I feel as if I should begin this particular piece with a personal note, because there are many who read this blog who do not know me or my family.
This is a piece of writing about how it can sometimes feel to be a clergy child, not only from my own experience, but from the experiences of follow clergy children with whom I have spoken and journeyed. This is not a post about neglect, or my parents’ failures. My parents have been brilliant, and have taught me the most important lesson of all – one of a God who loves me and fulfils the needs that they as humans could not. And they have done all this on top of loving, pastoring and leading 100s of others.
But the truth is that there are those whose parents are in ministry for whom this truth is not yet recognisable, and so this is written for them. It aims to serve as a reminder to us all that clergy, and clergy children, are human too, and sometimes, ministry hurts, but that God remains faithful through it all. So, with that in mind, here are some home truths...
It is a truth universally acknowledged that clergy children tend to go one of two ways. Either, they are 'good'. They may have a few rocky patches as they grow up, but they have their own faith, they are well behaved and well mannered, can talk to old ladies and small children alike, and will most probably end up in some form of ministry themselves. Or they rebel. They go off the rails. Completely and utterly. Turn their back on God, on religion, on their parents' advice and on the lessons they've been taught. They get to a point where they know everything so well that they can argue with any point presented to them, but belief is non-existent, and God seems so very far away.
It can seem strange how such polar opposites can come from what is seemingly the same kind of upbringing. But actually, it makes perfect sense. Because these two different ‘types’ of clergy children are fighting the same battle. They feel like God stole their parents.
God stole their parents. You see, ministry is a vocation, and the calling is clear to those who are ordained – that is their life’s work. And often, those who are called feel an overwhelming duty to fulfil that calling. This is an amazing thing, and something which changes lives and blesses people and furthers the Kingdom of God. That must not be forgotten. Except it means that ministry can become all-encompassing. Ministry cannot, by its very nature, be a 9-5 desk job, no matter how much you might want it to be. No matter how hard you might try, ministry is not something that can be ‘left at the office’. Your home is the place from which the ministry takes place – there’s a reason it’s called a ‘Vicarage’, and not just a ‘house where someone who happens to be ordained happens to live’!
Except clergy children don’t really have a choice in the matter. They are sucked into ministry whether they like it or not. Some thrive, but others resent. They, after all, were not called to be ministers. But it often feels like that’s what they have to be. And on top of that, it can frequently feel as if they are in competition. Often, they end up having some kind of strange sibling rivalry with their parents’ church. They feel as if they have to compete with 100 other people who are far needier, far louder, and far more demanding than they could ever be. And, because vicars are human too, they often end up listening to the one that shouts louder, and forget to hear the quiet voice of their child, just as needy, but drowned by the din of parishioners’ pastoral problems. Then, because children are also human, they remember only the times when their parents put other people first, and never see the incredible sacrifices made by their parents for them over the 100s of others.
And so, clergy children turn away. They stop asking for their parents’ attention because they think they will never be able to compete with 100s of others demanding it. And as they stop asking, they start believing the lies that are whispered to them in the darkness of the night and the silence of the doubt. The lie that their parents care more about their ministry than they do about their children. That God cares more about the church than He does about individuals. That God’s ‘call’ on their parents’ life was a calling away from their children. That God stole their parents.
But there is something within them which fights back. No, it says, God is not like that. There is more to Him than His call on your parents’ life. He cares about individuals. He made individuals. He loves the church, but He also loves individuals. He is father to the fatherless. He calls every person to Himself, and provides for all that He has made. He has plans for each individual, regardless of who their parents are, or what they have done. He leads with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. He is not only the creator, but the sustainer of all.
And so, the battle rages. The truth and the lies, round and round, competing for attention, for belief, for investment. Competing for the very core of their being, for their devotion. There are days when the truth wins, and there are days when the lies dominate. For some, it is far more of one than the other. When the lies dominate, acceptance must be found elsewhere, and God is a monster. God is shrouded in lies, and they want nothing to do with Him. So they run, and hide, however they can.
But the truth. When the truth wins, there is freedom. There is liberation from the lies. There is the ability to see their parents as human beings, and love them anyway. To acknowledge that yes, their parents have not always got it right, but they’ve tried their best. And God’s grace fills in where their parents have failed. God’s grace goes further. It covers not only their parents’ mistakes, but the lies they have believed as well.
And then comes the choice. The choice between the truth and the lies. The choice between acceptance and rejection. Choose the truth and reject the lies, or believe the lies and forget the truth? Some choose the former. Many, sadly, choose the latter.
But the beauty of the truth, you see, is that it prevails. It remains the truth, whether or not you choose to accept it. And there is always a way back to the truth, no matter how long you have believed the lies. There is grace, there is redemption, and there is freedom. You need only to look to the truth, and the truth will set you free.
To any clergy children out there, God has not stolen your parents. The lies have. God has called your parents, yes, but not away from you. You as their child are a key part of their calling. God is faithful, and true. The lies are not. God loves you, and protects you, and wants the best for you. And so do your parents. They are called not only to be vicars, but to be your parents too. Do not believe the lies that tell you otherwise. And when your parents fail, which they inevitably will, because they are human, God will not. He will never fail. So lay your burdens, your pain, your anger and your lies at the foot of the cross, and look to the truth of God’s love for you, as an individual. A beloved child of His, redeemed, forgiven and looked after. No matter what.
As aforementioned, this post is an amalgamation of many different stories and experiences, not necessarily reflecting my own. To read more of my personal story, check out these posts:
And for any clergy parents out there: Being the parent of a clergy child
Hi, I’m Alianore. I used to be known as 'Nell Goddard', but then I got married and changed my name. I’m an author, blogger, and speaker. A theologian, on a good day. A Christian, a storyteller, and a friend. I tweet as @alianoree and you can find more of my writings in my first book, 'Musings of a Clergy Child'.