Reading the moving eyewitness accounts of yesterday’s ordinations to the diaconate, of the former Church of England Bishops, Andrew Burnham, Keith Newton and John Broadhurst, I was particularly touched by the following:
“One of the most striking elements of the mass was the way in which the wives of those being ordained were made to feel so welcome and made part of the mass. Not only did they bring the bread and wine at the offertory, but after the prayer after communion they assembled before the bishop as he thanked them for their example of love and family life and gave them a special blessing.”
This gesture of welcome should not be underestimated. I cannot begin to imagine how Mrs Burnham, Newton and Broadhurst must be feeling. Being a clergy wife in the Church of England is a delicate balancing act, requiring much tact, diplomacy and a willingness to take a back seat to your husband’s vocation; accepting that a considerable majority of the time your husband needs to put his ministry first, in the same way that a secular man needs to prioritise his job. The hours are unsociable and the demands unpredictable. The Anglican Church does however have a culture of married ministers and a clergy wife is therefore not an unusual concept, unlike the Catholic Church whereby priests are required to practice celibacy, unless they have been granted a dispensation, as in the case of convert priests. To agree to become the wife of a Catholic priest, whereby your role may well be vastly different and your presence something of an anomaly or curiosity is not a task for the faint-hearted, particularly if you have been married to a high-profile spouse such as a Bishop.
The Ordinariate is treading unchartered waters, the former bishops have had to give up positions of great responsibility, their salaries, their homes and their pensions, a decision which will have an enormous impact on their families and would doubtless have been impossible without the support of their wives. It perhaps shouldn’t be surprising that their spouses were welcomed in this way, but given that no similar rite is included in the Anglican ordination service, the public acceptance and welcome of wives is all the more remarkable together with the thanks and blessing and must have been of enormous comfort to them as they accompany their husbands on this next stage in their journey.
Providentially enough I chanced upon this blogpost written by the wife of a Catholic priest in the Byzantine rite (h/t Christopher Smith & Shameless Popery, who also did a great precis) which describes the 7 most frequent comments that people blurt out when they discover that you are married to a Catholic priest. It’s definitely worth a read and I can certainly identify with many of her observations, particularly the parts about scheduling and her poignant response to her husband’s ministry.
“There is a huge part of my husband’s life that I can never understand or participate in. This is probably the strongest argument against a married priesthood in any rite. We priest’s wives cannot fathom the feelings of being at the altar or the confessional. These experiences are hidden from us. God’s grace abounds in these situations, but I suspect the evil one is lurking in the shadows, waiting for us to fail. Evil doesn’t like husbands, fathers or priests. So it is a lot to say yes to these vocations. All we wives can do is be positive complements to our priest husbands like any wife. Pray for the wives and children!”
So tomorrow, when we celebrate the momentous and joyful occasion of the start of the Ordinariate, let us also give thanks for the gift of their families and hope that they may be able to inspire other families to follow their courageous lead. A truly remarkable gesture for a truly remarkable movement.