On being the vicar's daughter.


The Guardian for one was intrigued. Theresa May and Angela Merkel, discussing our future post-Brexit on Wednesday and both clergy daughters.

In fact, when Theresa May launched her candidacy for leadership, this was how she defined herself: “I grew up the daughter of a local vicar and the granddaughter of a regimental sergeant major.”

That, it seemed – like Fawlty Tower’s Manuel coming from Barcelona – said it all, without the need for further explanation.

But what does being a vicar’s daughter mean?

(As this point I think I should point out that nine members of my immediate family are vicar’s daughters.)

So yesterday the Guardian ran a piece on “what it’s like to be a vicar’s kid?” And to my surprise the tone was essentially positive.

Hannah Barham-Brown for one: ‘Growing up in the goldfish bowl that is a vicarage has had many benefits’

“I have always been surrounded by people of every age and background,” she recalls. “My brother and I have learnt how to handle answering the phone to strangers in tears, and these experiences have made training as a doctor that little bit easier.”

Earlier in the week Guardian columnist Giles Fraser, himself a vicar alongside my son-in-law in central London, reflected on the pros and cons of being a vicar’s daughter. (He has two).

“And while there is no standard model, there is nonetheless something about growing up in a vicarage that is bound to shape the way you see the world – not least a peculiar feeling of resentment that half the community call him “father” when he is your father, not theirs.”

Mrs May herself, while stranded on a desert island with just eight records, shared her “early memories of a father who couldn’t always be there when you wanted him to be.

“I have one memory, for example, of being in the kitchen and looking up the path to the back door, where a whole group, a family, had come to complain about an issue in the church and that’s it, just knock on the door and expect to see the vicar.”

(At this point my daughter Debs has just walked in on her way to school to drop in a birthday cake for this afternoon’s party. So I ask her: “What was it like to be a vicar’s daughter?”
Her answer from the top of her head: “To have the confidence to speak to anyone.” Anyway, she seems happy enough.)

For our Prime Minister being a vicar’s daughter prepared her for a life of public service. On the steps of number 10, she pledged to stand up against “the privileged few” and fight “burning injustice.”

Her predecessor-but-one recalled that he learned much about life, death, poverty, injustice and unemployment as the son of a Church of Scotland minister.

Of course, this should be the case for all Christians, as children of the household of God. We grow up with our heavenly Father’s passion for justice, his care for the lonely, his compassion for the weak.

And as parents we do not need to shield our children from all the travails of life, especially the consequences of following Jesus. They are more resilient than we think, certainly if they feel secure in our love and are relying on God’s grace.

However, there is a dilemma here for every Christian parent.

When we moved to Rochdale in 1984, the education provision was classed by the Daily Telegraph as the worst in the country. But as vicar I thought it important that our children attended our church’s primary school.

It was a good school but too small. And there they did experience some bullying for being my children, including from one teaching assistant. I think we handled that, as part and parcel of Christian discipleship.

But for secondary education Donald Tytler, the hugely supportive Bishop of Middleton, advised that our daughters should not suffer for my principles.

So with his support we went for the private sector, relying on God for funding. (He provided).

Into this situation I found the words from Keith Green’s “Pledge My Head To Heaven” a great resource.

Well I pledge my son to heaven for the gospel.
Though he’s kicked and beaten, ridiculed and scorn.
I will teach him to rejoice, and life a thankful praising voice,
And to be like him who bore the nails and crown of thorns.

I’m your child, and I want to be in your family forever.
I’m your child, and I’m going to follow you,
No matter whatever the cost, I’m gonna count all things lost.
Oh no matter whatever the cost, I’m gonna count all things lost.

Well I pledge my son, I pledge my wife, I pledge my head to heaven, for the Gospel.