As I pondered the fate of Kate Middleton as she prepares to donate her organs, life, hopes and aspirations to a nation that may not always be kind to her, I was reminded of other such figures, closer to home, who do much the same.
This post is a timely acknowledgement of those who could be generically termed 'The Vicar's Wife'. They take many forms, of course: the Curate's wife, the curate's husband, the Incumbent's partner, and so on. You get the idea.
I am blessed with one such Vicar's Wife - the wonderful Mrs Acular. She is from a particular school of Vicar's Wife for whom the life she is caused to lead as a result of my calling to priesthood is the greatest leap from 'before'. Mrs Acular is a woman of quiet diligent faith, confessed only fairly recently, and confirmed shortly before I began theological training. The Godly Squadly life isn't always a familiar one to her, even now, and her personal style and expression of faith means that she isn't one of those partners who are part of the expression of the ministry (I refer to those wonderful partners who are so called to be the other half of the priest in question, in ministerial terms). She is a 'behind the scenes' partner, and without her presence and constancy, there would be no show.
Vicar's Wives have to contend with so much. Their home, while provided freely, is not their own and is available to invasion by all-comers at all times of the day and night. Old Fr 'Dog Collar' here is called to that and is prepared, but quiet Mrs Acular has to assume the role of ever-polite doorkeeper, Personal Secretary to the Messiah-complex, and most of all - reactive. Ordained ministry is, by very definition, reactive. We are often attending to a circumstance not of our making, of timing not of our choosing. This means that my beloved has to change her plans and very often her working hours to suit. She does this quietly, attentively, diligently and rarely with complaint.
The same is the case, I am sure, for most Vicar's Wives. The Vicar in question may be blessed that Mr/s Vicar's Wife is an activist, for whom the ministry in question is a means of their own faith expression, and can revel in that lifestyle. I think for the majority of Vicar's Wives this perhaps is not the case. Often, they are professional people in their own right, often from suspended professions so that families can be raised while the 'Redeemer' runs around redeeming. If all runs smoothly and perfectly, both have a chance to realise their dreams, but so often the dedication of the Vicar's Wife is such that the realised dream is not theirs. As I have posted before, they are relegated to the status of single-parents at church as they contend with the progeny alone. They are invariably second in line when retreats and quiet-time is being handed out. There is the implicit and often unstated set of expectations that arrive with a new 'Vicar' with a 'wife' - that s/he will do this or that for the church. This list is endless ...
So, to my wife (who doesn't read this very often) - thank you. Without you, this life couldn't happen. For that and all that you do covering for me and coping without me, I am most deeply endebted to you.
To rest of the 'Vicar's Wives' out there - know that what you do is good and appreciated. Without your tireless efforts and support, often quietly in the background, so many glorious priestly ministries would founder. When vicars leave, they recieve the love and thanks from the people for all that they did - but not a jot of it would ever have happened if our partners weren't raising our families for us, keeping home for us, making tea for guests for us, answering our phones and arranging our lives for us, or just praying for us and loving us.
To quote Adey Grummet - they are the people who know what pants the vicar is wearing - and we forget that and all these things at our peril.