Views from the Manse – memoirs and meanderings of a ministers missus

3rd May 2020

It was 1972 when Gilbert said that he was considering going into the ministry. We had been married 10 years and had two children, Tim aged 8 and Libby aged 6, and were members of the local Church of Christ, a church I first attended when I joined the Sunday school at the age of 5.

He wanted to join the Methodists who were in discussions with the Presbyterian and Congregationalists about forming a Uniting Church. The Church of Christ had been part of the early discussions but had decided not to proceed.

We had gone to a Methodist church for eight years while Gilbert was a teacher in the High School in Bairnsdale. While there Gilbert had become a local preacher and we had been very active in the life of the church.

Our Christian Life was very important to us so this decision wasn’t a complete shock. It seemed like a natural progression of our faith. So he had a talk to the local Methodist minister who gave him lots of wise and helpful advice and everything started moving.

But first we had to tell our parents.

Gilbert’s Mother and Dad were both active members of their church and so telling them would be easy. Gilbert visited them one night to break the news. They didn’t seem to be very surprised and seemed to be quite pleased. However the next day, while Gilbert was at school I had a visit from his father, who wanted to know how I felt about the decision. I think I convinced him that I was happy with the prospect and keen to provide Gilbert with my total support.

It then remained to tell my parents.

I wasn’t from a church family and was not sure how they would take it.  Dad went very quiet and Mum could only say ‘But what about your securities?’

By this time we had moved back to Ashburton from Bairnsdale and had bought a nice little house not far from them. The children would often visit their grandparents on Saturday mornings, with Tim spending time in the garage or garden with Grandpa and Libby following Grandma around the house talking her head off. My parents loved having us nearby, especially after we had been so far away when the children were babies.

Gilbert had enjoyed teaching and it provided a secure future and it was also important for Mum and Dad that we lived in a nice house.  

Ministry did not tick any of these boxes very well. We might end up in an awful manse and Gilbert may find himself dealing with difficult people in the congregation. Also ministry was seen to be a less secure job than teaching.  

However, Mum and Dad soon came around and accepted our decision. Dad could not have been prouder on the night of Gilbert’s ordination.

Personally, this was a big change for me as I was under pressure to take on leadership roles in the church. Though I had been active in women’s fellowship groups and had taught in the Sunday school I had always been a shrinking violet, preferring to be part of the group and to sit and knit or chat. Every now and then I would add a bit of cheek or advice but never take the lead.

When pressed in this new situation I gave in, but do not think I was a great leader. Women’s fellowship groups were always friendly and happy places for me and there were always other ladies who could step in and deal with the contentious issues. As I started out there were some terrific minister’s wives around who acted as role models. They gave me good advice so that in due course I found my own style but it was very low key.

While Gilbert was studying he was appointed to Altona North and after he graduated we went to a church based in Deloraine, Tasmania. It was a big shift but we enjoyed life in the country and it was excellent for the children.

After three years in Tasmania we moved back to what is now the Uniting church in Highfield Rd Canterbury. This was a larger church and we stayed for eight and a half years. The children were in high school by this time and it was a big change for them to be in a much larger school and to have to catch a train and a bus to get there.  

Being a minister’s wife at this time brought with it the expectation that you would provide leadership, fresh ideas and be available at all times. At first I was happy to accept this traditional role but later on, with more women working this was seen as being unfair. It was not long before some women were expressing amazement that I would try and fill the traditional role, especially the expectation that you would be available to respond to all sorts of situations at any time of the day or night.

As more and more women became highly educated, they began to have their own professional careers in teaching or nursing etc. As a result they contributed substantially to the family finances, and were able to help stabilise the budget during the crunch points of family life, while at the same time maintaining their own credentials.

When the children were in their teens, with one at University and the other finishing secondary school, money became tight for us and we began to worry as to how we would manage.

I thought it would be a good idea to find a part time job that would fit around my other commitments. This seemed a tall order. However, while shopping at our local greengrocer I noticed a sign in the window advertising a position for two days a week. Everything about the job was just what I had hoped for. I applied and was given it on the spot!

So, I became a part time shop assistant, not the most highly paid job in the world, but it made all the difference to our budget and life became far less stressful.

It was wonderful to be working ‘in the world’ again and meeting people who were not part of the church. And to be paid for the privilege was a marvellous bonus. I loved the work and the family I worked with, and stayed with them for ten years.

When we left Highfield Rd, Gilbert was called to the Rosanna Uniting Church.

After seven years at Rosanna he was called to the Diamond Creek Uniting church, located near the Hurstbridge railway line. It was part of the Diamond Valley parish and in a lovely area. It had a fairly new manse that was rather big for the two of us. But it was great for entertaining visitors and holding study groups and meetings. With both of our children married and having children of their own it was always good to have sleepovers or holiday times together.

Rosanna was a busy and challenging parish and after nine years Gilbert was able to retire.

We moved to a house in Ringwood and settled into a rather quiet life together. It is good to be free of the responsibilities of ministerial life and to be involved in our local church where other people are able and willing to provide the leadership.

Looking back over all the changes we have seen and the wonderful people we have met it has been a very full life. When one is in there you just get on with it and do not always appreciate how good it is especially when health issues arise and times are not so easy. At those times the church family is always there with lots of kindness and support.

And I suppose that is how we have always regarded people in the church, as family who are close, affectionate, and respectful.

This makes the whole life of ministry such a very special privilege.

I give thanks to God who was with us all the way.

Yvonne Joyce