Being a Female Vicar
What's it like being a Vicar?
Annie is a parish priest in North Oxfordshire, with four churches across two parishes. She came into ministry fairly late, being ordained when she was 51. Annie lives with her Springer Spaniel, Bertie, who she loves taking for long walks. Annie likes the theatre, and regularly visits the Royal Shakespeare Company and some of the London theaters - and she performs in the annual village pantomime! Apart from this, she enjoys non-theological reading - particularly historical novels. She enjoys healthy eating and when time allows, going for a run with Bertie.
Job title: Vicar
Current employer: Church of England
Industry: Community religious practice
Hours: 48+ hours per week on average
How long have you been practising in this field? 7 years.
What’s your job title and location?
Vicar - minister of religion. I'm based in North Oxfordshire, covering the villages of Deddington, Clifton, Hempton and The Barfords.
What's it like working in your role? What does a typical day look like?
I'm always up by 6.15am and take my dog out for an early morning walk. I am then usually in church for Morning Prayer by 8.45am. Those are pretty much the two things constants in my day because no two days are ever the same!
Each day holds a number of different engagements - some of these might be visits to nursing homes or hospitals, meeting with couples regarding baptisms or weddings, or with families to organise a funeral. I sit on the boards of several charities as well as the school governors. I could be going into school for an assembly or to meet with staff to plan worship.
Has anyone ever been surprised when you told them that you were in this role?
Most people still expect the Vicar to be male, and are often surprised to find a woman in this role. Interestingly, when this does happen, people often feel the need to apologise.
In your current role, what do you spend your time doing?
Most people think I just do services on a Sunday! But I also conduct weddings, baptisms and funerals, I do pastoral visiting in a variety of places and contexts. I go into the local primary school to do assemblies, but also to talk to the staff, and offer a pastoral service there. I prepare and deliver sermons on multiple days a week.
I also lead small groups of people who are exploring faith. There is always a lot of administrative work to keep up with and I am Vocations Advisor for the deanery, which means that if anyone feels called to go into ministry, they come and see me and we explore together what that ministry might be. After 6-12 months, when I am sure we have it right, I move them to the next person who can help fulfil them on the next stage.
What’s your favourite part of your job?
Pastoral care in all contexts; weddings and baptisms and working with schools.
Are there any specific qualifications you are required to have in your field?
A diploma or a degree in Theology (after three years part-time study). Some Diocese expect an MA. This is followed by 3 and a half years training as a Curate in a parish before you can apply for a parish of your own.
How did you get to where you are today?
I left school at 16 to become Land Rover's first female apprentice. It was a commercial apprenticeship specialising in what was then called 'Personnel'. On my induction, I was the only girl among 150 apprentices, so it was a little daunting!
Working in a factory was a very masculine environment so from a very early age I have been used to being surrounded by men. Also, the personnel department covered areas such as welfare, recruitment and training, all of which have been immensely useful in the job I do now.
After leaving and having a child, I returned to work in a publishing office. I was an assistant when I first arrived, but 10 or so years later, I published my own design magazine. Again, this experience of leading a small team of people and having to be very precise and meet tight deadlines has been perfect training for what I do now as a vicar.
Was there anything you liked doing at secondary school that helped you get to this career?
English, both language and literature (which were my favourite subjects) as well as Latin and Religious education.
What did you want to be as a child when you 'grew up'?
Can you remember what your parents reactions were to that aspiration?
Delighted... until I went to Land Rover! My mother was disappointed as she wanted me to either teach or work in a bank. I am teaching now - just not in the way she expected!
Can you remember your parents or teachers wanting or encouraging you to go into a specific career? And was this linked to your gender?
We were encouraged to become 'professionals' - either teachers, lawyers or bankers. Those less academic were expected to take on secretarial type roles which were generally considered to be 'female'.
What do you think are attitudes towards and expectations of women in the church?
Twenty five years ago the attitudes to women priests was appalling. I know women who have been spat upon at their ordinations. In one case, someone I know had to walk across the grass to get to chapel where someone had written 'Jezebel' in weedkiller.
Thankfully these attitudes have changed and we are accepted far more widely now, although the journey has been long and painful. Clergy are generally very supportive and encouraging of one another because we understand the reality of the job. They know how hard the job can be and expectations are always very high.
Are there any challenges or benefits working in your field?
Challenges are sometimes physical. Most of my days are 12 to 15 hours so tiredness becomes a way of life. Many clergy (including myself) are naturally introverts, which means being in the public eye all the time can be challenging as people watched and judge us if we get something wrong.
Some people don't understand why we need a day off for example, and we are always expected to be there for an individual just when they need you to be, regardless of whatever else is going on.
Another challenge is that clergy are often expected to manage a situation, and say or do the right thing, often with no time to prepare. For example, once, a member of my congregation died in the bell tower whilst I was leading a communion service. I asked people to leave as gently as possible, and then administer prayers when the body was brought down. They don't teach you what to do in situations like this a theological college!
It's quite sacrificial being in ministry, and especially difficult for family. Clergy children for example, often have a difficult time in school as their behaviour is expected to be exemplary - imagine how hard that is for a teenager.
However, there are many benefits. Full-time clergy usually receive a vicarage - often a good-sized detached house with a study that is separate from the living part of the house. This is lovely, but we are expected to use the house for meetings, which mostly end up outside the study if there are more than a few people - which can be a feel invasive. Also, we are expected to pay for bills like heating, which if you are single like I am, can be a financial challenge.
We do get 6 weeks holiday a year - although obviously we can't go away at ether Easter or Christmas - but I will always take a 3 week break in the summer. We are also allowed a week's retreat somewhere to recharge our batteries.
What advice would you give to young girls who are aspiring to be in your role, or who maybe haven't even considered it as a career?
You can't be motivated by money - the benefits of this job are all in the joy and emotion of what you do. It does open unexpected doors - I came very close to being a Royal Navy Chaplain, which would have been entirely different to a parish priest (and is still something I may do in the future).
If you think this is something you might like to do, then be open to hearing God's call. Very difficult to explain really, but an interest in the life and work of Jesus would be a great start. Also, an awareness of your own spirituality.
I would say that although the challenges are great and the benefits few, the rewards, in terms of how you can affect peoples lives, are enormous. There is a great deal of joy in what we do, and although we are called to love our flock, the real joy comes when they love you back!
Hours: 12+ hours/day
Starting salary: Around £17,000 - 20,000
Terminology: Vicars are also known as Pastor, Priest, Clergyman, Rector.
The role: A vicar is an ordained priest who is assigned to a particular parish. Working from the church in their Parish, a vicar holds religious services such as communal worship, marriages, funerals.
Qualifications required: The path to becoming a fully ordained vicar is fairly long, on average about 8 years. The process involves multiple stages: Discernment, Training & Curacy.
Women represent up to about 20% of ministers.