If you live in the UK, I highly recommend you watch the TV series Rev (Thursdays, 9 PM, BBC2). Usually, on any drama or comedy, priests are comedic characters—blundering, out-of-touch white-haired men. But Rev gets it right. It shows vicars* as they are. They smoke and drink and have doubts and swear and have to figure out how to balance their home life and their church life. They have irritating parishioners to please, and homeless people ringing the vicarage doorbell. I should know. My father is a vicar.
Most of the time, the fact that my dad is a priest is just another normal part of my life, like anyone’s dad having a job. But there are certain ways in which it’s really different.
For instance, we don’t own our house. The church owns it. I used to worry that visiting friends would think we were rich because of its size—especially the size of our garden. Because the truth is that vicars do not get paid very well, especially for how much work they actually do. But at least we have a free house to live in!
Dad knows everyone, and everyone feels like they know Dad. Whenever I’m with him when people approach, I feel bypassed and a little awkward, standing there with nothing to say while apparently whatever these strangers are saying to Dad is of the utmost importance. It can be frustrating to watch these interactions, because these people don’t really know Dad. They don’t live with him day in and day out. So many people pull his attention and energy in so many different directions with so many different demands. They don’t realize how hard it is for him to please them all. The church can occasionally attract strange people—I suppose it’s good that it accepts everyone for what they are. Sometimes, though, it seems like accepting everyone is impossible, and I step back and wonder at how Dad can be such a good, wise, humble man.
It’s not surprising that everyone wants a piece of my dad. Another name for priest is preacher, but my father never really preaches, you know? He isn’t patronising. He doesn’t use his authority to control people. He is invariably kind and considerate. He never turns anyone away. For some people, he is their only hope. He manages to balance all these people that invest so much in him, and he earns their trust. He is really, really good at his job.
The freedom that my parents give me is something I try not to take for granted. I’ve been able to shape my ideas and spiritual identity on my own terms. I’ve never been forced into anything. We are a liberal family primarily—pro-choice, in favour of gay and female priests, not denying the fact of evolution. I am not forced to go to church on a Sunday. We rarely say grace before meals.
I have many different aspects to my life; spirituality just happens to be one of them. It’s integral but not overbearing. I recognize that spirituality and religion can be so many things to different people. I’m a teenager, so I haven’t had time to figure everything out just yet, while my mind is already full to bursting. My relationship with spirituality is fluid, changing and developing from one day to the next. I like my relationship with God the way it is—personal, almost private. My father respects that and lets me be. I am pretty sure God’s all right with it, too.
There are people at our church who understand the pressure that my father is under, and thank goodness for them. Church might not be full of saints or people who would agree with my interpretation of the Bible, but there are a lot of fundamentally good people who mean well and have a lot of love. But my dad still trumps the lot of them. ♦
* Common name for priests in Britain.