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Clergy partners feel lonely and isolated, new report finds

by Kelly Valencia

A new report by Clergy Family Network (CFN) has found a significant portion of clergy partners have experienced feeling lonely or isolated as a result of the role of their spouse in the church.

Having surveyed 550 spouses of Church of England clergy, the report found at least 44 per cent of the respondents had “issues with isolation/making friends” while 12 per cent felt they didn’t have “anyone to contact if they had a problem”.

The vast majority (70 per cent) said they would turn to friends to seek support while only 30 per cent said they would feel comfortable seeking help through the church.

“It can be really easy to walk into a room as a clergy partner, and introduce yourself and say: ‘I'm the Vicar's wife’, as often people don’t know who that is. But also, it means you're always that person. And that can mean it's really hard to make friends and just be yourself in your own community,” Lucie Walsh, CFN founder and lead researcher, told Premier.

Although many clergy spouses have their own careers, only 20 per cent of those surveyed are in full time work while 12 per cent describe their occupation as volunteering.

A lack of spiritual support and the difficulty of taking time off as a family were some of the other issues raised in the report.

Walsh continued: “Sometimes people find they're invited to absolutely everything. And it can be hard saying no a lot as well. So, a lot of the advice is just to say no when you don't want to do something, and that's fine.

“Sometimes it can be good to just be given a bit of a break where you have time to just be your own self as a family.”

The report also posed the question “How do you like being a clergy spouse?”, to which respondents gave an average score of six point seven out ten.

Asked whether she thought there was a lack of recognition of the role clergy spouses play in the life of a church, Walsh said: “I think probably the biggest thing that doesn't get recognised is those little tasks where something goes wrong in the last minute and somebody needs to do something so the spouse is the one that gets asked.

“So it'd be really great to see more members of congregation stepping into those last minute jobs.”

CFN has published seven pledges to continue its work to support clergy family. These include: becoming a registered charity, communicating directly with partners and providing information, guidance and a listening ear to group leaders and supporting those who want to start new support groups.

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