Sharing a vocation

When both husband and wife are called to be ministers in the Church, there needs to be a lot of flexibility and a willingness to share in the household tasks. Carol Hathorne talks to three couples about their experiences

Revs Helen and Keith Duckett are in their mid-thirties with two children, Charlotte (5) and Louis (3). They met in the first days of arriving at theological college

“Our calling into the Anglican ministry was very different,” Helen recalls. “With Keith, it was a gradual discovery of, and grappling with, vocation, which started within a year of his leaving school at 18. I, on the other hand, had always been interested in religion and studied theology at university. It was there where I began to seriously explore vocation. I was 23 when I went to Queen’s Theological College, Birmingham, and Keith was 26.”
Helen’s present position is part-time team vicar in Wednesfield, near Wolverhampton, while Keith serves as a hospital chaplain at the Sandwell District hospital in West Bromwich, a distance of about eight miles. Sundays are obviously very busy days in their household, with Helen taking services at St Chads and Keith on duty at the hospital.
“I usually cook lunch when I’m not at work,” he explains, “and then we try to go swimming as a family in the afternoons. Usually, we manage to get Saturdays off. However, I am ‘on call’ on average one weekend in three, so that limits what we can do and how far away we can travel and, of course, Helen also has some Saturday commitments like weddings and church fayres.
“Household chores, such as cleaning, ironing, laundry and garden maintenance are shared between us according to who is available, and while Helen mostly takes care of the school run and childcare during school holidays, I usually take them to church on Sundays, and will occasionally lead a service for young families while we’re there.”
Asked how supportive the church hierarchy has been towards them as a clergy couple, Helen and Keith admit that they have, over the years, felt that one or both of them have had to compromise over taking a particular post so that both can find employment. Although they have taken services and jointly hosted occasional social events, they still largely feel their ordained vocations to be independent of each other.
“Lichfield diocese is reasonably supportive in that it will employ and pay both,” says Helen. Though she admits she feels her reduced hours status has somewhat limited her prospects in terms of future jobs. “But, like all dioceses, it needs to think more creatively around issues like more part-time jobs, job shares, flexi-time and so on, so that clergy with young children can combine work and childcare. Also, the general expectations concerning the long hours culture is unhelpful. Congregations need to understand about boundaries, and that part-time means part-time!”

Methodist ministers Linda (52) and John (57) Williams met at theological college.

“John was actually the first person I saw when I walked into Wesley College,” Linda smiles. “He helped carry my bags, and that was that!”
Originally from different parts of the country – Linda from Mansfield and John from Plymouth, they both now serve in the Bloxwich and Willenhall Methodist Circuit, where John is Superintendent Minister. They recall their calling into ministry as gradual – John experiencing an inner conviction following a family bereavement, Linda sensing a growing call which she tried, initially, to evade. Both were greatly encouraged by members of their home churches.
Explaining how they share their domestic chores, John says: “I deal with most of the money issues and shopping, and we employ a gardener, as the manse has a lovely garden which could be a full-time job! Linda does most of the cooking and cleaning, and also some shopping, but in fact, we tend to share most tasks, depending on who is the busiest! We always go out to Sunday lunch!”
As far as possible, John and Linda take a weekly day off together and try to go out, but they are willing to be flexible to fit in with the needs of the six churches for which they are responsible. Asked how much they minister as a couple, Linda explains: “We are in the same circuit and share colleagueship with others but, at the same time, we always have our own appointments.”
In making career choices, they have always given prayerful thought to posts offered: “Our choice prevails, but we do listen to circuit needs,” John says. “In our present system we are expected to accept offers unless there are good reasons for not doing so, but in our experience, the Methodist church has been generally quite understanding and helpful about our needs as a clergy couple. We have no complains.”

Salvation Army captains Jenny and Stephen Forman (45) serve in the Willenhall Corps. Both musical, they met at the age of 14 when the Rotherham School Band was formed and they found themselves sitting next to each other after the auditions. They have three children Samantha (21), Kerry (19) and Matthew (16)

“Our friendship developed after that initial meeting in the band and we married six years later,” says Jenny. “I had felt a calling to the ministry since my mid teens, but Stephen had no such feelings. My calling never went away, despite getting married and having our children. We were both heavily involved with the Salvation Army; Stephen as the bandmaster and pianist at the corps, and me being responsible for the young people’s work.
“Then, quite suddenly, Stephen was called to ministry too. He came home from work and told me he felt we should offer ourselves for full-time ministry as officers! It would involve a move to London for the family, two years in the William Booth Training College and a complete change of lifestyle. I was both delighted and scared!”
The Forman’s children were nine, 11 and 15 when their parents started their combined ministry. Jenny and Stephen always ensured, however, that someone was at home for them. Even today, domestic chores tend to be fitted in around the corps programme, visiting and the children’s activities.
“We don’t formally share domestic chores, we just do whatever needs doing when we have the time. Although Stephen doesn’t do any ironing and I don’t do any gardening, so there are some unwritten rules! Now that our children are older, they share the housework too!
Sunday is understandably hectic, with three meetings each week. The family leaves the house around 9am, hopefully having remembered to put the meat in the oven and the sermons in the bag!
Like Keith Duckett, Stephen is usually the one who goes home to prepare the lunch, while Jenny stays behind to lead the Sunday school. The last meeting of the day is at 6pm and is followed by coffee and fellowship.
“Most weeks we will take Saturday as our day off,” Stephen explains. “Sometimes, depending on how events fall, we will take time off where we can. We spend most of our days off at home or locally, although we travel to Yorkshire quite often to see parents.”
Asked about vocation and direction, Jenny was quite clear. “We think of it as a joint ministry. There are some areas where one of us is more involved than the other. For instance, Stephen takes responsibility for administration; I take responsibility for all the young people’s work. Our pastoral work and our platform work are shared.
“The Salvation Army appoints its offices to corps. There is a consultation process which allows the views of the officer(s) and of the corps members to be taken into account. From this process the Army decides to either move people or leave them where they are. Officers have no choice about their appointments – they simply go to where they are sent. That said, the Army tries very hard to ensure the children’s school is affected as little as possible. The expected length of appointment is five years, though this may be extended by up to six years depending on circumstances.”