Nell Goddard shares TWO extracts from her new book, Musings of a Clergy Child: Growing into a faith of my own.
I’m a double clergy child: both my parents are vicars. That isn’t what ultimately defines me, but it’s certainly something that’s defined a lot of my experiences growing up.
Growing up in a Christian home as the daughter of two vicars wasn’t always straight forward. There were definite highs, and real lows. I saw God changing lives pretty much every single day, but I also experienced just how much the church can hurt its own. I saw prayers answered and miracles worked week after week, but I also struggled to find my own faith, my own place in God’s family. The following features two extracts from the introduction of my new book Musings of a Clergy Child: Growing into a faith of my own. The first comes from the ‘tips for clergy children’ section, and the second is one of my ‘musings’.
People will come in and randomly start dismantling your house
‘An Englishman’s home is his castle’—a well-known saying which contains within it all the unspoken rules about what you don’t do in other people’s houses—draw on walls, invade without express permission, comment loudly on the distasteful decor… you know the drill. A vicar’s vicarage, however, is not a castle. A vicar’s vicarage is a hotel/B&B/restaurant/luggage drop-off point/library/place to practise your DIY skills and numerous other things. This is exacerbated exponentially if you operate an open-home policy, as my family does, thus creating some interesting scenarios.
Take 2010, for example. We’d been living in our house for a few months and everything was going well. Our thighs were beginning to get used to all the stairs; we’d come to know which doors banged and which floorboards creaked. Everything was running smoothly. Other members of the church, however, appeared to feel differently, especially about one particular thing. The main door leading out of our kitchen was set on a spring. This meant that it automatically closed with quite a loud bang whenever you left it open. Annoying, but useful for keeping our intensely inquisitive dog out of the recycling and preventing her from greeting guests at the front door.
Just a few weeks earlier, we had started a women’s prayer meeting on Wednesday mornings at our house. This meant that trays of tea and coffee had to be carried from the kitchen to the upstairs sitting room at 7.00 am, and back again at 8.15 am.
Now, we would usually just prop the downstairs door open with a chair if we knew we would be coming back with our hands full and be unable to open the door. But for one of the lovely ladies at the prayer meeting, this was a step too far. When she arrived downstairs with a tray, and the door was closed, she became frustrated and decided to take matters into her own hands. She put down the tray and made her way to the toolbox in the downstairs sitting room. From it she grabbed a hammer, some pliers and a screwdriver. She walked swiftly back to the kitchen door and, before any of us had realised what was happening, she had undone the screws attaching the doorspring to the door and removed part of the metal.
We finally realised what she was doing when, with a loud BANG, the spring came undone. By that time, of course, it was too late to stop it. With a victorious ‘Aha!’ the lady removed the spring from the inside of the door and proceeded to demonstrate how the door would now stay open all by itself. Useful in some aspects, but, as the spring was technically also a fire-safety measure, possibly not the most sensible of things to do—especially without first seeking permission.
This was probably my first real experience of ‘crazy things that happen in a vicarage’ and it set a good precedent for all that was to come over the next few years.
So, an Englishman’s home is his castle. And a vicar’s vicarage? Well, that’s for you to decide.
For when the darkness feels too much to bear
It is dark. A heavy darkness. The kind that presses in on you and makes it hard to breathe. A dark that surrounds and engulfs you, and makes you forget that anything good ever existed. A dark that terrifies and blinds. This seemingly unending darkness changes words and thoughts and actions. It recreates battles you thought had been won long ago. It brings back memories you thought you had forgotten. It reminds you of hurts you believed you had forgiven.
It is silent, too. Silence is golden, or so the saying goes. Silence is golden, but the air shimmers like the summer heat with unspoken words, undisclosed secrets and unfriendly memories. The silence says it all. Silence really does speak louder than words. The silence yells abuse, whispers compliments and ties everything up in knots until there is nothing left to say any more. Silence can bring the world to its feet or send it crashing down around you.
But silence is deafening; it always has been. A million voices longing for you to believe a million lies all speak through the silence, dictating your next words and making you forget all that will follow. Silence reveals the deepest insecurities of your heart in a way that words never could. And silence—you knew—would be your downfall. Silence is beginning to defeat you, but you will not go down without a fight.
‘His gr…’ You clear your throat. These words are important, but, as you speak, the darkness grows heavier and the silence grows louder, overwhelming your thoughts and intercepting your words. You are fighting back the darkness, and you have only these few short words.
‘His grace is sufficient.’ A break in the silence. ‘And his power…’ It is too much: the darkness is getting heavier, overwhelming and overtaking you. But you have to speak. The only way to get rid of the darkness is to bring in the light. You try again.
‘His grace is sufficient. And his power is made perfect in weakness.’ As the words are released into the silence, something breaks through the darkness. It is a light—dim at first, but growing brighter with every word. You look around you but the light is not there. And yet the darkness is retreating. You glance down. The light is coming from inside of you. It is radiating its bright yellow-white rays from your heart. And as you speak words of truth, it glows brighter still.
‘There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’ The light burns brighter.
‘In all things God works for the good of those who love him.’ The darkness is retreating.
‘He who began a good work in me will carry it on to completion.’ The heaviness is dissipating.
‘I can do all this through Christ who gives me strength.’ The air clears.
‘The one who is in me is greater than the one who is in the world.’ The light bursts forth from within you, and suddenly there is no longer any darkness. You are bathed in glorious light. Radiating from within, it is shining its truth over you, eclipsing the darkness which had threatened to overwhelm. You are free from the heaviness, the oppression, the battles, the lies, the hurt. The light has overcome what you could not.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Nell Goddard graduated in Theology from Durham University and is now a writer for the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. She blogs over at alianore.co.uk. This post features an extract from Nell’s first book Musings of a Clergy Child: Growing into a faith of my own, published by BRF this month. You can get your copy here: brfonline.org.uk/9780857465467