Clergy couples have become increasingly common in the Church of England, with one result being the loss of the role of vicar wives, especially in rural parishes, reports Tablet magazine (April 4). Although uncounted in the Church of England, clergy couples are estimated to be in the hundreds, with the most prominent being all three of the first women bishops recently appointed in the church. Abigail Frymann Rouch writes that “Increasingly in recent decades, wives of male clergy have wished to pursue their own careers…Gone, largely, is the vicar’s wife offering tea to her husband’s visitors, doing a share of his role unacknowledged and smoothing over minor parish disputes—a loss perhaps more keenly felt in rural areas than in towns. Instead it is the recently invented role of vicar’s husband that has demanded soul searching from men who watch the dynamics of their marriages alter as they pass from the lay to the clerical state.”
There is also the emergence of what Rouch calls the “clergy super couple, a partnership between two rising stars, each already in an influential role and tipped for yet greater things.” Sociologist Linda Woodhead says that it may be more than a coincidence that the three new women bishops are married to priests. She cautions that the “‘patronage’ system of appointments have always favored people who are well connected within the clerical network.” She is concerned that bishop couples may do little to counter a “growing clericalization” of the church, leading to the possibility of clergy becoming “separate caste, increasingly cut off from the rest of society.” Woodhead also notes that it is unusual in the business world for married couples to occupy senior positions in the same firm unless a clear protocol is in place. The fact that all three women bishops come from the evangelical wing of the C of E may not reflect the breadth of the church.
(The Tablet, http://www.thetablet.co.uk/)