No-one would believe a minister hits his wife.
As the old saying goes “no-one knows what goes on behind closed doors.” It’s true, and even more so when those doors are the doors of a manse. I have found myself over the years in many a conversation with a minister or their spouse and been talking about how no-one can really understand the role, the calling, the day to day life in ministry unless they have experienced it too. It was not all bad though. Being a minister’s wife brought great memories, good friends and wonderful experiences. Minister’s wife life was good on the surface, but behind the manse doors life was rather different.
God is currently taking me on a journey, one of many, a journey to untangle and understand the years of my life when I was married to my ex-husband, a former minister. These years, although having many positive memories were also the years I was beaten, hurt and controlled. You see, this personal life should be separate from life in ministry but it’s an intertwining I’m currently unpicking. This blended confusion of feelings comes from something said to me repeatedly, which has stayed on my heart for a long time and has shaped my reflections on my own “manse life”.
“No-one would believe a minister hits his wife”
This line was used as a threat, as a way of control. Anyone who is a survivor of domestic violence, or who has worked in that field know how hard it is for someone to leave their situation. This was made harder when his position in ministry was used. Society often sees a minister as something different, they place them up on a pedestal, seen as untouchable, exempt from reality, easier to excuse, but the reality is that someone in ministry is a human being, capable of failing and falling into sin just like the rest of us. It often surprises people to hear a minister committed domestic violence, broke his wife’s finger, knocked her unconscious. “Surely not, he is a minister.” Just as if it was a teacher, doctor or society’s portrayal of an upstanding citizen, but why is it any different? Domestic abuse happens in many different situations. God is hurt when someone is beaten and mistreated, be that by a minister or Joe Bloggs off the street. The difference in this case is that the minister used his title as a shield, to protect himself, and that isn’t ok.
God works in amazing ways and He has worked through many people, including some in the Baptist Union who did so much to support me and to put things right. I owe them so much. It may have been a man claiming to know God who hurt me, but those that really know God have helped rebuild me.
The manse as a building is something I would rather not remember. It is all too often the background in the recollection of memories. Although I have had help and support working through and ultimately moving on from those memories, it doesn’t change where things happened. I should remember the lovely spacious sun filled lounge where we had many a youth team social gathering or prayer meeting; instead I remember lying on the floor for hours unable to move, staring at that ceiling. I can still remember the pattern of those swirls. Or hiding upstairs, black and blue, pretending not to be there while he had a meeting downstairs, so people wouldn’t see the freshly pulled out hair, split lip and bruises appearing. That went on behind closed doors.
Church to me is not about the building and therefore life in ministry is not about the manse, it was merely a setting. The truth is my ex-husband would have hurt me and beaten me regardless of living in a manse or not. I would have left when I did, regardless of his title of Reverend, but would I have told people sooner? Would I have had more confidence to share what happened had he not been in ministry? That I’m not sure I can answer.
The writer of this article wishes to remain anonymous.
The aim of Manse Life is to raise the profile of what personal life is like for a minister, and ground it in reality. We are doing this because ministry life is unique. There are incredible joys, amazing privileges, and inspiring times. These are all brilliant. There is also heartache; fear, frustration, loss, relocation to name a few and there is often no recourse for these feelings. By providing an outlet for people to write constructively about their personal experiences at home and church and share these in a positive environment we believe will bring hope and a sense of perspective. It will help people feel less isolated, to find common ground, to reflect, provoke thought, spur faith, share ideas and best practice, and to raise a smile.
Manse Life is totally inclusive whatever your personal and family circumstance and whether you live in a manse or not. For those who do have immediate family around them, they too are very welcome to contribute.
To contribute an article, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to share anonymously, we will ensure no names are mentioned.