Thompson commentary: The gift of clergy kids

Thompson commentary: The gift of clergy kids

The Rev. Mary Thompson strolls with her son, Beckett, and her husband, the Rev. Alex Thompson.

By Mary Thompson
Many staff parish committees of local churches have sat around a table with their district superintendent and requested the same thing: “We want a young pastor with a family.”  I can remember one young family being appointed to my local church when I was about 7 years old. The Rev. Steve Doyal was appointed to Rising Fawn United Methodist Church and brought with him his wife, Becky, and young daughter Nicki.

I knew the Doyals were younger than my parents, and therefore, were much cooler. I was so excited to be asked by Steve to join the confirmation class, and even more excited when Becky was named my confirmation mentor. I loved the class and can still tell you just about everything taught in it. I joined the church at the end of confirmation, and remembered my baptism with water that Steve had brought from the Jordan River on his recent trip there.

I can remember when Steve and Becky welcomed another child while at Rising Fawn. The birth was pretty memorable considering Becky was close to delivering in the backseat of the organist’s car while Steve was away on a youth retreat. Their youngest daughter, Stephanie, grew up under the watchful eyes of many United Methodist church members. She and Nicki were always great kids, but I imagine if they did take a step out of line, a swarm of well-meaning folks would be there to make sure they “knew how to behave in church.” I was blissfully unaware of the pressure that preacher kids are often under each Sunday when they go to the church where their parent preaches. That is, of course, until I later became clergy and had a child of my own.

My son has been fortunate that my husband (who is also clergy) and I have been appointed to congregations and settings that are incredibly supportive of our family. However, I now know the pressure a clergy spouse faces when they take a toddler to church. As we sit in the front pew, I pray for good behavior so that he is not deemed the dreaded “typical preacher’s kid (PK).” Even the best of congregations will often introduce children as “this is _______, the preacher’s kid.” It must be hard for children of clergy to develop their own identity and place in a church where their parent(s) serve.

The Holston Conference would like to give a gift to the children of clergy and lay leaders that attend Annual Conference. We would like to provide a summer camp experience during Annual Conference at Lake Junaluska for the children and youth of Holston clergy and lay leaders attending conference at no fee. You may remember last year childcare at Annual Conference was provided for free thanks to generous donors on the boards of Camp & Retreat Ministries. This year we would like to invite any of you who have been blessed to witness children of clergy grow up in your congregation, or if you are clergy and have had churches impact your children’s lives, to make a donation to Holston Camp & Retreat Ministries and designate your check to “Annual Conference Child Care.”

In the summer of 2019, it cost $10,000 to provide child care at Lake Junaluska. The bulk of our expenses are due to housing and feeding staff for multiple days. The expenses for 2020 broken down per child is about $120. We would love to be able to provide child care at no cost to parents. Some of you may know already that most of these parents are also having to pay for day care at centers that require payment 52 weeks of the year in order to keep a child’s spot in the class. So, for those traveling to Annual Conference, the $120 childcare fee would be in addition to the weekly fee they are paying for child care back at home. Child care costs at Annual Conference is often a financial burden for these families and we would like to eliminate it.

Last year at Annual Conference Child Care, we had a phenomenal director for the kids ages 4-16 years old. She is Stephanie Doyal (that PK mentioned earlier). As a young adult, she took a week off of work to come lead the children in our Holston Annual Conference Child Care. She wanted to give them an opportunity to be a kid, have fun, and have a chance to just be known as Lily, or Lydia, or Allison, or Elizabeth, or Grace, or Owen, or Lazarus, or any of the names of children that attend our Holston Conference and make the event better by their presence, their blessings for our meals, and their laughter in the air.

To donate to Holston Annual Conference Child Care, please make checks payable to Holston CRM, designate “Annual Conference Child Care” and mail to 262 Bart Green Drive, Gray, TN 37615.

The Rev. Mary Thompson is executive director of Holston Conference Camp & Retreat Ministries.