Let’s cut to the chase: I have no hesitation in recommending this book (published today) wholeheartedly to all clergy husbands.
As the publisher’s blurb says, it is a guide to ‘the joys and challenges‘ of being married to a woman who is a priest. (Actually, in the interests of political correctness, it would also apply to men married to men who are priests). The joys are those of supporting your spouse, and of serving God. Not unnaturally, these do not play a major role in the book’s coverage but underpin it by implication: if you take no delight in supporting your spouse, and do not share your spouse’s devotion to God, the challenges and undeniable difficulties of the role will be that much more challenging and difficult.
The book is a mixture of sound practical help on what resources are available and a more reflective description on the problems that might arise and how best to deal with them by someone who has been there. It could only have been written at the beginning of the 21st century, since we have only had women priests since the early 1990s. Matthew Caminer has not written this book off the top of his head, simply from his personal experience. In the interests of, as he says, objectivity, he methodically surveyed clergy husbands in England, and this book includes the collated responses from forty-eight of them. It is tailor-made for anyone in this position, and will be the standard work, I imagine, for years to come.
But something has been niggling away at the back of my mind since I first read this guide, several weeks ago. And that is that it would be a great pity if the readership was limited to clergy husbands. Here are some of the other categories of people who would greatly benefit from reading, marking, learning and inwardly digesting all that it contains:
Married women priests
We know it takes two to tango: most obviously, the spouses of the clergy husbands should read this. Matthew is offering suggestions for making a relationship work, and both halves of the relationship need to read it.
Bishops, Archdeacons, Area Deans and all diocesan staff charged with supporting clergy
We are used to the marital relationships of ordinands being carefully scrutinised as part of the selection process. But some of the issues raised by the author may not emerge immediately on moving to a parish. Those responsible for the continued support of the clergy would do well to consider the points covered here.
All members of the Parochial Church Council in every parish, including all churchwardens
You know what the poet Burns said, don’t you? All together, now:
O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion:
In our own parish, we have had a fairly rapid turnover of priests in recent years. Particularly as we now have a part-time priest, the relationship between vicar and parishioners has also changed. There is sometimes a feeling that the priest is being demanding and difficult, and not as accommodating as we would like. For example, when the new vicarage was built at the end of the 1970s, it was deliberately made with a separate office, with a separate entrance (though it was also accessible from the house). The idea was that the vicar would hold small meetings here and the PCC regarded it as an extension of the vestry. But social attitudes and expectations have changed since the 1970s, and the vicar no longer expects to conduct church business at home.
This book does a great deal to explain the pressures that both clergy and their families are under. Having read it, I have a renewed appreciation of our clergy, and a new recognition that what we expect of them is sometimes unreasonable.
Come to think of it, perhaps we should put a copy of ’A Clergy Husband’s Survival Guide’ in every pew in the land?
Bishop Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham, has now commented as follows on the book:
“Marriage and Holy Order are sacraments of vocation, but the relationship between the two is rarely explored honestly. Thank you for flagging up the significant issues, and giving a checklist that will help not only ministers but also diocesan ministry support teams to understand better how to scope this ground.”
What the publisher says about the book
Matthew Caminer is a professional management consultant. He has broadcast on Thought for the Day for BBC Radio Oxford and contributed to Case Studies in Marketing (Addison Wesley, 1995). He is married to Miriam, who was ordained Deacon in 2011.
Women now comprise a significant percentage of the priests serving in the Church of England. As a result, many male clergy spouses, like Matthew Caminer, have had to come to terms with the seismic shift that occurs in family life when a wife embarks on the journey from exploration of vocation – through selection, training and formation – to ordination and a life of ministry.
The author had his own busy career when he suddenly found himself playing second fiddle rather than being the ‘doer’ in the household. Not only did this subtly affect his marriage, but as friends and acquaintances became ‘parishioners’, he was required to respect boundaries, to be discreet and often to carry the burden of unsought confidentiality.
Drawing on these experiences and those of many fellow clergy husbands, this volume is a practical, informative and engaging guide to the joys and challenges of being married to someone called to a life of church ministry. Part One deals with the process from initial call to ordination and beyond. Part Two helps clergy husbands work through what their new role might involve. Part Three looks at lifestyle and family issues, while Part Four offers support and sensible advice for when things go wrong.