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She for God in him

30 January 2012

Polly Pirton ponders a guide for women married to clergymen

The Minister’s Wife: Privileges, pressures and pitfalls
Ann Benton

IVP £8.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.10

THE Minister’s Wife: Privileges, pressures and pitfalls by Ann Benton and friends does what it says on the tin: this is a book for ministers’ wives, by ministers’ wives, with not a spouse in sight.

The introduction from Ann Benton states that the writers have two things in common: they are all Evangelical Christians and “complementarian on the issue of gender”: God made male and female equal but different — “in family life and in the Church God intends male headship. . .” She quickly follows this with a line that there may, nevertheless, be helpful insights for those who disagree with this standpoint.

The authors cover a range of topics: from responsibility to God, her husband, and family, to privileges and pressures of the role, using one’s gifts, forgiveness, how to handle criticism, and more. The meat of each chapter — if you get that far — is quite practical and thoughtful, but is introduced by a Christmas-letter type résumé of the wife, complete with exclamation marks.

As a longstanding clergy spouse, I found the themes familiar: one wife tells how an unknown parishioner left on the vicarage doorstep some formal outfits for her young children, who were turning up to church in dungarees and T-shirts. I still remember my anonymous gift of gloves. Another touches on the issue of sex (“make love to him . . . often”) and the increasing problem of clergy marital breakdown — all covered in the chapter “Her responsibility to her husband”.

The author of the chapter on “Forgiveness and forebearance: Handling criticism” is the most honest and helpful. She describes, without going into detail, a very difficult period in her husband’s ministry, set “against a backdrop of challenging personal circum­stances”. Her advice, which could be heeded by any clergy spouse, was simply to learn from how she responded to these difficult times, not dwell on the events themselves.

This is a niche publication, reminiscent of a similar book that I was given in all seriousness when I married in the 1980s. Women may juggle a career, family, and parish life, but the ultimate message is that you are a wife. Do not expect to see a follow-up, The Bishop’s Husband.

Polly Pirton is a pseudonym.

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