failings and the huge support and understanding given to their weaknessess where is the support, the understanding, the kindness for this woman drowning in a sense of futility? A woman watching her husband sweat blood just to be used as a ‘service centre’ for only the ‘big’ moments – weddings, baptisms, funerals. She is doing her best to support him and you are doing nothing to support her. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

  11. Kath, of course this lady needs support and kindness and grace: just as we all do. But to sympathise doesn’t mean that we identify with all that she says; especially when that’s on a public platform. I didn’t read Alex’s comment as an attack, but a call for the prayer we all need.

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