Sleeping with the vicar

When Nicholas was ordained a priest, which happens a year after being ordained a deacon (who knew it was so complicated?). I know, the hat; what was I thinking? Nice photobomb too.

Nicholas’s priesting, which happens a year after being ordained a deacon (who knew it was so complicated?). I know, the hat; what was I thinking? Nice photobomb too.

Today my husband has been ordained a minister in the Church of England for 15 years. I remember the occasion so clearly as I sat in the cavernous Guildford Cathedral with his family and witnessed him making his promises to love, hono(u)r, and serve God and God’s people. As we drove back to Cambridge, I was keenly aware of him wearing his dog collar for the first time when we stopped at a rest stop – I felt like he was broadcasting, “Hey, I’m one of those crazy Christians!”

While Nicholas went on the pre-ordination retreat, I had stayed with some of his friends in Guildford and prepared for the post-ordination meal. This was my first experience of putting on a party for his friends and the church. I remember making salads; this lovely broccoli one was probably quite foreign to Brits then (at that time salads hadn’t reached the level of acceptance as they have now on these shores). A woman from his church, surveying the heaping buffet table, said what a good vicar’s wife I would make. Oh, how I cringed at that. I had hosted the party as a gift of love for my new husband, not out of duty or expectation. Couldn’t she see that?

I’ve learned many a thing through the years of sleeping with the vicar (or curate). Like gently elbow him if he’s snoring and he’ll turn over. Here are two things I offer from my experience as a VW (vicar’s wife) to other clergy spouses. If you’re part of a church, perhaps these points will help you see the minister and spouse (if applicable) in a new light.


Our first home in Surrey.

Our first home in Surrey.

Be yourself

One of the first people I ever met in Britain was a lovely American who was married to a Brit who was also a vicar. She was originally from Wisconsin (I come from the next-door state, Minnesota). Ah the wealth of advice and love she showered me with. We shared great laughter too.

She told me how on her husband’s induction to his first church as vicar, she wore a T-shirt under her coat emblazoned with the slogan, “I don’t bake cakes!” She had a strong sense of self and was cheerfully and playfully taking on any hidden assumptions from her husband’s new flock.

Now I do bake cakes, and in particular I’m happy to whip up a batch of my famous brownies for church events. In typical convenience-oriented American style, I serve up the amazing Ghirardelli brownies. Yes, from a mix. One of my friends at church was rather crushed to realize I hadn’t made them from scratch!

But there are lots of ministries at the church I don’t feel called to. I believe that if I step into those roles out of sheer duty, I’ll deprive someone else of fulfilling their calling to serve (and I’ll probably have a stonking attitude). Of course there’s a balance here, and we need to pitch in at times when we don’t feel called when the need is great. And sometimes God calls us into areas we might previously have eschewed. For me, children’s ministry is one of those. I find the prospect daunting and deenergizing, as much as I love my kids. But our church needed leaders so I agreed and now find the times I lead the pre-teen group to be filled with joy and good discussion and fulfillment. I’m a better discipler than teacher-of-the-young, which illustrates my heading for this section, “Be yourself.”


Embrace your instant community

When a publishing colleague heard I was marrying Nicholas, he said from his previous experience as a pastor, “You’ll always have community.” Now that that can be a good thing but sometimes a harmful thing too. Yet his comment brought light and clarity to me as I approached the quick succession of churches that Nicholas had roles with in the first half-dozen years of his ordained life (two curacies and then his first vicarship, where we remain nine years later). My friend’s advice echoed the words from the book of Ruth that reverberated through my mind as we drove to Surrey for Nicholas’s first curacy: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16, NIV). These were now my people – warts and all. And I was their people too – warts and all.

In my years as a VW I’ve witnessed episodes of the downside of community: backbiting, gossip, slander… It hasn’t been pretty at times and it can be excruciating to watch from the sidelines, feeling that all I can do is pray (which yes, I know is actually the biggest thing). Or having to gently disappoint people if they have expectations of me (which doesn’t happen often in our multicultural church in London). In Surrey during Nicholas’s first curacy I was working at HarperCollins. I was puzzled when one of the older ladies said to me during the refreshments after church, “I’m so looking forward to seeing you on Thursday!”

“I’m sorry; what do you mean?” I asked, trying to cover up my confusion.

“Nicholas is coming to our over-50s group.”

“Oh, I didn’t know,” I replied. “I work in London during the week so I’m not able to come.”


This photo of a church in the Costwolds illustrates how the church community can be at times. Sometimes with dark clouds; sometimes with fluffy ones; sometimes both at the same time.

