Letters from a Pastor’s Daughter

Emily T. Wierenga | July 29, 2014

Dear pastors, elders, deacons, and ushers,

Dear secretaries and choir directors, Awana leaders and Sunday School teachers,

Dear sinners becoming saints gathered under the banner of Christendom;

I am the girl sitting in the front pew, wearing thick leotards, a red corduroy skirt her Mum sewed, and a mushroom cut, and I’m staring out the stained glass window as my Dad preaches from the pulpit.

We look pretty good, shined up and sitting neatly with our practiced smiles beside Mum. We live in a Glass House called a “manse” owned by the church, and I feel it, down to my second-hand shoes with the scuff marks on the toe.

I feel it, with every stare across the aisle and I’m the girl sitting in the front pew, homeschooled and raised on Dr. James Dobson and Scripture verses, who’s starving herself to death.

I turned anorexic at nine years old. I stopped eating because I didn’t have a voice. I had manners, and an inscribed Bible; I had awards from Brownies and Guides and Scripture memorization; but I had no friends because we’d moved 10 times before I turned seven, and we were homeschooled in the days when no one else was. I had no self-esteem because I was told it was vain to want to be beautiful. I had no relationship with my father who babysat us once a month when Mum took the afternoon to shop at Salvation Army and before she left, she would have to remind him, “Now remember, they’re your kids too you know.”

So I stopped eating, because a daughter finds her greatest sense of identity in her relationship with her father. And if that doesn’t exist, she often feels she doesn’t either.

Dear church, I implore you:

  1. Encourage your leaders to put their families first. Be there for the leader who’s weighed down by expectations and pressure, who’s forgotten about 1 Timothy 3:5 which says, “If a man doesn’t know how to manage his own family, how can he care for God’s church?” (NIV) Help him to combat the belief that he needs to serve at the expense of his wife and children, and remind him that home is his first calling.
  2. Allow leaders some privacy. Respect your leaders and their need for some quiet. Don’t call after suppertime unless absolutely necessary. Don’t gossip about their families in the parking lot, and respect the ministry as a job, giving leaders time in which to rest.
  3. Give leaders permission to break. Rick Warren says “Your greatest ministry will likely come from your deepest pain.” Let’s allow our Christian leaders to hurt, to need, to want, to struggle. Let’s offer a soft place for when they do. God is always in the place we least expect it. He’s in the middle of nowhere. He’s in the desert with Hagar, and He sees her. He sees this female slave who’s been used and then rejected, and he knows her name. And she calls Him, “El Roi—the God who sees me.” Let’s be people who see each other.
  4. Become friends with the leader’s wife. She is human, just like you, and is crumbling from the pressure put on her. When my Mum discovered her own mother had committed suicide, she had no one to tell. No one to be real with. Befriend your leader’s wife before she breaks for the loneliness.
  5. Provide a support system for your leader’s kids. It’s not easy being taught about God every Sunday but not given a chance to need him the rest of the days of the week. Jesus did not come to save the saints, but the sinners. Give your leader’s kids mentors, who can make the journey a little easier, allowing the kids to question, to doubt, to express, without judgment. Give them permission to be sinners, so they might discover a need for the Savior.

It’s been more than a decade since I ran away from home and I’m finding it again, in the Church. I love her, with all of her idiosyncrasies. But it wasn’t until my father needed his kids and his congregation to come alongside him to care for my Mum that I realized—the pastor was human too. And the congregation realized it, and we became like a family, leaning on each other.

This, the most beautiful kind of worship: when God’s people come together as one and do communion.

Bread is not eaten whole, friends. It is broken, so we might feed off of it.

In the same way, we need to be broken, so in turn, souls might be filled.

All my heart,

 -A repentant and forgiving PK.

Emily T. Wierenga is an award-winning journalist, blogger, commissioned artist and columnist, founder of the non-profit, The Lulu Tree, as well as the author of five books including the newly-released memoir Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look (Baker Books). All proceeds from Atlas Girl will benefit The Lulu Tree. She lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband and two sons. For more info, please visit www.emilywierenga.com. Find her on Twitter or Facebook.

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