Expecting Ministry Wives: An interview-based analysis of the expectations upon ministry wives in the Sydney Anglican Diocese in the 1960s-80s. What were the expectations placed upon them, did they change and if so, how and why?
One evening in late 1964 about twenty women gathered at Moore College. They were wives and fiancées of some students of the College. They came to evenings such as this one, which were held quarterly, to share fellowship and receive guidance on what it meant to be a ‘ministry wife’. On this particular evening the speaker was Alison Reid, wife of John Reid, then rector at Gladesville and later Bishop Reid of South Sydney. The women were encouraged: ‘you’ve got to remember you’re not the unpaid curate’. One of the young women present that evening, Jan Livingstone, reported this remark to her father-in-law, who was a Sydney Anglican clergyman. He replied, ‘you’ve got to remember you are’. This episode displays the tension surrounding what was expected of ministry wives in the Sydney Diocese in the 1960s-80s. This tension arose because these expectations were beginning to change. This change, while perhaps not radical, was still significant. Yet it has been largely underappreciated or left unaddressed by historians. For example, Janet West (herself a Sydney Anglican) in her work Daughters of Freedom includes one of the few examinations of expectations of ministry wives in the 1960s-80s. In this brief subsection, she suggests that nationally expectations of ministry wives lowered somewhat in the 1970s ‘largely as a result of the women’s movement’ (emphasis mine). She goes on to suggest that in the Sydney Diocese this change was even less noticeable: ‘there appeared to be little change from traditional roles of helpmeet and bridge between clergy and congregation’.
However, on analysis, it appears that the expectations ministers and parishioners had of ministry wives in the Sydney Diocese (and indeed, the expectations the wives had of themselves) did adjust significantly from the 1960s to the 1980s, even if they continued to have the same general shape as those of the previous generation. Hospitality became less about appearance and more about substance. Leadership became less characterized by formality and more by mutual lay involvement. Parishioners’ ability to access the ministry family become more measured and the involvement of the ministry wife became more flexible as some wives returned to the workforce. Further, while these changes were certainly due in part to the women’s movement, they were also due to other changes in Australian society, in Christian ministry and in the Sydney Diocese in particular.