Although there can be negatives, community has its upside too, such as my friend’s comment about the instant nature of the potential for relationships in a church. In each of the three churches where my husband has served, I’ve asked God to give me some friends. In Surrey my closest friends were of non-English nationality (not that I sought this out): Scottish, South African, and Irish. In Harrow, Nicholas and I were blessed to have friendships blossom with the two clergy couples and another couple in the church who are now mission partners in Moldova. Here in north London I enjoy a wealth of friends, especially with my female peers. These are the true riches that God bestows on his people.


Unsolicited advice

If you’re part of a church, here’s a bit of advice of how to love your clergy/clergy family (as applies).

  • Love them as individuals. They will fail at times and soar at others. Love makes it all better and easier.
  • Hold your criticism of the preacher’s sermon until during the week, and not right after the service when comments can feel more bruising.
  • If your minister is married, don’t assume the spouse knows everything going on in the church. If the minister is doing the job in the right way, the spouse won’t know the confidences.
  • Celebrate your church leader when appropriate. They need praise too.
  • Pray for them. As Alfred, Lord Tennyson, said, “More things are wrought by prayer than the world dreams of.”


And how about you? What advice would you give if you’re part of a clergy setup? If not, what have you observed if you’re part of a church?


5 Responses

  1. bev murrill

    Fantastic article, Amy, as usual. Full of great insights and advice for the unwary… and anyone else for that matter.

    My greatest piece of advice is that you’re not the person you’re married to. Whether they be doing well or not so well, whether they’re embarrassing themself or doing a top job, you’re not them. You can’t bask in their reflected glory and spirituality, but nor should you carry the guilt of their not so glorious times. Be yourself, be a loving and encouraging companion, but don’t carry a burden that is not your own. Be honest with yourself, and if possible, also with them. Don’t let the congregation nail you to the wall with their opinions about how your partner is doing their job. Develop the capacity to care without being over responsible. It’ll keep you sane and may save your marriage too.

  2. Absolutely fantastic advice, Bev. Amen! I’ve seen some women married to ministers in their late 50s and early 60s who didn’t do this, who took on the criticism, and that woundedness is so evident in their person. Never too late to place that burden at the cross. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Chris

    Excellent article Amy. Whenever I’ve been anywhere with our VW, I’ve always introduced her as Jane (or whoever) and not as a VW. You are a person in your own right!

  4. Great post Amy! 🙂 With my husband only taking over as lead pastor in February, the transition to becoming a pastor’s wife (as opposed to a record producer’s wife – much cooler – but even more difficult to live with! 😉 ) is still very fresh in my mind. The advice from both you and Bev is so, so true. To be yourself – and not to allow other people’s expectations (or what you perceive are expectations – they may actually just be in your mind) to rule you. Having said that, be open to the opportunities that God may open up for you as a result of your husband’s calling. No, you don’t come as a bargain bucket extra, another body thrown in for free, but as your husband’s partner, who knows him through and through, it may well be that God has things he wants you to do in ministry together. At the moment my husband is the only full-time member of staff for the church – quite difficult when it is 100+. But it has meant I’ve found myself leading a lot alongside him on a Sunday morning. That is something I NEVER would have imagined – or hoped for! But I have to say I am finding such fulfilment in it, and God is working through us both.

    I have realised that, due to the very nature of the ‘job’, I hear a lot of the difficult stuff and got a jolt from God last week to remind me not to be so negative. It can be hard when all you hear is the moaning, or you get called upon last minute because people have dropped out of helping with something, or you get caught up in the really difficult pastoral issues. And then there are the times that your husband works too late or forgets to do things and you have to remind him even though your head is full of the writing and editing deadlines you yourself have. But it suddenly dawned on me that all I was saying to my husband was negative in response to all that pressure. And it is so important that we anchor one another – and support each other. With the wading through of difficulties (as well as the huge joys and great privileges of leading) home needs to be a haven and each other our greatest champions. With both of us working from home at the moment our house can be full of church conversations continually, but it is so important to have those ‘church-free’ conversations and the time to unwind and build our marriage up too. Not doing so great on the last one of those at the moment – so I’m hoping that my ‘big’ birthday next week will give us a chance to carve out some special time! Oh, and the best piece of advice – keep laughing – and praying – together whatever the circumstances around you ;D

  5. Pam Burke

    I love the glimpse at life as the vicar’s wife! I always wondered when the appropriate time was to give feedback on the vicar’s sermon! Seems like a touchy subject 🙂

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