The Minister’s Wife: Privileges, pressures and pitfalls
(978-1-84474-556-2) Church Times Bookshop
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.