Most Sundays, I more or less wake up when Mark comes in to kiss me goodbye before heading off for church. On very, very rare mornings, I might be awake enough for us to have tea and toast together; if I’ve had an exceptionally rough week, I might not wake up until he comes in after the service. But most Sunday mornings, I wake up just as he’s heading out.
I savour my Sunday mornings; they’re the quietest time of my week. Mostly, I do chores–bleaching the shower, running a load of laundry, scrubbing down the kitchen, maybe starting a nice lunch (though, lately, the timing of him getting home varies widely enough that it really doesn’t make sense to actually cook until he’s here). Not all my mornings are spent quite so virtuously, of course; sometimes I linger over my tea with a novel and a couple croissants, sometimes I just sit in the front room and knit, which sounds quite industrious until you realise I’m probably knitting large pieces of lace that might, at a stretch, be called shawls, but more often than not serve little purpose beyond filling some of my time with colour and texture–sheer self-indulgence.
We live very much in each other’s pockets the rest of the week; we share an office, so it’s not unheard of for days to pass without us moving out of earshot of one another. I treasure this togetherness, because I know how rare it is for two people to be able to sustain it for *mumblemumble* years and still be genuinely happy to see each other every morning, noon, and night. But I also treasure my Sunday mornings.
This is why today was unusual: Mark came in to wake me, and instead of sleepily wishing him a pleasant service, I got up, put on the long black skirt I wear for lecturing and meetings, a nice sweater, and pinned my kippah to my head. We walked together through the sunny streets, still too early for many people to be up and about. When we got to the church, he guided me up to the balcony; I set up my tripod, and a video camera we borrowed from our doctoral supervisor.
Mark, you see, is on the clerical job market, and one of the requirements for that is that he have a reasonably recent video of him preaching. As it happens, most of our friends who would consider being awake on a Sunday morning have duties to attend to at their own congregations. So producing the video fell to me.
One of the cardinal rules in our partnership has been this: I stay away from church. Oh, I go to weddings and funerals of people we know; I’ll attend the odd coffee morning, and I have seriously considered accepting the invitation to the craft guild (though scheduling conflicts took the actual decision on that out of my hands). I go to our departmental chapel services, and I have attended the odd interfaith prayer meeting (trust me, most of them are quite odd), though I’m generally a bit sceptical about those, and I even attended portions of last year’s General Assembly, as there was some business on the agenda that was of great interest to me. But into the sanctuary on a Sunday morning, I simply do not go.
I guess what I’m trying to say is this: Until today, I have never heard Mark preach, never seen him swathed in his Geneva gown, wearing the stole I brought back to him from Israel (embroidered by a Palestinian women’s collective; it matches our challah cover, not that anyone who sees one would ever have reason to know the other exists). I’ve been told that he’s almost unrecognisable in the pulpit (I disagree, by the way), that he fits there in a way that nobody meeting him in another context is quite prepared to envision (and I agree that he is very good at what he does, but I’m really not all that surprised… though I suppose I might’ve been, when I first met him).
The main reason I stay away from church is this:
I am not now, nor will I ever be, a Minister’s Wife.
Or, more to the point, I have no intention of behaving like one–or, at least, like the fuzzy notion of the Ideal Minister’s Wife that hovers in the back of my mind, and owes more of its existence to L. M. Montgomery novels (I read a lot of her novels as a child–though my view of Ministers’ Wives might be different if I’d read her journals sooner!) than to any real person. I realise Montgomery’s rather narrow ideas about the proper way to keep house in a manse aren’t the only model for a clerical family–partnerships between two ministers are now common enough that most of the time, when I’m first introduced to one of Collar’s church connections, they will ask whether I’m studying to be a minister as well. Still, Montgomery is the source of the images I’m most familiar with, and as far as church culture might’ve evolved in the last few decades, I believe it’s still generally taken for granted that the Minister’s Wife will, at the very least, have some sort of vested interest in church business, beyond the fact that it gives her 3-4 hours of quiet time every Sunday.
My way of coping with the gap between ideals (both the early 20th-century figure at the back of my own mind and the more modern ideals that I assume–perhaps wrongly–other people might be tempted to project onto me) is to simply avoid being in a position to contend with them, to refuse, as much as possible, to do things that might cause someone to confuse me with a Minister’s Wife. Like, for example, showing up for church on Sunday morning.
Sometimes, that sort of avoidance works.
Sometimes, it doesn’t.