The vocation to public ministry as an ordained minister of the Church is a high calling. It demands much of those who serve in its public representative ministry as deacons, priests and bishops. Thus, for those who are married or in a civil partnership, this can have significant implications on family life for spouses, partners and children which can be both joyful but also stressful.
Clergy and their families are of course human, with fragilities, and not immune from the troubles and challenges of life and relationships. With the joys and the demands of ministry, it is of no surprise that sometimes clergy marriages and civil partnerships come under pressure and strain.
Given the demands of ministry, it is of course right that the Church, and its bishops, as its Chief Pastors, bear a responsibility to support clergy families. Notwithstanding this support, sometimes clergy marriages and civil partnerships will irrevocably break down and lead to separation.
It is important that the spouses and partners of divorced and separated clergy can be clear as to the pastoral, practical and spiritual support they can expect of the Church in such a time of trauma and transition. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the diocesan bishop to appoint and deploy bishop’s visitors to support the spouses and partners of divorced and separated clergy.
The Role of the Bishop’s Visitor
The role of the Bishop’s Visitor is to support clergy spouse/partners in the event of a clergy marriage facing difficulties or coming to an end for any reason. The Bishop’s Visitor will meet with the spouse/partner as often as the spouse/partner wants in the short term and agree a plan with them for immediate, medium-term and longer-term needs.
The role is to support, help identify needs e.g. housing, spiritual, worship, independent financial advice, therapeutic and provide signposting to ensure those needs are met. The role is not to provide advice. It must be recognised that “one size does not fit all”, and that clergy spouses/partners will have very different needs according to their own situation, and these needs may change during the course of the engagement.
If appropriate, the Bishop’s Visitor should encourage any spouse or partner who has not advised the bishop of their circumstances of their marriage to do so, but they will not themselves disclose this to the bishop unless agreed in writing.
The Bishop’s Visitor will at all times operate within safeguarding requirements to ensure that the spouse/partner, member of clergy and any child(ren) are kept safe.
The Bishop’s Visitors for Durham Diocese are Revd Canon Sue Hope and Philip Davies.
If you are a clergy spouse / partner and would like to contact Sue, her details are below:
Tel: 0191 908 5400
If you would like to contact Philip, his details are below:
Tel: 07395 419974