Life as a minister's wife

Mairi MacAulay with her husband, Alasdair, vicar at Tain and Fearn Free Church

A former BBC radio producer is to feature in a documentary that explores the role of ministers' wives in Scotland.

Mairi MacAulay, who is married to Rev Alasdair of Tain and Fearn Free Church, is one of three wives to feature on the six-part series broadcast on BBC Alba. A camera crew have been following the MacAulays for the last 18 months, documenting their journey as they take on a parish for the first time.

We caught up with Mairi, who now works as a classroom assistant while also being involved in running a parent and toddler group, post-abortion counselling and crisis pregnancy work.

She shares more about life as a reverend's other half.

CT: Why did you decide to get involved in the programme?
MM: The main aim was to give an insight into what ministry is all about and the fact that it involves much more than most people think. We just thought, let's do this and show people what it's all about. It's been a closed door for many years, so we wanted to open that door. We wanted people to see that we are just ordinary folks and in many ways no different to every other family, and we hope that many people will see that the Free Church is involved in many aspects of community life and that this may encourage them to join us.

CT: Life as a family in ministry is probably fairly different to your time at the BBC. How have things changed?
MM: It's funny how you can see God's preparation for you, and I think we can both see that. We both worked for the BBC - Alasdair was a journalist - and he's seen how the skills he needed as a journalist have helped him in his preparation for now, especially for writing sermons and that side of the work. And for me it's been pretty much the same. I used to be a shy person, but for my work at the BBC I had to become somebody who could go and speak to people and do interviews and so I developed those skills. I see God's preparation in that because when you are in ministry you have to go out there, be amongst people, listen to their problems, listen to their joys, and you have to very much be a people person. I think that's God's preparation for me for that work because when I was younger I was shy and I didn't like to talk to people and now I'm shown doing it on a TV show! It's really quite amazing.

CT: What kind of support is there available for you?
MM: I am really fortunate to have a friend of mine called to be a minister in Maryburgh which is only about half an hour away from me. We lived next door to one another in Edinburgh for three years, so I got to know his wife quite well. I have a great rapport with her, we meet up regularly along with another minister's wife who lives in Inverness, and we have that support network with one another which is great.

Also, the Free Church of Scotland last year started a minister's wife conference. It facilitates a way of talking about the issues we face and getting involved in the community and things like that. It's a really great idea, and I think it'll go from strength to strength.

CT: What's been the main challenge you've faced so far?
MM: I think during your first year you're quite excited and I can't pinpoint many low points as such. I suppose the hardest thing is dealing with people; hearing their problems, sharing their problems and helping them through on a spiritual level. I think sometimes you can take that away with you and you are burdened with it in a way. Some people can deal with that easily and some people can't, and I think I'm just one of those who can't take other people's problems on board and think about them without it affecting my own life too much.

Sometimes somebody's got a very difficult issue and it doesn't come away from your mind for a long time. But I think God knows, you know? He's always there to balance things out for you – you might have a very stressful few days, and then suddenly you have something really gloriously joyful happen, and it can be like that. It can be quite an emotional rollercoaster – one morning you might be dealing with someone who's got a really difficult emotional issue, and before the afternoon, you're with someone who's had something really fantastic happen. I suppose that's been the most difficult thing, dealing with how you cope with that. But as I say, God gives us hope, and he helps us through.

CT: What about the high points?
MM: I think it's getting to know the people! Maybe I'm just in the honeymoon period, but I'm just so enjoying getting to know people, they've been so lovely. I run a parent-toddler group, and none of the mums go to church, but getting to know them has been lovely.  It's been such a privilege, and our congregation are just super. I couldn't have asked for better really! I'm just very happy where I am.

CT: And finally, do you have any advice for ministers' wives who are about to embark upon the same journey?
MM: I was very fortunate to be close to the minister's wife in my previous church from when Alasdair was studying in Edinburgh. I found having that bond with another minister's wife has been really great, and I think that would be my advice to anybody going into ministry. Make sure you have someone who's in the same boat as you, that you can talk to and ask anything. I would say to have that support network is absolutely vital.

I think most ministers' wives would agree with that, because you do need someone to offload to where confidentiality isn't broken. You've got your husband, but sometimes they're quite busy! And it's good to have another woman's perspective - I think it's vital to have that help. I know that years ago the minister's wife wouldn't speak to anybody about anything and I would find that quite difficult.

The first episode of 'Bean a' Mhinisteir', or 'The Minister's Wife', will broadcast on Friday 10 January at 8.30pm on BBC Alba - Sky 143, Virgin Media 161, Freesat 110 or via BBC iPlayer.