Faith from the Edges

Faith and life from the perspective of me.

Neither Fish nor Fowl

For all but the first three weeks of my marriage to the dear one I have been a clergy spouse. The dear one was ordained deacon just after we were married and then we moved into our first parish setting. Thus began our married life.

Being a clergy spouse is an interesting position to be within the church. You are not clergy, which no one has problems reminding you,  and many of the lay folk out there do not think of you as regular laity either. So neither fish nor fowl. You end up having very little power or control, which is a great lesson in discipline but can be difficult if you are a natural leader.  You end up, on occasion, on being criticized if you do take up volunteer or work positions within the church.

I need to back up here a bit. I am seminary trained and was in the process of going forward for ordination. Then we had a family – a decision neither the dear one or I regret by the way. It was at this point that I began to realize that I may have a different sort of vocation. Not an ordained one at all. More precisely as an active lay person living out her baptismal promises. I learned that I could live out my calling by being creative in other ways.

I learned that I am gifted as a Christian educator of children, young people and adults. I learned that I am a good communicator. I learned all of these things in spite of being a clergy spouse.

There is a thought out there in parts of church land that if you are married to the ordained person that you should take your God given gifts and stuff them in a box and pretend like that don’t exist. Why? Because there are some in church land who think that if a clergy spouse is living out their God given gifts that must mean that they want their spouse’s job. Well let me tell you I don’t want the dear one’s position. I never have. I don’t have the stomach to put up with much that he has had to put up over the time of his ministry.

What I want to do and have striven to do over the years is to live out my life the way that I think God has been calling me to live it out. I want at this point to give thanks to those in the church who have recognized my gifts and given me opportunities to share those with others. I have been privileged to share those gifts with Anglicans across Canada in a variety of ways and in wonderful places.

I will continue to live in this place of ambiguity of being neither fish nor fowl. It seems to be the place that God has led me to be. I will also defend to the end the right of all clergy spouses to make their own way in the church, however they choose that to be. I hope those that read this that are either clergy or laity will find a way to support the clergy spouses that are in their lives that allow them to live out their God given vocations as the dear one has done for me over the years.

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3 thoughts on “Neither Fish nor Fowl

  1. Fiona, Tim Grew and I used to talk about this at length. In his case, Elizabeth went to another parish so she could be herself. I am blessed in that my partner (who is also seminary trained) is no longer a churchgoer but has found his place in the traditional spirituality of his indigenous community. I am not suggesting that these are options for you but merely to voice my understanding of and support for your journey.

  2. What you say resonates so deeply, Fiona. It is difficult simply being a clergy spouse especially with a totally unrealistic set of expectations. For me these ranged from the expectation to supply butter to some parish event if no one remembered to bring it, to having no voice, to having a strip torn up one side of me and down the other by a parishioner who berated me for not teaching Sunday School. It was my job. Too bad I felt burnt out from teaching and needed a break.

    The task becomes doubly difficult when the spouse has a clear vocation to ministry as a lay person, especially if that involves paid employment within the church. Being clear about our vocation as lay professionals is always a challenge whether married to clergy or not. When one works in the system pressures can come from both the spouse’s parish and the larger institution and the expectations can increase exponentially.

    By the grace of God you have hung in and hung on to your identity and you are both blessed and a blessing for it.

    Hugs and prayers,

  3. Thankfully, my experience as a clergy spouse has been nothing like this. Of course, I never saw myself as pursuing ordination. I am also careful to choose work in church ministries that complement but not conflict with Rev. Mary’s ministry. It also helps when the ordained person recognizes and values the non-clergy spouses’ efforts. Rev. Mary, bless her heart, says that she could not do her job without me. I am glad that we are a team in her church work. John White, St. Andrew’s, Albany, NY.

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