«Abstract Many studies have shown that the family of clergy experience specific challenges, particularly in relation to the maintenance of boundaries ...»
Pastors’ Daughters: Boundary Ambiguity or theFishbowl Effect?
Bernadette Samau and Penelope Schoeffel, National University of S moa
Many studies have shown that the family of clergy experience specific challenges, particularly in relation
to the maintenance of boundaries between their private lives and the individual needs of each member
of a clergy family, and the public pastoral roles of a church minister. In this paper we review this
literature and ask a question: do the challenges experienced among clergy families in Western societies resonate with those of clergy families in S moa? To explore this question we present the results of in depth interviews with nine S moan women who grew up as daughters of pastors of different denominations serving in both S moan villages and in S moan communities overseas. We conclude that culture plays a particularly significant role with regard to public expectations of the daughters of clergy in S moan communities. Because the distinction between public and private life is less well defined in S moan culture, the concept of boundary ambiguity has limited heuristic value in understanding the situation of daughters and families of village based clergy although it may be more relevant to the circumstances of S moan clergy families overseas.
Keywords: S moa, clergy, church communities, family, boundary ambiguity, gender relations.
Introduction: The Challenges of Clergy Life The challenges of clergy life have been widely researched by scholars in the fields of theology and psychology (for example, Blackbird and Wright, 1985; Lee and Balswick 1989; Morris and Blanton 1998; Ostrander et al. 1994). Studies of society and religion have attempted to conceptualise more broadly the social dynamics of family life as encountered in the context of pastoral ministry to include children of the parsonage (for example Lee 1988; Lee and Balswick 1989; Stevenson 1982). These studies look at the impact of public expectations and the social roles of the clergy on their families, noting as Morris and Blanton (1994) have done that stress resulting from the expected role and status of a church minister in the community is not just experienced by the pastor but also by his (and in some countries, her) family members. In this paper we extend these insights to the situation in S moa, with a focus on pastors’ children, and to pastors’ daughters in particular.
In all Christian communities the clergy play an important community role in assisting individuals and families, as well as performing their religious office. Among these roles, pastors are expected to provide a model of a “Christian home” (Anderson 1998). In S moa the mainstream churches (Congregational, Catholic, Mormon, Methodist) to which 72 percent of the population are affiliated do not ordain women (Samoa Bureau of Statistics 2011). The Catholic Church has married catechists in charge of all village based Catholic congregations;
the Methodist church appoints ordained pastors; and in the Congregational Church each village congregation chooses and appoints its own ordained pastor on a contractual basis. The Mormon (the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints) is led by chosen members of its laity and has no clergy. For over a century in S moa, Congregational and Methodist pastors, and Catholic catechists and their wives have been specifically trained to fulfil the expectation that they represent an ideal of Christian marriage and family life in their communities (Schoeffel 2011).
©The Journal of S moan Studies, Volume 5, 2015 88 The pastor himself (and in some instances herself) sees his “profession is not just a career of his choosing, but as a ‘calling from God’” (Anderson 1998:394). In S moa the pastor is seen as a representative of God on earth while his wife is seen as the Christian model of ‘helpmeet’ (Genesis 2:18) and a supporter for her husband’s vocation (Proverbs 31:10 31) or as expressed in S moan, his faletua, referring to the “house at the back” where all the domestic work is attended to. In the mainstream churches a man may not become a minister unless he is married. In S moan cultural contexts most women who marry clergymen understand that their role is also a vocation, although it is not one that is formally rewarded. In the mainstream churches of S moa, pastors’ wives wear distinctive dresses that set them apart from other women, marking their special status and earning them respect that is derived from the sacred status of their husbands.
But what of the pastor’s children? Unlike pastors’ wives, they have not chosen their role and most are born into it. Our question was whether there are cross cultural similarities between the issues faced by pastors’ children in S moan and non S moan contexts, and the extent to which there were particular issues for the daughters of pastors in the S moan context. This paper is by no means an attempt to criticise the churches or their pastors or church members; our aim is to contextualise the experiences of pastors’ daughters in comparison to analyses of pastors’ children in non S moan contexts, and to consider whether S moan culture is a significant variable in the nature of the experiences.
Children of the Clergy in Non S moan Contexts One of the key issues for families of the clergy in Western and non S moan contexts has been described as “boundary ambiguity.” Boundaries can be defined as “invisible barriers that surround individuals and subsystems, regulating the amount of contact with others” (Nichols and Schwartz 1995: 214). In the context of clergy families it refers to the margin between the personal characteristics and aspirations of children of a minister, and the role attributed to them by virtue of their parent’s position. In the family context, it refers to the margin between private family life and their openness and availability to the community. Boundary ambiguity has been shown to characterise problems experienced by pastors’ children in many Christian communities (Blackbird and Wright 1985). They face expectations about their behaviour and their home life that would be considered inappropriate or even unthinkable if they were extended to the families of other professional people in a community (Lee and Balswick 1989).
The vagueness of boundaries between ministry work and family life has been shown to restrict “family only” time because it crosses many aspects of family privacy (Lee 1999; Lee and Balswick, 1989). Boundary ambiguity refers to dilemmas resulting from the intrusive expectation that clergy families are always ‘open’ and available to everyone, at any time. No private family time can be counted upon because they must always be prepared when people show up unexpectedly at the house, often late at night or early in the morning.
