I ought, once again, to preface this post with the clarification that Mrs Acular prefers me not to use her picture on this blessed thing. In the absence of her face I am forced, therefore, to use the nearest equivalent. Natasha Henstridge will just have to do, I am afraid - and a poor imitation she is!
Over recent months, I have been focussing on the travails of the local vicar, and have written a little about that elsewhere here. The greater anxiety in all of that is not, as you might imagine, for myself - because I don't care enough about my own preservation to dwell upon it. I find myself dwelling rather on the lot of the Vicar's Wife.
I have touched on this subject in earlier posts, but wanted to express myself more fully here.
Now, taking my own parish as an example, I share (with the bishop) the cure of 15,000 souls. When they call, I answer. When they need, I respond. When they present their children, I fawn. When they struggle, I prop. When they seek solace, my shoulder is theirs. When they seek God, I testify. When they need sustenance I consecrate. When they seek wholeness, I absolve. Day or night, I am ready. I have a phone by the bed for those nocturnal emergencies.
But I don't have 15,000 souls, do I? I have 14,999.
I have said it before, but it warrants repeating - my wife doesn't have a parish priest. She (like all Vicar's Wives in whatever gender they are born), is disenfranchised from the pastoral provision on offer to everyone else. You would be forgiven for thinking because she occupies the other half of my sofa that she has a Vicar on tap - but you would be wrong. Her husband lives in her house with her, not her Vicar.
If I were a different flavour of Christian, perhaps I would have a world-view that would claim that I have a ministry to her too, but I am not. I cannot see how that works, and to be honest, my vocation in respect of Mrs Acular is as a husband and friend. That alone. So what happens when she hits hard times? Who does she seek out? If (and it doesn't, I am glad to say) our relationship needed sincere prayer, the Vicar manifestly cannot in this case oblige (except for his own sake). Were she to grieve, what external and slightly detached support might she have? Dare I say it, if she has a sin that needs forgiving - who might offer that sacrament?
I am a husband to my wife and a priest to the people of the parish. I am not one of those priests who, by default, regards my wife as the other half of my ministry (and my website picture isn't a halcyon couple-shot behind a Vaseline lens). That isn't her vocation. It isn't the vocation of many Vicar's Wives, who are often called by God in their own very distinctive directions. Of course, I live with my wife as a Christian, and I plead for her before God as I would anyone - but it isn't quite the same. The fact is, priests are themselves mortal humans (no, really) and it is my wife's calling to see that which I conceal from the world outside - for good reason.
I wonder if, in a an era where priests are altogether more 'attached' than ever before, that dioceses could or should not start to take seriously the need of the thousands of souls across our Church who live without their own pastoral support. Yes, the church is (mostly) a presence in every community - but often not in Vicarages. For my part, I thank my missus for all that she does to support my life, my ministry and our children and I pray earnestly for her as I do all those who are in the same position that she finds herself in. Without out Wive's, much of God's Mission would very seriously struggle!