The stories you hear about the sons and daughters of preachers being wild and crazy are true. Children that grow up watching parents who are forced to be holier than though in front of their congregations and seeing what happens when those same parents inevitably relax or mess up at home generally become jaded. I was one of these types of preacher’s kids who lost their respect for their parents at a young age and picked his own much more hedonistic path instead. Every so often though I would observe something that humanized the hypocrisy. The following true story is one that made a deep impression on me as a boy.
Around the age of ten or eleven, I spent a lot of time at the church where my father was senior pastor. The church, Spanaway Assembly of God, hosted a Christian elementary school that I attended all through preschool on up to completing the sixth grade. The campus consisted of two major buildings (a gym and a 1200 person sanctuary each surrounded by many classrooms), a large bus barn, and a small one room house set on several acres of property. There were also three huge fields; one with three full sized baseball diamonds and a playground, another one covered in dead grass and the final one was overgrown with trees and brush. I spent an awful lot of time on those grounds either attending church, working with the janitor on grounds maintenance, or going to school.
My childhood friends consisted of the children of other pastors at the church, the boys in our small school classes and boys I met at church as well as my three little brothers. I always had lots of friends and took them for granted, playing video games or adventuring outside or basketball or getting into trouble stealing church candy or experimenting with lighting fires with batteries together.
One day my friends and I were racing bicycles around the church/school parking lots, jumping curbs and chasing each other when I got hungry. I walked inside the church and went to the kitchen to try to find something to snack on but it was empty. So I went to find my father.
He was in the back of the darkened sanctuary sitting watching a video with a group of men a couple dozen pews ahead of him. I didn’t want to disrupt him because I was hoping to ask for money to go to a vending machine and didn’t want him to be angry or brush me off when I did. So I sat down and started watching the video.
The video was about how lonely pastor’s are because they have no true friends; only members of their churches who they have to put on a strong front for. Evidently, many pastors can’t really be themselves and also have no one they can talk to about their weaknesses and problems. Doing so could lead to them losing status in the eyes of their members or possibly even getting fired for not being a good religious leader.
I had a hard time understanding how someone could be friendless when they were surrounded by people constantly, but when I looked over at my dad his face was running with tears.
The image of my father sitting in the back of a room crying and watching a video about how pastors need friends too has haunted me… it was so sad.