Living in the goldfish bowl

Diocesan Counsellors are there for both clergy and their families and many of the counsellors talked about the stresses of ministry life on those living in the Vicarage. One issue is trying to coordinate days off – I wrote about that here. Yesterday Jules Middleton wrote about the issues she faced when she first was ordained:

My first two years of ordained life were strained as I tried to suss out a good pattern of life for us as a family in this new season.

Read on to see how she resolved this. I think sharing struggles and ideas in this area is important, every family will be different, but there must me some common strategies that work. Below are some of the issues that the counsellors highlighted:

Clergy inhabit a role – being the ‘vicar’ – and in general people de-role before they get home. However, living in the vicarage makes it more difficult to de-role, making clergy marriages difficult. In addition, clergy are effectively married both to the church and to their partners, this is complex and needs to be managed well.

In the conservative wing of the church some clergy wives can be desperately depressed – intelligent, capable women being told their place is at the kitchen sink.

Vicar’s children are often casualties and can end up with very serious mental health problems, these are some of the causes:

  • They haven’t had their own emotional needs met because the needs of the parish are so demanding
  • The parent is absent because the office is at home – quite acceptable for the parent to pop back into the office at 7:30pm after dinner and remain there for the rest of the evening (it wouldn’t be acceptable if they had a regular job)
  • Teased at school, treated differently to other children, expected to be either very good or very bad
  • They don’t feel like they belong
  • The parent may not have the language to speak to their children about these things and the child will not volunteer it, after all it is to do with the parent’s job, their only source of income and their home
  • The parent coming to the child’s school to do assemblies is embarrassing
  • They are forced to go to church, the parent is putting up a front of being a perfect Christian with a perfect family and the child is used as a pawn. This leads to them feeling angry and resentful and feeling they have to perform
  • Moving around (eg theological college, curacy, incumbency) leads to difficulty with attachment and friends
  • People in the congregation may be being horrible to the parent and the child knows this as it is discussed at the dinner table, leads to a difficult relationship with the church
  • A lot of unacknowledged trauma in the priests gets manifested in the children, the children are exhibiting what is not being said

There is hidden harm being inflicted on clergy children and it seems that no one is talking about it.

I haven’t found much material in this area, perhaps I have just failed to find it. Assuming it hasn’t been done the impacts of ministry on clergy kids really needs to be researched, alongside the impacts on clergy marriages.

Photo attributions: KoiQuestion and Mad Ball

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