My wife and I met with some friends at the weekend. They, like us, are looking at ordination so as our children played together so it was no surprise that our conversation often switched between that and our experience as parents. Nor was it surprising that the weight and impact on our families of deciding to answer God’s call into ordination was at the forefront of it all.
What was clear to us all was that ordination is not something that just one person in a marriage can choose to pursue. Though it may feel like a solitary study and struggle as I read this book or that, wrestle with thoughts and try to connect with God through prayer and meditation, it is not something I could be doing without my wife’s support.
The support I get from my wife is tremendous, but it does leave me feeling guilty quite often. The household chores still need doing, the meals need cooking, the children need time, and the work that pays the bills needs to be attended to as well. Life doesn’t stop, and the extra time and space needed to explore ordination impacts on the family, our marriage, and ourselves as individuals, both physically and emotionally.
This isn’t anything unusual. As we chatted with our friends similar stories came from them too, as they have from those I have got to know through social media.
Into the conversation came Paul’s commendation to stay single if you could because with fewer ties, he said, people are able to respond quickly to God’s call.
When I was single I knew that I didn’t want to be, and I found Paul’s words bitter sweet. At that time some married couples I knew seemed to be commending single life so much I wondered why they were indeed married. But Paul was right.
When I was single I had no ties except a few for interviews. I could respond and go quickly to a new place and task that God had called me to. If He called me abroad I could go. Life was simpler, there were fewer distractions, fewer demands on my time, fewer people who depended upon me.
Would I rather be single now? Of course not. In my wife and my children I have 3 tremendous blessings that I could not live without; they are pictures of God’s love that keep me going when things get tough. So again Paul was correct, if the desire to be married burns within you then seek it, don’t become a martyr to your feelings by living a lie.
As a single person I searched for fellowship and support. For a while I found it in the Bible study weekends and mission trips that Oak Hall run from their base in Kent. Then I was blessed to be directed God to the church I now belong to, and to a circle of friends who provided the support that I now receive from my wife.
My wife sees the extra work she has taken on as releasing and supporting me so that I can work with God to see where He is taking us, and why. By carrying an extra load she is serving God. Distractions and calls on my time are minimised or even removed and I am more able to hear God speak to me.
I may be the front-of-house and the figure-head to this exploration of ordination but she is an equally and integral a part of it. I have seen it in other couples in Christian leadership roles, where though only one is ordained both people are being essentially used by God as a single entity. The identity and ministry of the non-ordained member of the couple is as critical to God’s plan as that of the ordained person.
My friend and I who are the focus in exploring ordination in our families share the same DDO. The forthcoming visit she is making to see my wife and I was a hot topic. Though she isn’t coming to interview my wife the impression we make on her still feels important.
She may have said not to make an extra effort for her but I know we will make the house look as clean as possible, that the children’s toys will be tidied away and the dishes cleared from the draining rack. We will leave the ministry of the messy house to a second meeting. Just as my wife is putting in the extra effort to remove distractions that may hinder God from directing the family clearly, we will put in the extra effort for the DDO.
We joked with our friends that, though she will be there for my wife and I to ask questions, the DDO will be looking at us as a possible further vicar and vicar’s wife. No doubt the clues will be there that will suggest what type of church we may lead. Do we use mugs or cups and saucers? What biscuits will be offered to her? Plain or coated in chocolate? Brought or baked? The coffee: instant, filter or cafetiere? The tea: builders-brew, Earl Grey, Roibos or fruity? And of course, the key feature of any Church of England gathering, the quiche.
Will we be serving a low or a high church quiche? Will we have sliced tomatoes lying on the top, strips of streaky bacon or even asparagus? Will be showing a puritanical zeal and leave the quiche undecorated?
There are a lot of signs, signals and theology in a quiche!