Francis Gardom

The parson’s son and the doctor’s daughter
Frequently do what they didn’t oughter:
For misbehavin’ they’re second to none
– Bar the parson’s daughter and doctor’s son!
The only question we’d ask them is whether
They’re at it alone or they’re sinning together!

It is said that the Christian faith is usually caught rather than taught. If so, why are children of Christian parents, especially children of the manse, so often exceptions to this rule? Whilst many remain faithful throughout their lives there is a disquieting number who fall away.

Understandably, clergy parents’ wayward offspring don’t talk about it. But silence isn’t the best ways of dealing with our problems. We don’t grow in grace by concealing, but by admitting, our shortcomings. Three books, and an article are helpful.

Samuel Butler’s The Way of All Flesh describes the tyranny of the Revd Theodore Pontifex. Those who knew Butler’s father insist that it is a grave misrepresentation. Be that as it may, something must have caused the deep alienation which young Samuel experienced in later life to alienate him so completely from Christ and his Church.

Still closer to the bone is Lewis’s graphic article A Lunch and a Sermon, describing a dysfunctional clergy family. Their behaviour towards each other, especially the parents towards their grown-up children speaks volumes about their mutual lack of respect. Whilst the father’s sermons extolled Christian family life, his domineering attitude towards his family made meal-times an agony for his son and daughter on their increasingly rare visits home – not to mention the guests!

On a brighter note, Elizabeth Montefiore’s Half Angels is a series of pastiches based on her own experience as a Christian mother. It’s not a how-to so much as a what-I-did book, noteworthy for the invaluable phrase ‘the higher selfishness.’

Finally there is Noel Streatfeild’s ‘biography of my self ’ called A Vicarage Family. The saintly Fr Streatfeild found his three gifted but highly individualistic daughters, particularly Noel, a continual source of anxiety.

He wasn’t alone. One sister said to Noel, ‘I suppose Daddy is almost a saint, only you can’t be a saint while you are alive.’ ‘Of course he is,’ replied Noel. ‘I wonder if God knows how difficult it is being a saint’s family.’