Preacher’s Kid (no preaching included!)

sharperiron.orgMy first labels came as I was born.  But my next big one, which had an enormous impact on my life, came at the age of three.  Recently kiwi Oscar winner Bret McKenzie said that one of the reasons for his success was that his parents encouraged him to chase his dream.  He said that in New Zealand you could chase, and have your dream.  My father chased his dream in 1968.  He has recently died but he would said he was following his calling.  I still think it was a dream, maybe as well as a calling.

Until then my father had worked as a furnishing factory manager in Christchurch, where I now live but he always knew he wanted to be a Baptist minister.  So when the opportunity came my parents grabbed the dream and shifted us all to Kawerau, a small town (near Rotorua) in the North Island of New Zealand, so that he could become the minister of the local Baptist church.  My two older brothers and I became P.K.’s (preacher’s or pastor’s kids).

Life changed significantly, and while many times I hated being a preacher’s kid I still know that my life was better than many could hope for.  The first thing that strikes me is that Dad wasn’t around a lot.  In this first church he worked there voluntarily and was also employed full-time at the local paper mill (where most of the town’s people worked).  So he was busy.  Not just two services on Sunday, but mid-week Bible studies, visiting church people, running ‘Bible-in-Schools’ at the local primary schools, and all the other jobs that a preacher takes on.  As a child I don’t actually remember Dad being around for a lot of the time.  That said, he was always my hero and I always knew he loved me.  Mum kept things running at home.  I guess that is what she saw her dream, or calling to be – to support Dad in his dream.

Shifting north to this small town meant moving away from extended family, including grandparents and cousins.  I really never got to know any of them well as a result.  I wish I had more involvement with my grandparents.  By the time I was old enough to not feel scared of these older, strange people it was pretty much too late to really know them, and have them know me.

In place of that extended family were the people of the church.  As P.K.’s our family was the church.  Every four or so years we shifted to a new church, in a new town, and the process started again of getting to know these people.  Some of the older church people took on a kind of ‘grandparent role’ and I have good memories of some of these people who at the time meant more to me than my real grandparents.  In New Zealand we have a Maori word ‘whanau’ which is an extended family who usually live together.  From a young age I regarded my whanau as the church people, and not my real relatives.  While I missed out on my own relatives I am lucky to have had some very special people impact my life.

At that young age being a P.K. didn’t have a big impact on me but we shifted to a new church in a new city of Auckland when I was seven.  One of the costs of being a P.K. was having to make new friends, over and over again.  I did that ok this time but found there were limitations on me because of my father’s role.  There was what I call an expectation to be perfect while an assumption I was evil… and this really stayed with me until I left home.  What I mean is that some people expected that because I was the preacher’s kid then I would be perfectly well-behaved.  I wasn’t.  At the same time some people had this assumption that preacher’s kids were all terrible.  Again I wasn’t that bad.  Somehow preacher’s kids had a reputation for going off the rails, failing at school and ending up pregnant and unmarried.  My first clash with this was at the age of nine when I was locked out of my friend’s house because her parents assumed me to be a bad influence on their child.  If anything, if was the other way around, but because I was the P.K. I was judged unfairly and was not allowed to play that day.  Other times I was allowed in the house so maybe they just didn’t like Dad’s preaching that day.

We shifted again when I was 12, this time to Wellington.  This time I didn’t handle the change and actually looking back I would now say that I was extremely depressed, perhaps my first depression.  It was a very hard time for me.  Again I had to leave my friends, again I had to leave those people in the church who had become like grandparents to me.  All because my parents were following their dream (calling) but really it was not something I wanted at all.

As a teenager I came up against unwanted attention of some men in the church who had their eye fixed on the preacher’s daughter.  Again it was unwanted and at times scary.  At the time my parents only knew the slightest detail, partly because by now I had learned to keep everything to myself.  It grew into prolonged stalking which continued long after my parents had chased another dream (calling).  My life became no longer my own as two men with a common obsession left with me a lasting distrust of men.  More about that another day, but for now it is enough to say that this could be attributed to being the P.K.

So what did all this do to my own Christian faith?  Obviously I was raised as a Christian, went to church and everything related to church.  I learnt my memory verses and read my Bible, and believed in God.  As long as my mental health survived, my commitment to Christianity survived.  But as a P.K. I had seen some particularly ugly things done in the name of Christianity.  I was already concerned about the way churches portray and practise their faith, and when times got hard for me it was harder to blindly accept that everything was good, that God loved me and that other Christians really did care.  Perhaps to my parents dismay I left the church when I couldn’t find acceptance of where I was at – mentally ill and suicidal.

As a P.K. you see everything that goes on in a church and some of it aint pretty.  I got put off when I saw how some people were treated by other people, and actually that has left me with a firm belief in fairness, equality and not judging other people.  So perhaps being a P.K. was a good thing because it has made me a different person.  What I have missed out on is the moving around.  The friends I have known for the longest, I met at 12.  I don’t know anyone from before that and I sometimes wish I could still hang out with my friends from kindergarten or the like.  I just don’t have roots that go right back.


8 thoughts on “Preacher’s Kid (no preaching included!)

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  6. Dear Cate: My heart goes out to you! I am a 53 year-old PK who still suffers from the after-effects of the life. Besides the birth of my three children, the biggest blessings I have received in life are the frank conversations I have had with other PKs who truly understand what it was like and the challenges it presents, even today. I, for some reason, have been surfing the net in search of kindred spirits or information on the topic.
    To my dismay, some bloggers can’t see how growing up as a PK is any more difficult than the kid of anyone else. I try to educate, but its pretty exhausting. Also, and rather scarily,
    there are some actual clergy with websites giving advice such as, “Give your child true
    responsibility for the growth and development of the church” or , “Explain to them that our family was called to the ministry and isn’t it wonderful that God thinks that you can (be a this or that) for other kids. But to my utter relief, there are just as many brave PKs who share their perceptions. It doesn’t seem to matter what denomination -the stories are, unfortunately so similar. I encourage you to search Preacher’s Kids and comb through 6-7 pages of results, You will find a number of websites and blogs that you will find so supportive, often just people leaving comments to articles. Be careful, though, to approach with a healthy attitude: Your goal isn’t simply to hear more war stories, but realize that you are not alone and are totally understood. Yeah, there will be a few who focus only on the positive aspects of PK-hood (and admit it, it’s an interesting ride that affords some advantages lay-kids can’t imagine) and I get it – it is not easy to criticize anything with a Godly veneer, and some enter the ministry, I belief, in part, to rework, psychologically, the whole deal. However, it should be well worth it. I can’t remember the web addresses, but two young women in particular seem to be in a place very similar to where you are now. Holla back! I’ll try to be more specific if you don’t have much luck.
    God Bless You!

    1. Hi Betsy, Yes being a PK is a unique experience and one which most people have no understanding of. It can be rewarding but there can also be incredible pressure to behave a particular way and be a certain type of person. Like you I get worried by that attitude that it is the whole family serving God in the position in the church. Children (in my eyes) should be allowed to grow without those expectations. Thanks for that link, I’ll head over there and have a read. It’s always good to find similar experiences to your own.

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