I knew when I said “I will” I was not just vowing to love my husband unconditionally (even when he puts the loo roll onto the holder the wrong way), but that I was committing to serving alongside him in the ministry God has called us both to. People often correct me when I say: “We are training,” or “We’ll be starting our curacy next year.” Or they mistakenly assume that I’m also headed towards donning a dog collar too and, to an extent, I do understand why that is, but for me it just jars to say that only my husband is training. I may have watched High school musical too many times but I really do believe that “we’re all in this together”.
Free youth work
I’m still working out what it means to be a vicar’s wife; even in 2017 people still have certain expectations that resemble a 1950s’ house wife. Unfortunately, I’m ashamed to say I once served a pizza which was both burnt and frozen at the same time so I am fairly sure I won’t be fulfilling the culinary queen stereotype anytime soon. Nor do I have a penchant for pleated skirts or flower-arranging, so I fail on those scores, too!
When people find out I’ll be the wife of a vicar and that we plan to do ministry together, they get excited because of the way my husband and I can (hopefully) strengthen each other’s ministry and serve God alongside one another. However, I do also hear things like: “What a bonus, he’ll come with a free youth worker!” Though this may be said tongue-in-cheek, I can’t help feeling there is some truth to it, which saddens me. Too often I find that youth work is seen as a stepping stone to ‘proper ministry’ or to the ‘real church work’, or that it’s assumed I’m doing it as part of a gap year and that it can’t be my legitimate full-time job.
Can it even be called a job if all we do is drink tea, eat food and play games?! Even if I was doing this as a gap year (as many do), or even if I was ‘only’ part time (and I’m sure many of us know all too well how full-time ‘part time’ is), the fact remains that it shouldn’t belittle or detract from the importance of youth work because young people matter. I can’t help but take offence when people imply, in jest or otherwise, that I will work for free because I’ll be married to a vicar; not because I wouldn’t work for free - I have and would again - but because it seems to overlook the true value of youth ministry.
I am constantly preparing myself for people to assume I’ll be helping with the children and youth work at our church out of obligation and not my own vocation. I want to serve at whatever church my husband is at because I love working with young people and being part of the same church community, but I must admit it’s an odd thing to already feel the need to defend my own calling on account of my husband’s.
Unintentional youth work
In all honesty, I never imagined I would be a youth worker; I had great plans to be a princess or at the very least a famous (and wildly successful) actress. To be honest, I’m not sure many kids grow up dreaming of a life in church ministry but nonetheless, here I am, all because one day I felt God speak the words “youth work” over me when I didn’t even know I was praying.
People assume I’ll help with the children’s and youth work at our church out of obligation and not my own vocation
It is so easy to lose sight of why we started doing what we are doing when we start to compare ourselves and our ministries to others. It’s easy to feel devalued because of how other people rate our ministry when they imply it isn’t a ‘proper job’, or ask when we’re going to don a dog collar because really, if we can talk about Jesus, why wouldn’t we do that for the people who really matter?!
I’m no expert and I have a long way to go and grow in my own ministry, but these are things I know to be true: I am not practising ministry before progressing onto ‘real people’, nor am I simply there to entertain teenagers or to serve as a tag-along bonus to my husband’s ‘proper’ calling. I am a youth worker and the wife of a (trainee) vicar and one does not negate the other.
Emma Perkins is a sessional youth worker based in Cambridge and the youth worker at St Paul’s Church, Cambridge.