The word ‘vicar’ means ‘deputy’. In the Middle Ages, the word ‘rector’ meant the person who had the right to collect the income of his parish (known as the ‘living’). The rector would appoint a deputy, the vicar, who did the work we associate today with ministers and priests. So the term ‘vicar’ became commonly used to refer to any working church minister.
These days, vicar is a term which refers to a parish priest of the Anglican Church and are free to marry. Since 1992, women have been able to become vicars. The first female vicar in England was appointed in 1994 and the first female bishop, the Right Reverend Libby Lane, was consecrated in 2015.
The Image of Her’s Matthew Williams isn’t technically a vicar as he currently doesn’t have a parish. Yes, he’s a clergyman, but he has returned to the church after a year’s sabbatical following a violent assault on him and he has recently been appointed editor of the Diocese of Aldabury’s church magazine. But that doesn’t stop Rachel Harris’ best friend Kathy referring to Matthew in considerable disbelief as a ‘Hot Vicar’.
This is because British vicars have been portrayed for years as stuffy, conservative, tea or sherry-drinkers, and not exactly the sharpest tool in the box. I’m just about old enough to remember the comedian Dick Emery’s portrayal of a vicar with all the above characteristics.
This is changing, though. I was a big fan of Rev, a BBC comedy which was set in an inner city London parish, and The Vicar of Dibley, with a female vicar in a rural parish.
Matthew is none of these things. I didn’t go out of my way to overturn all the stereotypes, I just wanted to portray Matthew as a normal bloke, who lived with his ex-girlfriend during his year away from the church. He just happens to be a clergyman.
“Macbeth is opening in a few weeks,” she began. “If I can get tickets, will you come?”
His face brightened and her heart leapt. “I’d love to.” He drained his glass and topped it up again. “Thank you. The last play I saw was some Oscar Wilde thing. The whole production was awful.”
“The Importance of Being Earnest three months ago.”
“You were there?” He gave a hearty guffaw. “The opening and only night?” She nodded. “Lady Bracknell forgot her lines twice and someone else almost fell off the stage.”
“It was pretty awful. Francie’s refused to go to the theatre with me ever again.”
“Francie?” He stacked the empty pizza boxes on top of each other then had to grab them as the breeze threatened to blow them away. He put them on the floor by his feet.
“A friend of mine,” she explained. “We worked together a few years ago.”
“Could he or she not move in with you?”
“I’m sure her husband and kids would have something to say if she did.”
“Oh.” He made an inarticulate gesture with a hand. “It’s a right pain in the arse when your friends all go off and get married on you, isn’t it?”
How many glasses of wine had he drunk? She stole a glance at the bottle; there was a dribble in the bottom. Two? Whatever it was, he was pretty tipsy on it.
“Very inconsiderate,” she agreed.
“You’d like to get married?”
“Or would you rather live together?” he asked, reaching for the wine again.
He smiled at that and emptied the last of the wine into his glass. “Maybe?”
“Maybe. How about you?” she went on before they started going round and round in circles.
“Not sure. The church believes in the sanctity of marriage.”
“Are you trying to trip me up here?” he enquired with a smile.
Was she? “Maybe.”
“Then, yes, I suppose I do. And, yes, I would like to get married one day, but I’m very wary after the whole Karen mess. Are you a bit…after what happened with you?”
“A bit, yes,” she admitted and took a sip of lemonade.
“It’s hard, too, when you’re out in a club, say, and you’re asked what you do.”
“What do you say?” Now she was really curious. A clergyman in a night club.
How on earth does he go about chatting up girls?
“I haven’t been in a club since the attack, but I used to I tell them I’m a clergyman,” he responded with a firm nod. “I never lie about it. As to specifics…” He swirled the wine around the glass before draining it. “I used to tell them exactly what I did, that I was the vicar of a parish in the city, and that’s when they either laughed at me or disappeared to the ladies’ toilets and never came back.”
“I laughed at you. I’m sorry.”
“You apologised.” He shrugged. “A first for me. In fact, you’ve been really good about it all. Incredibly good. You’ve never once interrogated me.”
Except now. “I left that to my parents.”
“Mine were horrified when I told them what I do now. ‘Why do you always have to be different, Matt?’” He mimicked a high-pitched voice, which must be his mother’s. “‘Why can’t you be a normal clergyman, if it’s what you really want to do?’”
“I’m sure they are proud of you,” she said, sounding feeble.
“They never show it or say so.”
He pushed his empty glass away and rested his folded arms on the table. “There you go apologising again.”
“I mean it.”
“I know you do.” He sighed and peered up at the sky. “I wish I could live at the cottage again, but if something happened to you I’d never forgive myself.”
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