January 4, 2003 – the day my father was selected to be the Pastor-elect of Macedonia Baptist Church in Washington, DC. I was 15 years old. I don’t remember much about that day except that Brandon and I were out with my godmother, Darlene, and when my parents called to tell us the news, I cried for about 30 minutes in my godmother’s arms. These were not tears of joy.
My father had been a preacher for about 10 years at that point so I had become comfortable with the PK label to a certain extent. I was satisfied being one of many PKs at Glendale (our former church now known as The Sanctuary at Kingdom Square); being there with my friends whose parents were also preachers made the PK life bearable. But I was entering into a very different realm with this new responsibility that my father had taken on and I was NOT happy.
Teenage years are already difficult but when you add the pressure of being thrust into a position that is not a result of your own personal calling, those years can be a little longer and a little more difficult. The developmental lessons come with a bigger audience, the pedestal is a little higher, and your mistakes come with a panoramic view. I think I knew all of this when I stepped into Macedonia on that first Sunday of February 2003 but I had no clue what that would mean.
I was painfully aware that everyone was looking at me – and I am painfully aware that they still are. The amount of time I spent trying to decipher between just the smiling faces and those who really liked me and wanted to befriend me for me was way too much. The amount of pressure I put on myself trying to make sure that I didn’t embarrass my parents was crazy. The times I walked up on people saying ridiculous things about my parents and family are too many to recount here. Some of the scars are still tender.
Everyone wants to be your friend but then everyone has something to say behind closed doors. You learn to make everyone feel like a friend but to not trust anyone too much. The “I love you and I’ll never leave you”s turn into a gone without a goodbye many times so you learn to not expect people to stay around.
To be clear, everyone wasn’t like this. There have been those who have loved me and my family well and have embraced us wholeheartedly. They’ve given us the grace to be our perfectly imperfect selves and have prayed for us. I am so grateful for them and I cherish their presence in my life. I’ve gained several mamas and good friends along this ride and I love them dearly.
My parents had high expectations of us (as they should) but between my father’s constant declarations of his high standards for us and the understood impossible standards of church folks, I grew to love the protective facade I felt I had to develop. The standard for me and Brandon was always a different standard than the one for everyone’s else’s children. Their children made mistakes; should we mess up, we “were just being PKs”.
I didn’t ask to become a pastor’s kid; in fact, my prayers were the exact opposite, though I knew I was praying against the inevitable. The weight of my father’s calling was a lot for me at times and it made me wish that God would never want to trust me with any type of calling inside of a church.
And then there is the bigger problem as you transition into adulthood “PKism” – can I ever be someone beside the PK or beside “Burton’s daughter”? Can people really know me, appreciate me, love me for who I AM and not the position I’m in or who I’m related to? I’ve often wondered how many church friends I’d have if I was just a Jane Doe member or how many people would want to hang with me then. How many people would be so interested in my posts on social media or who I am dating or how I’m living my life…how would that look if I was “normal”. I got a taste of it when I lived in Texas and when I was in college and I loved it. And then I found myself back here – back at home base, back into the PK spotlight (I’m planning escape routes as I write – laugh if you must but know that I’m serious :-)).
People give PKs a hard time because they don’t understand what it’s like (and many don’t care to understand). We’re expected to be incredibly human and incredibly divine though the only person I know who was capable of such hypostasis is Jesus. We are called to live within the boundaries of someone else’s calling and still be able to find ourselves and our own calling. People have their minds already made up about how we should be before they even know us and many are waiting for the first sign to validate their preconceived notions. We are “the worst” but are held to standards of “the best” and then people wonder why so many PKs walk out of churches when they come of age and vow never to come back. It’s because even Jesus doesn’t hold us to many of the standards that church folk do.
The fishbowl existence is hard. Though I’ve adjusted much better to this role, there are some things I think I’ll never get used to – the italicization of “pastor’s daughter” followed by that “oh you one of them…” looks, the way that people introduce me FIRST as “this is the pastor’s daughter” (no, friend, I am ASHLEY…that’s what’s important), the ridiculous ways people assume me to be naive about anything not related to church, or the crazy expectations of being in and doing everything I’m qualified to do in the church. Every PK does NOT want to preach or be a musician or sing in the choir. Every PK does not wish to dwell under the wings of their parents’ ministry forever…nor is every PK called to do that. There are other things that I’m learning to get past and other things time and experience has taught me. At the end of the day though, all I ever wanted to be is Ashley and all I ever wanted to do was find my own way in this world. And 2014 was the perfect time to get started.
The Church is not a perfect entity…but I haven’t come across a perfect one yet. So since I have to exist within other imperfect entities, I haven’t allowed myself to give up on the Church. Just as people in the church can be hard on PKs, we can be hard on the church. I get it. But I hope to one day have an organization that will bridge the gap between PKs and the Church. I want us all to recognize our ability to be Restored to Love. Pray with me for the strength to just do it :-).
Happy 11th Pastoral Anniversary to my father (and my mother! Let’s not get started on Pastor’s spouses…)! To my Macedonia family, you’ve loved my family well and have learned to give me the grace to grow into my own. I’m thankful. And most importantly to Jesus who never let me go – You redeemed me and it is through you that I can personally find redemption for the Church. Thanks for walking every step of this journey with me.
Hug a PK today…they probably need it ;-).
(My mother embracing a church member on our first Sunday at Macedonia, February 4, 2003).