the lament of mrs vicarage

13 11 2011

And so it’s return was as good as I had hoped – a bitter-sweet tragi-comedy of awkward moments, insightful arguments and exaggerated characters that makes the BBC’s Rev so good to watch. Ricky Gervais, your domination of painful ‘real-life’ comedy is well and truly over.  

In episode 1 Rev managed once again to squeeze depth into it’s little band of characters, from the terrifying Archdeacon Robert to the amorous Adoa to the “we’ve all got one” Colin and the new slightly sinister Bishop of London. But most of all Adam himself.

No,  actually even more most of all, Mrs Vicarage herself, Alex Smallbone. When she went into her diatribe a few minutes in, I could hear vicar’s wives (and yes, vicar’s husbands) everywhere shouting at the telly – go girl, you tell ’em!

Watch the diatribe here, or read below:

Do you know the last time I had a whole weekend with you Adam all to myself? Er, no neither do I because oh yes that’s right, it’s never happened!
I’m sorry, what’s the matter?
What’s the matter? I’m fed up with never seeing you, that’s what’s the matter. I’m fed up with your congregants saying what a shame Alex couldn’t come today like they’ve got some masters degree in passive-aggression just because I happen to have been busy at work. I’m fed up with coming home from work and only to make yet another mushroom stroganoff for some sodding church meeting of pedantic bores who want to sit around in my home discussing how to put in a fire exit or whatever. I want to have a child with you because I don’t just want to be a solicitor all my life but you don’t shag me enough…
Erm, I do… don’t I? Really..
No, because this house is permanently full of people making unceasing demands on your time because they’ve got nothing else in their lives…

As the role of vicar has changed beyond recognition in recent years, so has the role of their partner, and not just because there are now an increasing number of vicar’s husbands. There are also an increasing number who work full-time themselves; and an increasing number who don’t want to be seen as the ‘also comes with’ to the vicar, but as a person in their own right. So, if you bake, then bake, but not because you are married to the vicar. If you like having tea with old ladies, then do it, but not because you’re the vicar’s wife.

To me, the vicar’s wife or husband is the background hero of parish life, no matter whether they bake or host or do the traditional thing or not. It’s because they answer the phone and are expected to be the adminstrator, secretary and vicar’s GPS; they are expected to attend church and be friendly and know what’s going on and so often be the buffer between ‘the people’ and the vicar. And most of all because they love us, and have agreed to give up a ‘normal’ life for a definitely abnormal one, putting down roots and making friends in someone else’s community knowing the pain that will come when you are uprooted again and again.

For us, we have always been lucky. In the 2 parishes we have been in, the lovely Fran has pretty much always been treated as Fran, and still is. Thank you for that. I couldn’t do what I do or be what I be (!?) without her.

So Mrs (and Mr) Vicarage we salute you. We hear your lament, and we are sorry for all the times we put life before you. And Rev, may you continue to point out, with humour and pain and poignant conversations the mystery of life that is one lived in a vicarage.

Read the point of view of a real vicar’s wife on the Vicar’s Wife blog.


rev: ev(en)angelical angst

6 08 2010

When a builder has a crisis of faith in building, it is not the end of the world. Just the building. When a banker has a crisis of faith in banking, it is not the end of the world. Just the banking. Building still exists. Banking still exists. Life goes on.

The final episode of Rev. highlighted one of the challenges for vicars/ministers. I found it deeply moving. What happens when we have a crisis of faith? What happens when we want to explore, express and question our faith, when people rely on us to be stable, solid and unwavering in faith and conviction? So many people think that church leaders are the solid types, the strong ones, that we are leaders because we are sorted. Some leaders like that. And some may well be. Many are not.

In fact, many are called because they are not – it was their sensitivity, thoughtfulness, depth and angst that was part of their calling and the very thing that makes them good at their job. And the very thing that makes it so hard, that threatens to pull at the very seams of life and faith and unravel the whole thing in a very public kind of way. Without faith, there is nothing left – no job, no home, no foundation on which your whole life and reputation has been built.

How would you respond to your (even evangelical!) church leader telling you they sometimes questioned everything? How would you respond to your church leader having some sort of meltdown like Adam Smallbone did? Is it just another ‘bi-annual wobble’ to walk through like getting caught in some unseasonal drizzle without an umbrella, or is it actually serious, a real questioning, a real doubt like an overwhelming flood? Is it ok to preach if you are doubting? If not, why not? Is our faith based on the strength of faith of our leader, or on the strength of our own faith, Jesus living in us and God mediated to us not through our leaders but through our own interaction with the Holy Spirit?


Vicars and leaders need people who they can be honest with, who won’t panic, who won’t try to fix them, who won’t pray for deliverance from the demons of doubt, and who won’t send it round the prayer chain that they are having a wobble.  Most of us are incredibly sensitive and spend a lot of energy treading carefully around the sensitivities of others, yet as Rev. exposed, not always feeling the same sensitivity coming back.  And so sometimes we end up shooting our mouth off at someone like Colin or Alex who really don’t need it or deserve it, however satisfactory it seems at the time.

