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Couple’s difficult transition into retirement

09 August 2013


Sir, - I was pleased to read Huw Spanner's article "Best years are yet to come" ( Features, 28 June). As many ageing clergy couples face imminent departure from life in a vicarage, the emotional and practical impact of retirement is a topic worth considering.

This time last year, my husband was celebrating his final eucharist as full-time incumbent of a large and flourishing parish church. He had, during 40 years, contributed much to the theological and spiritual life of four different dioceses, and he was a colleague and friend to many.

Although money was always tight, and is now very tight indeed (the luxury of travel in this new state of retired freedom is not an option), we were fortunate to have saved enough to buy our own home in, perhaps crucially, another diocese far from our last parish.

Having reached the eligible retirement age, fit, active, and very much a going concern, neither my husband nor I had really been prepared for the extraordinary sense of loss which accompanied leaving our vicarage for the last time. The difference between being in stipendiary parochial ministry and being newly retired is absolutely monumental.

In a vicarage, you have an immediate circle of friends and the love of a church family. You have a home that is, for good or ill, at the hub of things. You have the stimulus of colleagues and the support of archdeacons and bishops. We had hoped and expected that, in later life, my husband might still have some sense of being part of a useful ministry team within our new diocese. He continues to wait for an opportunity to be of use.

In spite of the novelty of being able to worship side by side in the pews of a friendly, but fully staffed, church, our experience of retirement is one that currently feels like exile from a former life, almost complete invisibility. It has been like dropping into a void.

Maybe things will improve. Maybe some of my husband's skills and experience, accrued from a lifetime of very varied ministry, will eventually be discerned and utilised. But it seems extraordinary that the machinery for extending pastoral care to recently retired clergy, ascertaining their hopes for this next phase, and, if they wish, assimilating them into the priestly fold appears to have been so noticeably absent in our case.

It is possible that more helpful structures exist in other regions to welcome, recognise, and embrace the gifts of their older priests, particularly those new to a diocese.

I would be very interested to know whether our experience is unusual, whether we have just somehow been unlucky in our choice of retirement destination, or whether others may also have felt similarly abandoned and devalued at the conclusion of their lifelong stipendiary ministry.

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