Posts Tagged ‘Pastoral Issues’

1. Elizabeth’s Story:

Elizabeth was a vicar’s wife, but after repeatedly being beaten by her husband and then discovering that he had had an affair, the relationship ended in divorce.

When she got married she thought everything would go smoothly. Elizabeth says, “I promised God forever that I was going to look after my lovely husband, be a vicar’s wife and care for the parish”. However, this dream of the perfect Christian life soon began to fade. Looking back Elizabeth notices that her husband began to need the approval of younger woman. One day he just disappeared. She didn’t know the whereabouts of her spouse for 3 months, and then it turned out that he had found another woman. Upon his return Elizabeth and her two children were left homeless.

Fortunately she had parents who were able to take her in, but had she not had somewhere to move to immediately the already challenging and emotional situation would have been far worse. She claims that the Bishop didn’t know how to handle the situation; after all it was awkward having the model family fall apart in this way. Prior to her husband’s vanishing act things had been unsettled: “My husband had been extremely violent; sometimes I would be quite badly bruised, so I had to be covered up”. It was her faith in God which helped her in scary moments: “I remember when he used to beat me I used to see how many times I could say the Lord’s Prayer until he finished… God gives you such strength and support in difficult times”.

She feels there is a great pressure on clergy marriages: “You are being looked at because you are in the public eye, so when things don’t work out it is hard for people to know how to respond”. She thinks sometimes Church congregations don’t know what to say when the leader’s marriage ends because they think “the vicar never does anything wrong”! Elizabeth’s is not an isolated incident.

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2. Alex’s Story:

Things had become difficult in the parish in which Alex and her dog-collared husband lived, so he began to take his frustration with the ministry out on her. She claims to have been a victim of not only physical violence but also emotional and psychological abuse. One day, she says, “he assaulted me very badly and was arrested and was eventually sent to prison”. She admits that she got married young so was perhaps a bit naive, but told me that she “assumed that everything would be absolutely fine and we’d just live happily ever after”.

Divorce can be an isolating experience, but when you are seen as the pillars of the church the situation can be particularly awkward, especially if the congregation start to take sides. Alex says, “most people would avoid talking about it”. She says she did know a few other people who had broken marriages, but remembered seeing a support organisation for clergy wives advertised in the Church Times, however the name escaped her. A quick internet search enabled Alex track down Broken Rites: “It was the single most helpful thing when my marriage broke up. It was nice to know that there were other people who had been through similar experiences. You don’t have to explain from scratch what it is like – losing your place in the church and potentially in the community – there is a common understanding even though members of Broken Rites marriages break up for different reasons.”

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3. Sue’s Story:

Not every clergy marriage which ends in divorce is due to an affair or abuse. Sue and her husband just found that things were not working: “My marriage broke up in 1997. I had 2 children. I got very little spiritual support to help maintain my faith”. Sue was put in touch with another clergy wife who had been through a similar situation via the organisation Broken Rites. She says, “You think you’re the only person whose marriage has broken down being married to a clergyman… there are others who have been through it and managed to rebuild their lives”. Just knowing that there were others in a similar situation provided her with great encouragement.

Support:

When a woman gets married she hopes it will last forever, especially if her husband is a clergyman.  Sadly many marriages fall apart in the vicarage, so how can you handle a break up which takes place in a public arena? This weekend was the 30th Anniversary of Broken Rites, a group established in 1983 (officially formed in 1985) to support vicar’s wives who require practical, emotional and spiritual support during the transition from vicar’s wife to an ordinary parishonner. Obviously since it was set up there has been a shift in situation in that women can now be ordained in the Anglican Church, so if you or someone you know is married to a clergyperson (male/female) and the relationship is heading down the route of divorce, for whatever reason, then do head to www.brokenrites.org for information on the support you can receive, without judgement. The organisation seeks to serve those from any Christian denomination.

“Everybody’s story is different and unique but there are common threads. Obviously a clergy marriage has added stresses… sometimes that tips the balance and I think the clergy struggle for where to go if there is a problem in the marriage because that is seen as failure.” – A woman divorced from a clergyman who has been supported by Broken Rites.

(c) Maria Rodrigues-Toth

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