The other night we were watching an episode of the BBC period drama “Call the Midwife”, featuring a group of nurse-midwives serving in the 1950s in the impoverished docks area of London. One of the characters, Chummy, is invited to come back to work part-time after having a baby herself “…if you can find appropriate care for the baby, and of course if your husband is agreeable.” Chummy, a highly energetic woman, who is happiest with many projects on the go at one time, replies “Peter is always agreeable. He isn’t like other men.”
Certain denizens of the docks might disagree with Chummy’s estimation of her husband. That’s because the agreeable Peter is a policeman, part of the strong and long arm of the law. There are some things to which the agreeable Peter can never agree, and which he will fight with all of his heart, protecting the innocent and bringing those who would harm them to justice.
There is no conflict between these two sides of Sergeant Peter. Both together are what make him a good policeman and a good husband. I turned to my husband as we watched that scene and said “You are always agreeable too!”
But like the policeman, there are certain things the priest can’t agree to in the territory entrusted to him, and for that reason he sometimes comes up against people who find him not agreeable at all. I remember many years ago a fractious member (whom the bishop told us was part of a ‘clan of priest-eaters’!) who tried to force my husband to do what –she- wanted over a certain issue, rather than what he was leading the parish to do (and in which the other members were following him.) “Please work with me,” he said to her (very agreeably!) Her reply: “NOBODY can work with you, Father!”
NOBODY turned out to be only her own family, who thereupon left the parish, leaving the other members in peace to grow their church community, which is still a healthy, happy place today. Years later another person described my husband’s approach to such things as the ‘iron hand in the velvet glove’.
I am not at all like the energetic, Martha-like Chummy. But my clergy husband, like Policeman Peter, is both strong and agreeable, and trusts his presbytera to make her own way in life and in the community without squeezing into any one-size-fits-all role expectations. He is ‘not like other men’, but is that combination of strong and agreeable that the Christian man and church leader should be. I can only wish the same for all my fellow clergy wives.