Wednesday, April 25, 2012

On the "Family Business"

I just read James Howell's musings on the "Family Business" over at Faith and Leadership at Duke Divinity. Though he married into the business, he now finds himself as the father of a daughter who will be a fourth generation minister. It all made me think about my own foray into the family business.

My dad is a pastor, and his dad is a pastor. My dad's mother went to Bible school and has functionally been a co-pastor for her whole life, and I believe was even ordained at some point - though I've not heard that from her mouth. My dad's only brother is a pastor, and all three of his kids have spent time in the International House of Prayer ministry in Kansas City. My mom and dad met at Bible college, and of my mom's five siblings, two are career missionaries and another spent a number of years in missions. In fact, on my mom's side, we've traced our lineage all the way back to one of the very first Lutheran priests, who came over from Catholicism during the Reformation in Norway. (or was it Sweden?) So yes, I'm in the family business.

So is my husband. He is the son and grandson of pastors, and his dad's only brother nearly became a pastor, too. So here we are, two third-generation ministers married to each other, having to negotiate problems in marriage that I think few people have, such as who would marry us (our dads co-officiated) and, if we have children, who will baptize them.

I can't speak for Andy's experience, but I believe that he had a lot of encouragement towards the ministry growing up. After all, he was a tall, good-looking young man, the first-born, well-behaved, a good listener...

I, on the other hand, don't ever remember anyone encouraging me to consider ministry when I was growing up. I was also very active in church from a young age, at least until high school, and while I exhibited strong leadership abilities of my own, I was often encouraged into teaching. A few particularly discerning folks said that they could see me as a "teacher of teachers." But a minister? I don't know that it ever crossed their minds. I don't think it ever crossed mine, either! I had never experienced a female pastor, though no one had ever told me it was forbidden (not until later, at least). My sister even went through a small stage of wanting to be a minister. I said to her, "Are you CRAZY?" It turns out that she is quite sane, and really enjoys her work as a clinical laboratory scientist.

On the other hand, once I discerned my call to ministry, it was quite difficult to emerge from my dad's shadow. And he casts a very big shadow. First of all, he's 6'4'', and more importantly, through the twists and turns of his vocation, he has worked in local churches, for the national denomination, with all of the Presbyterian seminaries, and with so many ministers in the Presbyterian Church and beyond that it was difficult to introduce myself in most church circles without being asked, "Are you by any chance related to Sheldon?"

I love my dad dearly, and I think that as apples and trees go, well, we wind up sharing a lot of ground. In terms of my vocation and ministerial identity, I've caught a lot from him, and for that and so much more I am incredibly grateful. Still, I've encountered quite a few assumptions and expectations all because I am Sheldon's daughter. Some Seminary classmates would chalk up my achievements to him - "Well, of course when you grow up with Sheldon as a father...," and on occasions when I didn't have some specific kind of knowledge: "How could YOU not know that?" I was pursued for my Seminary internship by a minister who was good friends with my dad. As soon as he discovered that I was in Seminary in Louisville, he badgered my dad for my email address and proceeded to recruit me to work in his church. It was a great experience, and I'm thankful for the doors that have opened through mutual relationships. But there are still expectations that I carry along with the stick straight hair that I can thank him for, too. I even find myself succumbing to the expectations. Like the time I was asked if I considered myself to be a "pre-Barthian, Barthian, or post-Barthian" preacher. I was embarrassed to say I didn't know enough to answer the question, and silently kicked myself. I should have known that - my dad's PhD was on Barth! It's a wonder that when he successfully defended his dissertation when I was 7 years old that the knowledge didn't transfer directly to me.

One of the best things about being in the family business is that it has introduced me to an even bigger family. Many PKs (and generations thereof) find themselves called into ministry, and PKs can find community with other PKs and other ministers that is quite unique. I call it PK-dar - we somehow gravitate towards each other. I don't know the statistics, but I think there are plenty of PKs who marry each other, or PKs who marry other ministers. In fact, I'm surprised at the number of other female clergy I've met - PK or not - who married sons of pastors. There is something about being in the family business that really unites the family. Perhaps the call into a ministerial family isn't accidental.

It's also not inevitable. Neither of Andy's two brothers are ministers, nor is my sister, so there is hope. Andy and I don't have children, but hope to some day, and then they'll be - wait for it - DOUBLE Fourth-Generation PKs (if I've got my math right, and it's entirely possible that I don't - I'm a minister, not a mathematician!). I pity those children already for the lines that they will have to hear growing up about following in our footsteps, the inappropriate questions about what kind of PKs they are (goody two-shoes or wild child), the boundary-stomping parishioners with all of the good intentions in the world, and the expectations that will be placed on them by others, by themselves, and hopefully to as little a degree as possible, by us.

To our unborn (and to clear up ANY confusion, not-yet-conceived) children, I write the following. I'm sorry. You didn't choose to be born into this crazy family business, but here you are. Your father and I have had lots of experience growing up in the church, and we will do our best to nurture you with the same love and support, cradling you in our arms and in our boundaries until you are able to establish your own. You will not have to go to every single church activity, sing in the choir, volunteer in the nursery, or sit in the front pew unless you want to. Though we will be criticized for it, we will not prioritize church work over you, even if sometimes we have to juggle things around. We will always be your parents first. We will do our best to teach you about God, to pass on to you this mantle of faith which we have received. We will fill our home with prayer and worship together, teach you the stories of the faith, not because people will expect you to know Bible trivia (though they will), but because we want you to know from the very beginning who you are and whose you are. We will strive our best to be great pastors, but we will not be pastor to you. To you we will just be mom or dad, but we'll help you find other pastors that can nurture you in your walk of faith. We will love you and support you, and we will never expect or pressure you to go into ministry just because we did. We will try to shield you from the things about church that no one wants to see, but we will be honest about the fact that the church is just a big group of flawed people, all in need of God's help - us included. It's not always easy growing up as a PK, but it's not all bad, either. You'll see. And just wait until you meet the rest of the family.
Love, Pastors Stephanie and Andy   Mom and Dad

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