A STUDY of the lives of Church of England clergy has revealed
the high personal cost of life in the parsonage.
In Managing Clergy Lives, carried out by the Bishop of
Brechin, Dr Nigel Peyton, and Dr Caroline Gatrell, of Lancaster
Management School, clergy were asked about the boundaries between
their public and private lives. Rural or area deans were chosen for
the study, and 46 were interviewed in depth.
Clergy told stories of being constantly interrupted. Julian,
working on his car in the driveway, said that he "struggles for the
polite way of saying 'Sod off, then'" when people turned up on his
day off. Others resorted to deception: one vicar and his wife
pretended to be away from home to get some privacy.
Others told of the tension of living in "tied" housing. Philip
told how he opened up the vicarage for "hunger lunches", and found
parishioners helping themselves to food from the cupboard. "They
don't knock: they just come straight in. They'll rifle through the
kitchen cupboards to get the stuff ready for lunch without
Dr Gatrell said that what she found "extraordinary" was the
staying power of clergy. From the moment of ordination, they saw
themselves as changed. "Priesthood is seen by parish clergy to be
lifelong, and clergy do not hang up their cassocks, but reinvent
themselves as retired priests until death alone intervenes."
Although the study said that priests considered it a "privilege
to be ordained and to serve God", those who did paid "a high and a
very personal price", it found. This price was most frequently paid
by clergy in their personal lives.
One single woman rural dean told how ordination had cut off the
path to marriage and children: "Now I have got to 44, and I've
realised that, you know, it is too late for children, and,
statistically speaking, my chances of marriage aren't that high; so
that's pretty much it. Yes, that is my biggest regret. . . I
wouldn't have done anything differently, but it's a high price for
The report said that clergy "were possibly the last remaining
professional group who are so constrained, and expected to lead
exemplary lives within certain boundaries defined by the Church and
its teaching". The boundaries affected "innermost thoughts and
The restrictions also had an impact on the spouse and family.
Some husbands and wives resented the extra duties imposed on them
as the priest's spouse, and the fact that their lives were lived in
full view of the parish.
But, despite the pressures, the study found just one example of
someone whose ministry was at risk, and researchers were surprised
at the low turnover of clergy.
Dr Peyton said: "Being a priest is like being a monarch: you
can't resign, and your job is your life. You must always be
available to people. As the vicar in the very accurate TV sitcom
Rev said, there is no such thing as a day off when you are
a vicar. You do not have the same opportunities or freedom as other
people, and this does entail sacrifices."
Managing Clergy Lives: Obedience, sacrifice, intimacy, by
Nigel Peyton and Caroline Gatrell, is published by Bloomsbury at
Church times Bookshop £49.50).