Sarah Mowbray draws on her personal experience to explore the nature of the sacrifices made by the families and other supporters of those with a vocation to the priesthood
Vocation is something so wonderful to watch, to see how it grows and develops, to nurture and encourage, to walk alongside someone, to pray with them and for them. To see this in the context of a vocation to the priesthood is something different altogether.
James realised he had a vocation to the priesthood at the age of twelve, I met him when he was nineteen and he was ordained when he was twenty-four; now he is an incumbent in a thriving Catholic parish under the episcopal care of Bishop John. I have watched his vocation grow and develop, and taken much joy in seeing the boy I first met in a university bar turn into a man with such deep conviction and commitment to his faith and his calling to be a priest.
An army of supporters
To answer a call to the priesthood can be a sacrifice for some, having to leave a secure job, a home that has been made, to move away from all that is familiar. To acknowledge a vocation to the priesthood to family and friends for the first time can be terrifying, and some take longer than others to get their heads around the new status that this vocation will bring.
Behind every vocation to the priesthood is an army of supporters; wives, children, parents, extended family, friends, their parish family where they grew up. We stand in the wings and watch and pray.
For those with a vocation to the priesthood, it can mean a sacrifice. For their support network it can mean a double sacrifice, since the vocation is not theirs, and it takes a great deal of trust and belief to follow the vocation of someone else.
Giving up the familiar
We have met so many wonderful people who have given up so very much to follow a vocation. There were wives who had moved from one part of the country to the other. A lot of the wives I became friendly with in Mirfield had moved themselves, and their families, some with very young children, others with teenage children. They were so committed to following the vocation of their husbands that they happily and willing took themselves from a stable and comfortable position to one of uncertainty and one which is slightly nomadic for a time.
It is one thing to follow a vocation as a spouse, but there were those who came as part of the package, the children. This was something I always admired with children of a man with a vocation. The children on the whole gladly followed, as their parents made a decision that would change their lives. They faced a future that would see them become vicarage children, and they would have a dad who wore a ‘dog-collar’. They too had been moved from one part of the country to the other, from friends that they had made, and family that were near, and were taken to something that was often very alien and new,
and for some of them it was quite scary. How do you explain a vocation to the priesthood to a child, and explain why they had to move, and why it was so important? But most of the children we came into contact with took on board the changes in their lives with great maturity.
We had friends who had owned houses in their previous lives; most of our friends had to relinquish any arrangement with letting agents, because it was almost impossible to keep an eye on things, or they had to sell their homes to subsidize their student grant.
As for our sacrifice – well, I don’t really see it that way when I think of it. We married in the summer between James’ first and second year, we were blessed with arrival of our first born whilst James was a Curate, and our new arrival has yet to turn twelve months. We started our married life in Mirfield and hadn’t known anything different before. Our first marital home was student residence and our children came after. Grace and Ria have only ever known James as a priest, and as nothing else. So we got away with a lot. Although I miss Wales, I go back there frequently enough to replenish the soul, and if James had a different profession I would have moved with him, whatever he would have done.
I don’t think there is anyone who has been ordained who hasn’t sacrificed something to follow the path to which God has called them. Most vocations call for some small sacrifice. So how are those who are in the Anglo-Catholic wing of the church any different to anyone else who has been ordained?
Because now I, along with many others, stand in the wings and watch and pray as the people we love do something that once seemed unthinkable, to turn their backs on the Church that they love so dearly, and the vocation that is at the core of their being. Why? Because earlier this year Synod voted to make the way clear for women to join the episcopate.
A code of practice is not enough and our only hope is that in February Synod will see fit to offer something better. Something is needed that will enable James and those like him to remain within the church and uphold their integrity. A code of practice may mean segregation and ultimately may lead to the demise or even the departure of the Anglo-Catholic wing of the CofE. Something needs to be put in place to secure the future of these priests who are willing to again sacrifice so much.
My hope in writing is to remind those of you out there, those of you with influence who can make a difference, that yes, around 1,500 men signed their name to the petition that made a request for the CofE and Synod to think hard about the future. And behind those men are wives, children, parents and other supporters who are waiting with bated breath, hoping and praying that the sacrifice that they have made has not been in vain.