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Changing Roles

By Jen Hawker.

For thirty years we had been in parish ministry and, by choice, I had been the 'old style' Vicar's wife - totally involved with my husband in his work and supporting him in every way I could. Our telephone and door bell were rarely silent, our home was a place where people could drop in, and I loved being part of the hustle and bustle. Then my husband was asked to become an Archdeacon and my life was totally changed. Over the next nine months I struggled to come to terms with all that this meant.

Leaving a parish is a form of bereavement - the loss of friends and a loved community, the giving up of those precious opportunities to be alongside others in the lowest points of their lives as well as the high spots, and the loss of the familiar role and way of life. Being in the parish for 16½ years, we had shared many experiences with others and it was like tearing ourselves apart from them.

An Archdeacon has a totally different lifestyle from that of a Vicar. Our home is not a vicarage, or attached to a church, and nor are we part of a ready-made community. At first, no-one came to the door, and even the telephone was answered by the secretary who came with the job! My husband was immediately immersed in the business and excitement of the job, meeting clergy and getting alongside them in their situations. It was great to see him so happy and fulfilled and I was thrilled for him.

But where did I fit in to all this? There was no obvious role for an Archdeacon's wife, so was our life-time vision of partnership in ministry to be ended? I went with my husband to the churches he ministered in, to the receptions he was invited to, and felt I was merely the 'ornament' to complete the picture. I spent hours cooking for business lunches and out in the garden weeding with no-one to talk to except the local robins! All the time I was wrestling with God and trying to understand what was happening. I felt totally useless and not needed - why had God removed everything from me (or so it seemed)? It was as if I had stepped into a black hole.

I clung on to two things. First, I was sure that God loved me as much as He loved my husband, and second, the words of Jeremiah 29.11 - "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." My head was telling me that these two truths were real, but my heart said otherwise. In the early weeks I struggled to try and keep my identity and to be Jen, and not merely the 'Archdeacon's wife'. As I met many new people I tried to be positive and appear happy and contented, but inside I felt I was shedding buckets of tears!

Talking one day to a wise friend, he advised me not to think that God had nothing for me to do, rather that there was so much for me to do, that I needed to wait for HIM to tell me which of these many things He wanted me to do! Simple words - but it was as if a shaft of light had come to me. I'd been looking at the situation from the wrong angle. Jobs didn't just fall into my lap, of course, but I stopped fretting and began to look at my situation more positively and tried to take each day as it came rather than looking back to what I had been.

As there is no set role for an Archdeacon's wife, I am attempting to create a role for myself which is proving to be exciting and a bit scary! When new opportunities present themselves to try something I've never before attempted, then I have a go. After all, it's a new start, so why not see if God is leading me down new paths!!

I am slowly getting used to not having to wash up the coffee cups after church services, but now I can spend time talking with the congregations we join with on Sundays, or having time to encourage and affirm clergy and families in their work. Yes, I miss not being involved in the lives of our parishioners, but am slowly trying to create a support network for the spouses of our clergy so that they know they are not on their own when things get difficult (something I could never have done as a Vicar's wife). I never thought I would be glad that we had experienced very hard times in our ministry, but through those awful times we learnt of God's support and comfort, and can now share with others who are going through similar difficult phases. The 30 years of parish life have been critical in preparing us for this job.

The freedom of not having to fit in to a ready-made role is very liberating, and I am now beginning to enjoy the exploration of the many opportunities that are being given to me. Perhaps God knew I needed a few months to grieve the loss of my life in the parish and the security I felt in the jobs I did there. Maybe I needed to learn that whatever job we do or role we have to fulfil, the important thing is to be ourselves - as God made us to be. Maybe above all, I needed to learn that I am loved by God for who I am, not for what I do. Yes, as Mrs Archdeacon, my life has changed, and after months of struggling with these changes I can truly thank God that He has brought me to this place.

Jen Hawker serves the Archdeaconry of Malmesbury in collaboration with her husband, Alan. She was formerly a member of the RBIM Board of Management.

Ministry Today

You are reading Changing Roles by Jen Hawker, part of Issue 18 of Ministry Today, published in February 2000.

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