Ellen Worsham grew up as the daughter of a Church of God minister in Chicago, Ill., Rancine, Wis., Kalamazoo, Mich, Monroe, Mich and Dover, Ohio. She is currently working on her master’s degree in social work. Read about her experiences growing up as a PK in the Q&A below.
What was the biggest benefit of growing up as a PK?
The extensive support system that our family had. Everywhere we went, my parents knew someone or had a friend that knew someone. Every time we moved we never felt alone because we already had connections in the area. When I came down to Kentucky for school, there were many people in the area that my parents could connect me with so I wouldn’t feel so alone. It’s been a great help.
What was difficult about growing up as a PK?
My mom did not become licensed and ordained until I was eight, and when that happened it felt like people starting having ideas and expectations about how a pastor’s kid should act. I remember when my family moved to Ohio, my sister and I weren’t allowed to wear pants to church anymore–not even dress pants. People would get really upset about weird things that they didn’t get upset about before my mom was a pastor, and that was a major adjustment for my sister and me.
Were you rebellious as a PK?
I really didn’t rebel or act out growing up. Probably the craziest rule I broke was wearing a spaghetti strap tank top to a friend’s house in high school. My mom thought they were immodest so we weren’t allowed to wear them without another shirt over them. I definitely hit a phase in college, but I’m not sure if that counts because I wasn’t living with my parents anymore by then.
How would you classify your experiences growing up as a PK?
I think I was more sheltered and a little better behaved than most kids I went to school with. I definitely had stronger beliefs than the others in my school, but I don’t think I could classify my experience as exceptionally abnormal or weird. Overall it was pretty normal.
Did you ever feel pressured to walk in your mom’s footsteps?
I never felt pressured to be a religious leader. In fact, my dad always preached that I needed to get my M.B.A.
Were you sheltered as a PK?
My parents never had the hard talks with me about anything. I always got a book instead. They never had the sex talk with me, just a book. I learned about periods from the school nurse, and then a book. My mom probably brought home a hundred books on dating from the library when I was in high school. It was nice because I didn’t really want to talk to them about any of that stuff, but it left me with many questions and nobody to really talk to about anything, so I always felt behind the curve and just gathered information (often wrong information) from the other kids at school.
Did you feel stereotyped because you were a PK?
I think people outside of the church think you have to be either really weird or off-the-wall rebellious as a preacher’s kid. Sometimes they were really confused because I wasn’t really either. People in the church wanted me to fit into some picture they had of the perfect child; that was harder for me because on Sundays I had to be that person so my mom could keep her job, but I wasn’t that person for real. I ended up doing a lot of digging in the Bible to see what a Christian was really supposed to act like, and it bothered me that the imagery held by the minds of our church leaders didn’t match up with the expectations of the Bible.
Has your upbringing influenced you today?
I think the biggest influence of my upbringing was my mom’s dedication to Biblical truth. I don’t think her parenting style changed after she became a pastor, so I don’t think her occupation necessarily influenced my upbringing, but I always respected the fact that she would direct me to the Bible for answers instead of directing me to denominational doctrine. When I was involved with different denominations of churches that sometimes had different beliefs than my mother’s, she would always ask, “What does the Bible say about it?” instead of just telling me which denomination was right. I think it really helped me form my own opinions and own my faith instead of just relying on hers.
What do you want others to know about what it’s like to be a PK?
Pastor’s kids are just like any other kid: sometimes things go right, and sometimes it’s a mess. There’s a lot of pressure and double standards on the children of church leaders, and as a result I think pastor’s kids can find church as a dreaded place, instead of as a safe place for spiritual growth.