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Wedded to a cleric

14 June 2013

A pioneering guide, says Thomas Allain-Chapman, for men

A Clergy Husband's Survival Guide
Matthew Caminer
SPCK £8.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.10 (Use code CT124 )

MUCH has been written about - and by - clergy wives over centuries. The clergy husband is a much newer species, and there was no handy field guide available when I joined their number in 1993. Nor were there very clear expectations of what - if any - part the clergy husband played, or how far it was necessary or desir-able for me to be involved in the ministry on which my wife, Justine, was embarking. Reading Matthew Caminer's attempt at providing such a guide, I was struck that things had not changed a great deal.

The biographical note in A Clergy Husband's Survival Guide tells us that Caminer is "a management consultant specializing in process improvement". So it is no surprise to find that his book is presented in the bite-sized, bullet- pointed style common to popular business or self-help books (24 chapters in a mere 120 pages).

Part One explores the staging posts and procedures that are encountered from the emergence of the idea of a vocation to the early days of a first curacy. Part Two looks at what it means to be a clergy husband, and suggests exercises to encourage individuals to recognise and explore their own expectations and opinions. Part Three rattles through a checklist of practical issues affecting style and quality of life which a clergy husband (and, often, clergy household) is likely to encounter. In the final few chapters, Caminer looks in brief at when things go wrong, and suggests possible resources.

Now that women make up half of all ordinands and two-thirds of those ordained to self-supporting ministry, there will be many men who find much that resonates with them in Caminer's experience as a professional man who moved from being the "benign spectator" of his wife's vocational journey to facing the particular - and sometimes far-reaching - impacts of vicarage life. Nevertheless, the value of this book is in the questions that it asks and the issues that it encourages clergy couples to face, rather than in the author's own perspective or the quotations from his 2011 research into others' experiences.

It is a pity that, in the digital reprint that I read, the occasional grey boxes of text - which digital printing has rendered muddy and almost illegible - evoke the parish magazine of yesteryear. But the fact that it has already been reprinted demonstrates that Caminer's book has filled a need. It deserves to be recommended loudly by vocations advisers, diocesan directors of ordinands, and staff at training institutions.

Thomas Allain-Chapman is a Christian publisher, writer, and clergy husband.

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