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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