Tuesday, October 04, 2005

On Being a Minister's Kid

*warning: this entry kind of bounces around*

Dave, who appears to be a "new" Lutheran blogger stopped by my blog recently and left a note on this entry. He wrote "Life in the fishbowl often makes PKs long for anonymity." This is true, I'm sure the same could be said for the president's two daughters, too. Whether pastors like to admit it or not their children are in a fishbowl. I can't say that I always liked what my father did, that is the profession he chose-- at times it might of "cramped my style" (though some of my friends might scratch their head and wonder to what style I am referring to.) As many Lutherans, particularly those that are in the LCMS know the "Lutheran world" is very small. It doesn't take long before people start making connections and realizing they know the same people. This happens a lot. I have a feeling that Dave and I know some of the same people. We might even have some of the same friends. It wouldn't surprise me at all. And there in lies another aspect of the fishbowl. This "six-degrees of seperation," or in the case of the LCMS "2 1/2 degrees..." can be quite bothersome. In my case I never know when someome might say "Hey, I know your father..." and boop, there it is. That fishbowl feel.

I'm not complaining. Trust me, that "someone may be watching me" sensation has probably kept me out of a lot of trouble. It probably saved a few brain cells, too.

I think it is quite telling, though when you look at statistics of the seminaries. There aren't many ministers sons who follow their father's footsteps. I tried, but it didn't work out for me the first time, I may go back again someday. Dave, it seems is a PK who did follow his father's footsteps and for that he should be congratulated and thanked. I have had many conversations with sons of pastors and I often ask them if they have ever thought about going to seminary. The vast majority look at me like I've got rocks in my head. Invariably, their eyes go wide and they take in a deep breath like they jumped into a pool of icey water. The answer I get from them: "hell, no." Why is that? Well, I think its because we have a different way of looking at ministry. Most people look at the pastoral ministry from the outside in, they see the pastor on Sunday in the pulpit and when they are sick in the hospital-- in short they only see them when they are being pastorly. What they don't see is the pastor at home... trying to figure out how to make the scripture readings into a sermon, they don't see the pastor running here and there, going to meeting after meeting and being worn out by it all. And, in my case, they don't see their fahter come home from a voters meeting defeated after they cut his salary by half because the church didn't have any money. They don't see him exhausted after Lent or Advent. They don't see the human, they don't see the man.

Being a pastor is hard work. Being a PK can be hard work, too.

I was talking to my mom yesterday, somehow the topic came up. Before they got married my father literally sat her down and told her that "we will never be rich, the church will have to come first, and when I decide its time to move we will." I admire my mom for taking that and still marrying my father.

I have been asked by friends and even people that, through conversation, find out that I am the son of a minister. Its funny sometimes. They feel sorry for me, like I lost something important by being a pk. They think I might of been sheltered or something along those lines. Trust me on this one, I wasn't.

There is one big thing, though, about being a PK that many people might not realize. The advice of "go to your pastor" when I had a problem that I needed spiritual advice I couldn't necessarily go to my pastor because he was my dad. There are just somethings that your dad doesn't need to know about.

My father is now retired. He has been retired for about four years. He was in the pastoral ministry for 40 years. The very fact that he became a Lutheran minister is an amazing thing: he was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York-- there aren't many Lutherans in Brooklyn. Sadly, his childhood church broke away from the Synod in the '70's during the Semin-Ex controversy. He graduated from Brooklyn College and went to Springfield, Illinois for seminary. He did his vicarage and had his first call in South Dakota. He moved to New Jersey in the late 60's, met and married my mother in '71, I came around in '74. We moved to Virginia when I was three or four. And then moved to New York (Westchester County) in '81, or so. Then in '86 we moved to Maryland and from Maryland we went to Texas where I went to Concordia University and did my stint at Concordia Seminary St. Louis. After my parents retired we moved to a town just south of Indianapolis.

Its been a good life. I have always had food on the table and clothes on my back. My parents have good health insurance from Concordia Health Plans (thank God for that!) We, as a family, are quite happy. The Lord has blessed us. The Lord has blessed me.

So, am I upset that I was a born into a minister's household? No. I am quite proud of being a pastor's son.

1 comment:

dave said...

Hey, I know your father... Seriously, I believe we sat at the same table for lunch after one of our winkels about a year back. My dad started at Springfield a few months after your dad graduated.

I also have ties to New York, Virginia, and Houston, but was never in those places while you were there. It seems our paths converge on the southside of Indy. I'm just a little west of you. I sometimes joke that I'm involved in cross-cultural missions--called to serve as missionary to the rednecks. (According to the last census my community is twice as diverse as 10 years ago, now 99.6% white as opposed to 99.8% white 10 years ago.)

I don't know that I should be thanked and congratulated for becoming a pastor like my father was. Whenever anyone asked me when I was growing up if I ever thought about becoming a pastor, I was adamant about not doing it. I became a Lutheran school teacher, and that was as far as I was willing to go. It wasn't until years after I left teaching, and also after my father died that I began to contemplate going to the seminary. I had seen the sorrows and difficulties my dad experienced and didn't believe I was cut out for such stuff. After my father died, the congregation called the vicar who had been serving under my father to remain and be his successor. He was about my age and had a similar background as a Lutheran school teacher. As I watched him begin his pastorate, I saw the joy he was having in being a pastor, a joy I'd been too young to notice when my father began his ministry. It gradually dawned on me that I could do that--I could be a pastor. I was no longer haunted by anyone's expectations that I do what my dad did. I could go to seminary with my eyes wide open, having no illusions about the heartache and disappointment that also can come with the pastoral office. But I could also know the joy that comes with baptizing a precious little one in the name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit, and so on.

Yeah, it can be hard and frustrating work, but it can also be very fulfilling as well.

I kept a pretty low profile at seminary, but I believe some of my classmates may have been your classmates in Austin. I wouldn't be averse to hoisting a Lutheran beverage or two with you sometime and comparing notes.