Recently, my friend David and I were corresponding.
David Welford is in his mid-sixties and lives across the pond. He and his wife of forty-plus years, Marilyn, reside in Herefordshire, England, and are the parents of five adult children and ten grandchildren. David is a frequent reader of my blog, and I also enjoy reading what he shares from Ebs and Flows.
David is a half-Scot who grew up in Guernsey and the UK. He now lives in one of the most rural counties of the UK, not far from the Welsh border. As you’ll learn, he joined the Merchant Marines at 16! He went on to become an officer and hydrographic surveyor. Afterward, he was self-employed as a risk management consultant. So, beginning in 1992, he traveled globally to carry out risk and security audits (plus some loss adjusting). He’s now retired and started blogging at the encouragement of his son, Nick.
David was raised as a pastor’s kid (PK), which is what this guest post is about. He has served as a deacon and an elder in his adult Christian life. I told David, “I want to learn more about your experience as a pastor’s kid.” What follows is what he shared with me. But before you start reading, let me remind my American readers. David’s English is slightly different and perhaps better than ours.
I think the big issue was expectations – my parents’ expectations that I would be the perfect child who would perfectly reflect their faith investment in me, along with the apparent expectations of those in the churches where they served. What will people think?! I was aware of these expectations at quite an early age, but they were not too much of an issue until I turned eleven.
From 1962-68 my Dad was pastor of the Guernsey Baptist Circuit. Guernsey is a small island eight miles by five, one of the Channel Islands, British but not politically part of the United Kingdom and much closer to France than the UK. Back then, there were four churches in the circuit – Bethel (now called Shiloh) was the largest and where we attended as a family. The other three churches, all of which have since closed, were in other parts of the island. Dad preached once a fortnight at each church, with lay preachers covering the other services.
Pastoring four churches took a lot of Dad’s time, but Guernsey was safe, and the kids had a lot of freedom. Outside of school, we headed out on our bikes, generally to the beach and the rocks, regardless of the season. Most of the time, I didn’t notice Dad’s busyness. I was required to attend church and then Sunday School on Sunday afternoons. Importantly there were a lot of other kids at church, and the children’s (ministry) work was good. We wanted to go.
The primary way I showed out as a PK at that age was that my parents were on a limited budget, and most of my clothes came from sales – hence I was the only kid at school with brown shoes bought the previous winter in the sales when all my friends had the latest shoes (black) with animal tracks in the soles. That was my first realization that being a PK made me different, and I didn’t like it. I still remember friends teasing me about my shoes. It was years before I could/would wear brown shoes as an adult!
One thing that stands out in my memory is Dad taking a whole day off and taking me to Sark (an island near Guernsey) to celebrate my tenth birthday. We took the small ferry and rented bicycles on Sark (no cars there). I have never forgotten that day and that Dad took a whole day off to spend with me.
I remember not enjoying family quiet times after breakfast and before I left for school. My middle sister (the one who isn’t saved) hated them too. When we moved to England in August 1968, I thought I would escape from the family’s quiet time as I had to travel twelve miles to school, meaning that I was up first and gone before the rest of the family had breakfast. My Dad insisted that I use the devotional book on my own, and he would quiz me on it when I came home! Bad move.
Leaving Guernsey was also a bad move. Dad was asked to stay on but wanted to be back on the mainland closer to my grandmother, and he wanted to relocate before I started secondary school. Having accepted a call from a church in London, he withdrew but accepted the next invitation from a church on a rough council estate (social housing) in Basildon, a new town east of London. From a small and beautiful island, we went to the urban jungle, and I had to learn quickly to adapt to survive. Our house was next door to the church, separated from the church by our garden. There was a hole in our hall window from an airgun being fired at it, and the local kids used to kick holes in our front door! Because I went to a ‘better’ school (entrance examination), I stood out as a target to the local kids, some of whom took to picking on me for being the preacher’s kid! This included being badly beaten up one night when I got jumped while walking the dog.
Dad had five tough years in Basildon. It was not a happy church (our time in Guernsey had been very happy with huge support from folk in the churches). To add to Dad’s woes, I was not a pleasant teenager – not surprising, given the people I was mixing with! As a twelve-year-old at summer camp, I did surrender my life to God, but when I came home, I was told I was too young to be baptized, and by the end of the summer, I had lost interest in being a Christian.
Then one day, I came home and told my parents I would be leaving school at fifteen (you could in those days). That caused a bit of an explosion. They insisted I stay at school until I was eighteen and then go to university. I told them that if they forced me to stay, I would deliberately fail my exams and/or get kicked out of school! A compromise was eventually reached in that if I stayed at school until I was sixteen and passed what was called O-level exams, I could leave school, subject to finding appropriate employment. Dad suggested the military. I ended up in the Merchant Navy (you would call it the Merchant Marine).
Happy days! I escaped from home. Four months after my sixteenth birthday, I joined my first ship. My Mum had put a Bible in my suitcase, but I never touched it. The family also escaped from Basildon and moved to a nice area south of London. After nine months at sea, I had to do a block release of six months at Marine School. That’s where God grabbed hold of me. Long story short, but through another cadet, I went along to church one Sunday night. It was a church bursting with young people and joy. I had never experienced anything like it before; people clapped along with the songs! I was baptized before I returned to the sea. That was the easy bit. Walking with God when back at sea was more challenging, and I backslid eventually. God never let go of me. My parents despaired about my lifestyle and must have worried in the same way that I now carry a burden for my kids.
What I did not know when I was at sea was that my aunty had asked a number of her friends to pray for me. And they did. By the time I was the second mate and keeping the 12-4 watch, I would regularly find myself overwhelmed by the presence of God during the night watch (00:00-04:00), where on cloudless nights, the heavens were visible in a way that they are not on shore.
1. The expectations of my parents and church folk were an issue. I needed to find my own way, and force-feeding on faith matters did not work, especially when I became a teenager. That includes being forced to attend every church service and classes on Sunday afternoons!
2. Being identified as a PK by other kids made me feel something was wrong with me, and I wanted to be like them with normal parents, with normal jobs. It’s probably different now.
3. Having kids/youth like me in the church was vital. It was for my kids too. As a teenager in Basildon, there were times when there were only two of us my age at church. The church in Guernsey was joyful, but the church in Basildon was not. The church I went to at Marine College was also a joy-filled place. Joy in the church makes a difference.
4. People who prayed for me made a difference. I am increasingly aware of the importance of prayer.
5. God never took His eyes off me. My parents might have thought differently, but I know He never left me.
I do think we can spend so much time tied up in church work that our families feel left out. A good friend of mine at church was criticized by his two sons (neither are following Jesus) for putting church before them when they were growing up. Difficult for a pastor not to spend too much time at church.
By the way, I have an excellent relationship now with my Dad. He will be 92 in March. He has never apologized to me for anything from childhood, and I don’t expect him to or want him to. I realized the pressures he was under and that his desire for his children to surrender their lives to God was behind the family’s quiet times and forced attendance at church. I tried not to make the same mistakes with my kids.