25th June 2019

Blog: Taking the strain

St Luke’s trustee Sue O’Brien reflects on the stresses and joys of being a clergy spouse –
and dealing with candid comments

Talk to any clergy spouse and if at some time in their spouse’s ministry they had young children, they will recall (with shudders of horror usually) the stressful Sunday morning where rowdy toddlers were forced to spend more than an hour ‘being quiet’.

Part of the family

Wrangling my own two robust little boys to sit still for a one-and-a-half-hour parish mass was very challenging!  The parish do regard you as ‘part of the family’ so are fairly uninhibited in their comments to you on your lack of success.  My best comment, from years ago, was a very sweet-natured old lady who said to me: ‘I don’t care what anyone says, dear – I think you are a very good mother!’  My advice to anyone in this position is just to remember – this too shall pass.  My own children are now 18 and 19 and behave very well in church…

The other issue (not necessarily stressful but a consideration) is the ‘day off’.  Every clergy family will decide how to manage this for themselves.  I am fortunate in that I do not do a job that requires my presence in the office for five days a week – lucky me!  My husband and I do our best to keep the day for us –  but it’s a Monday, so often other things impact on it.  What is interesting is that people really don’t get that Monday is the vicar’s ‘weekend’.  ‘Oh,’ they say (quite often a bit disapprovingly), ‘it’s your [or your spouse’s] day off’.  Implied: how very dare you!

Special connection

Truthfully, we have been very fortunate so far, because many of the things cited as seriously stressful for clergy and their families have not yet happened to us.  So I am more easily able to talk about the enormous privilege it is to be a clergy spouse.  I have been honoured to see people at their happiest, at their best, and when they are at their most saddened and broken by bereavement.  My odd status means that all those people have hugged me, and been hugged by me – and I feel a special connection with them all.  Our life is so interesting, so varied, and I am always learning.

On a more serious note, some clergy families are subjected to huge stresses that come to them out of the blue and are unique to clergy.  These are bound up with a variety of factors that St. Luke’s is very familiar with – living with someone who is frequently dealing with conflict, struggling to set boundaries, and feeling isolated. To all those people can I offer my profound sympathy and urge you to get in touch with St Luke’s.  We will do our best to help you or point you in the direction of people who can.

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