Watching Adam unravelling was disturbing, because I know how close to that some of us are sometimes; and it showed the consequences of allowing yourself to behave in an un-Jesus-like way. God bless Alex and vicar’s partners and friends everywhere for being so long-suffering, so patient, and sometimes giving us the (metaphorical) slap in the face we need. And sometimes the hug, the tea, and making us laugh when we disappear into our own navels.

They’d better commission another series of Rev. or I’ll lose all my (already slim) faith in intelligent telly.

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rev: a non-specific vicar?

29 07 2010

I have written before about the brilliant observation and humour of Rev, and 5 episodes in it is still good. It isn’t rip-roaring, but it meanders through story-lines in an intentional manner, devoid of canned laughter or more poignantly sometimes, canned tears. But there is an issue: as one vicar-friend pointed out, though Adam’s humanity is portrayed excellently, is there any sense that he has something others do not? His prayers are wonderfully honest; but are they ever answered? Is the God he believes in actually real?

Maybe the issue can be explained like this. Often I am asked by people without my faith “what made you become a vicar?”. Maybe because I am young, unexpected-looking, or a bit rubbish at my job. Anyway, they ask, I answer. When I am feeling mischievous, I answer with “God”. God called me. This is usually met with a slightly confused look, which I allow for a while before I rescue them from the religious lunatic they just awakened and say something safer. They often understand things like ‘calling’, or ‘I enjoy working with people’, or ‘I like the variety’. They don’t understand that God essentially dragged me unwillingly into it! Or that I don’t like church. Anyway…

The simple answer “God” is more uncomfortable because it has a huge and treacherous unspoken background – that this person believes in God, that they believe God speaks and is real and is actually involved in ordinary everyday life. It is a little… specific. What they prefer is a safer, less specific vicar who keeps things nice and vague, speaks about God not Jesus and preferably actually just church, and who is prepared to do God (or rather, religion) on behalf of them so they don’t need to.

In Rev, I think the thing that will always be missing (for some), but is to be expected and maybe even endearing, is that Rev is the portrayal of a Christian as understood by people who aren’t, but who are sympathetic to the idea. He is what sympathetic people think we are. So Rev understands the idea of calling, of earnest faith, of talking to God – and understands lots of issues vicars face – but it falls short of actually understanding faith, because the faith is not real. It cannot be, because it is a sitcom and not a documentary; it is acted, not real.

So Adam has a deep sense of calling, and an earnest faith. But that faith will always be a bit non-specific. And that is what most people (outside church? inside church?) want from their vicar – earnest, busy and committed, but safe, non-specific and spiritually undemanding. He is enthusiastic about church and about people and about ‘making a difference’. But is he enthusiastic about people meeting and being transformed by Jesus? Is he himself transformed by Jesus, in the sense that he is given supernatural patience to manage the crises that come his way?  You decide.

So I think Adam portrays the closest people can come to understanding a person of faith, if they themselves do not share that faith. Again, he is what people think we are. Scary thought! And he is believable.  Focusing on the humanity rather than the spirituality means more people can relate to him; otherwise it would become even more like an in-house training video for clergy or a promo for following Jesus and no-one would watch it. It is a sitcom after all. And maybe we should all be show a bit more humanity…!

I am therefore intrigued to see what a crisis of faith looks like to people with this understanding of faith to start with… apparently this is the theme of the final episode, which I await with anticipation!


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rev on rev.

7 07 2010

I’m thinking of writing a letter. it’s that serious. Ann Robinson watch out. After watching 2 episodes of BBC comedy Rev, it is time to complain. Consistently TV portrays church in a negative way, vicars are idiots, whether effeminate and weedy or sinister and murderous, church is dull and irrelevant… and it is never actually funny. Except Dibley, but that was different. Rev is… painfully funny. FUNNY! Painfully close to the mark. It’s like watching The Office except it is in church and I am David Brent. OMG, I want to take my collar off and swear…

he's married to the vicar's wife

I know, it’s not all funny, and I don’t know if people who aren’t churchers find it funny. The old gags are there, like imagining that vicars actually have sex (have you seen how many kids vicars usually have?!) and that regular parishioners are idiots. Ok, fair cop we’ll let you get away with that because much of the rest is insightful, witty, and based on (I said based on) real events and real people.  And Adam the Vicarage is likeable, vulnerable, and slightly shell-shocked. That is endearing. And Mrs Vicarage has a job. A job! Who’d have thought it.

anyone know an unconventional vicar's wife?

It is so close to life it feels a bit like an in-house training video for vicars. It should be compulsory viewing so that we all look at our stereotypes and run a mile. Am I the dull weedy vicar? Am I the scary Archdeacon? Am I the highly sexed parishioner? Am I the slimey smoothie-fuelled evangelical? Am I… Colin?

I loved the ending of Episode 2 when the Archdeacon stood with Adam to welcome Colin, broken and painful and annoying as he is. That is part of the charm of it – it is taking the mick out of the church, but you can tell it is written by someone with a deep love for the church. Maybe free-churchers won’t get it or vicars with sense-of-humour-failure (there’s plenty of us!) but if you know how the C of E works, it hits the mark. I’ll be watching, even if it clashes with church. And I will clean my own windows.

spot anyone you recognise?

Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news Colin.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the Archdeacon
and recovery of sight for Nigel,
to release Adoha,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”


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