What is it like to be a vicar’s wife when the CofE wants your husband out? Mrs Catharine Ann Hind was moved by an earlier article on this theme and shares something of her own experience
Sarah Mowbray’s heartfelt words on the privilege of walking beside her husband James’ vocation and of his precarious future [ND February] resonates with those of us who shared that same privilege, for longer. Fifty-four years of the privilege was mine, and my generation too is anxious for the future of the church of our birth.
In spring 1951 the Bishop of London united St Saviour’s and Christ Church, Ealing, congregations of two shades of churchmanship, as a new parish: Christ the Saviour, Ealing Broadway. We had worshipped in St Saviour’s Parish Hall since we were bombed out in 1940; nearby Christ Church had more damage than was realized, so they got our rebuilding fund to repair their church, as well as our vicar, Fr Wilfrid Aglionby, and two curates.
At the age of eighteen, I met Stanley, a twenty-one-year-old theology student at King’s College, London, at the consecration. Our courtship began in the autumn at the great Anglo-Catholic Congress in the Royal Albert Hall.
Permission to marry
As did James, the late Canon Stanley Hind realized his vocation at the age of twelve. After National Service and King’s, he was made deacon in 1954. We asked permission (yes, asked permission) to marry and were told to wait another year. The curate’s house stood empty, his vicar insisting he lodge with him. The PCC, however, anxious lest the house deteriorate, appealed to the bishop, who said we could marry. A date set in September clashed with the vicar’s plans, so it was brought forward to August. ‘But you will be back in the parish by Friday!’ Our case was entirely usual and we were unsurprised.
A curate’s £6 a week bought a self-employed National Insurance stamp, an obligatory sum (then) to a clergy widows’ pension, and a reserve for gas, electricity and coal, which left £3 for food. The vicar spoke of our private income; finding none he asked his PCC why they thought we had. ‘They’re always happy; even their baby is always laughing. We all know what our curate gets and you’re not laughing on six quid a week, are you, vicar?’
All being in the same fiscal boat, groups of clergy regularly shared the Day Off in a vicarage. Lunch was a group-catered meal. Children played, and adults built friendships and provided mutual support amid much camaraderie. The Church of England was characterized by all shades of churchmanship accommodating the other’s liturgy yet sharing the tenets of the faith. Our Christmas party for the grown-ups featured three courses with wine served, and we dressed for the occasion. Few vicarages had central heating in the Sixties, so the hosts lit open fires. These happy, uproarious, memorable parties were the norm well into the Eighties.
The dreadful Seventies
Charismatic praise services landed in the Seventies. News filtered in from all regions of stunned parishioners told by their vicar or ‘worship leader’ that they might be happier going elsewhere! The feisty fought back: ‘Christened here, confirmed here and I’ll be here when you’ve gone.’ Choristers who failed to exude joy in new hymns were banished, while those with a good attitude’ graduated into the music group with its accompanying guitars. The Church of England deliberately pushing its faithful away with no regrets? These were the tactics of seventeenth-century Protestants who went on to assault the Church’s priests and bishops and dictate their own half-educated interpretations of worship and prayer.
‘Ecumenical’ was another buzzword of the Seventies. Stanley’s contacts with churches and religious communities in Europe led to him accompanying a bishop to a ‘dialogue’ with Roman Catholic priests. In disbelief he heard the bishop tell them, ‘There was a time when I believed that if a priest prayed over bread and wine it became the Body and Blood of Christ; a position from which I have since matriculated.’ Stanley got to his feet, T have to say it, Bishop, and with due respect to your Office, but that is a position from which I am grateful to say I have never matriculated!’
In 1979 a curate came to serve his title, nourishing ‘Terms of Employment’ as advised by his Birmingham training college. He would do something during two of the three parts of a day, five days a week; not more. Stanley refused to sign, but it made no difference. Joining his vicar at prayers in church twice daily was dismissed as a waste ofhis time and energy. No authority ever corrected or reprimanded his conduct although his first and his next vicar seldom knew where he was, nor what he was doing, until he caused some very public stirs.
On the day of’the vote’, Stanley underwent major surgery. A Muslim doctor asked, ‘What do you think about this very serious thing they have done? It breaks the continuous line from the original Apostles, does it not?’ His Faith, which acknowledges Christ simply as holy, knew what was lost by abandoning this core role, which appeasers and pleasers of women who wanted to be ordained could not or would not safeguard.
Stanley returned home to a visit from our diocesan, who said, ‘It is a pity about the vote! You will feel it deeply, I know. I voted for it as I was so sure it would not get through.’ Did we hear him aright? Had we misunderstood? No; he repeated these words around the diocese. Forgive my anxiety, but this is a bishop who has a particular part in determining the futures of both our present apostles and their flocks.
Success for the vote, they claimed, showed Gods Will; but what of their debts to advertisers? Writers who gave them a fictional woman ‘vicar’ and brave women in Oxford versus murderous high church priests? Comedians of both sexes pilloried the Church; and in commerce, posters showing a vestment hem above a pair of high heels at the altar steps had the slogan ‘Clark’s Shoes, hoping soon to be in all the best places.’
Unbelievers and other sects supported the shrill cry: ‘I want it, so I should have it.’ In 2009, the writers, presenters, comedians and billboards are defying and denying God and advertising atheism. Are they out of the same stables?
And am I alone in believing this to be Satan’s doing?
In 1993 a woman in his congregation told Stanley she wanted to be ordained. She knew his position, but if she would not heed him, a woman was appointed in the diocese to advise her. ‘She has trained me for two years! They (they?) said it was best not to tell you in order to protect me!’ Reflecting on past candidates he said, ‘Had that been a man they would have asked me his suitability, his standing in the congregation and many other things.’ He recalled two pre-vote candidates rejected on the woman adviser’s advice for saying they could not accept women’s ordination. As for protecting her, he said, ‘I’ve served this diocese since I was a boy and given it forty years of priesthood only to learn that they feel a need to protect people from me!’
And now, whither?
Retiring in 1994, Stanley gave his diocese a further fourteen years of interregna, locums and serving the Cathedral. Seriously troubled, as is James, he weighed the future, saying we were going nowhere, but if we did it would be to the Greek Orthodox. The older priests still serving; and my widowed sisterhood; what of us? Gone is much that we believed for a lifetime that God wanted of us. Gone, the presence of a beloved husband.
We need James and priests of his persuasion and their call to feed Christ’s flock. We need churches where the worship offered is worthy of God; and the Blessed Sacrament consecrated by a priest of true descent from the first disciples who were at his Last Supper and received the flames of Pentecost. You are needed as much and more than ever you were. God be with those with the power to allow, accommodate or prevent it.