According to these studies, the maintenance of appropriate boundaries between the role obligations of the ministry and the minister’s family life is important for healthy, functioning family systems. Boundary ambiguity occurs when clergy families experience stress resulting from coping with high expectations, lack of family time, being in the public eye and loneliness from being in a sense an outsider in the community served by their parent (de Vries 1984;
©The Journal of S moan Studies, Volume 5, 2015 89 Mickey, Wilson and Asmore 1991). As Nichols and Schwartz (1995:240) point out, “in healthy families, boundaries are clear enough to protect the separateness and the autonomy ofindividuals and subsystems, and permeable enough to ensure mutual support and affections.” When boundaries are firm and clear, they serve to protect the autonomy of the family’s subsystems and the entire family unit. When whole family systems are not protected by secure boundaries, the individuals within the system may be placed in vulnerable positions and may not have the opportunity to develop healthy patterns of relating and functioning (Nichols and Schwartz 1995).
Stevenson (1982: 179) comments that:
Clergy children are perhaps the most deeply affected of all the church's offspring by the values and structures of the church. Most of them are reared in homes owned by the church and set aside for their and their parents' use. They are more likely to be involved in the church's activities that other church raised children.
Another issue was that of high expectations. As Lee observed (1999) “ministers’ children are often expected to be better behaved and more spiritually mature than other children in the congregation their age”. Stevenson, in his study Children of the Parsonage (1982) discovered that pastors and their wives were deeply concerned with the effects of parsonage life and the existence of more stringent behavioural standards often applied to parsonage children. Reflecting on the tendency of some minsters’ children to reject the norms of piety and conformity expected of them, Anderson (1998) suggests that if the children of clergy had experienced more family time, less extra expectations and clearer boundaries between church and home, they would be more religiously committed and less rebellious. A study carried out by Darling, Hill and McWey (2004), which examined families of the clergy in US culture, highlighted how common it was for the needs of the pastors’ spouses and families to be unaddressed. The image of a fishbowl is attributed to life in the parsonage because the family of the clergy are scrutinized, evaluated, monitored and judged by the church community.
Pastor’s Daughters in S moan Contexts Our analysis of the S moan context draws on interviews conducted talanoa style,(Vaioleti
2006)with nine women of different ages and denominational backgrounds who had grown up in clergy families in S moan communities in S moa (six) and overseas (three). By way of background, we note that the expected behaviour of all S moan children is that they should serve and obey their parents and put the interests of the parents first. In this world view there is no boundary between the parents’ vocations and their private family life. A pastor, his wife and children all have roles determined by their status in the community and the expectation that they should be a model Christian family. Pastors are nearly always ‘outsiders’ in the villages where they serve, responsible for their spiritual welfare, and (as is expected) aloof from its politics. They and their families are expected to maintain a certain social distance befitting their sacred status. As one of our informants said of her experience in a village parish, “you are excluded from youth activities such as volleyball, and aside from church and Sunday school, you don’t mingle with the church members kids.” Another spoke of her
I’m the only girl in our family, so life as a pastor’s daughter often brought me to tears. It was hard to trust anyone and I often felt lonely because I was not allowed to be with my ©The Journal of S moan Studies, Volume 5, 2015 90 friends. People always expected me to know everything and to do everything asked of me.
In fear of my parents I couldn’t express how I really felt about church members to anyone.
Pastors’ children must avoid any non conforming behaviour that could reflect poorly on the calling of their parents. In a modern society where young women have opportunities and choices that their mothers did not have, pastors’ daughters are still likely to experience more than usual social pressure to conform to a restricted female role. S moan social norms are more permissive towards boys than girls, so that girls feel particularly obliged to avoid disappointing their parents and to protect their reputation, and to avoid being talked about by
church members. As one young woman said:
People always smile and approach you in a respectful way, but the extent of how much that smile is genuine is always questionable because many church members are such pretenders. The most stressful part of being a pastor’s daughter is trying to live up to the many expectations that come with the role. People expect you to walk, dress, talk, sit or even smile in a certain way. It is sad that they don’t expect such high standards from their own kids and expect that from us after all we are not saints.
Other women recalled the restrictions of life and of parish scrutiny that creates what one
referred to as an “anvil like weight” in relation to the denial of personal aspirations:
There were certainly many limitations especially in terms of what you can wear... Being a pastor’s daughter not only limits what you can do, it makes you feel like you are stuck in a tiny highly guarded living space. Many times, the church members were stricter on me than my own parents. I didn’t really have a problem with people visiting all the time as I like to serve guests. My parents knew I was a bit of a rebel and I know I am probably an example of a ‘holy terror’, but the biggest challenge for me was trying to live up to the expectations of people because in the end, people would always blame my parents for my actions.
Several recalled the expectation that the pastor’s daughter should be both
knowledgeable and serve as a role model for other girls and young women:
Not only is there an expectation to know everything about the Bible, there is also the expectation to know everything about our S moan culture.
I agree that life as a pastor’s daughter is not an easy one; you are expected to be a good role model for all the other girls in the church. People see your parents as sacred and holy and also expect that to reflect through their children. Being a pastor’s daughter limits what you do, what you wear, where you go, and so forth; so where ever you go, you are silent all the way and you act in such a way to mirror the expectations of people. For me, regardless of what I wanted to do, I had to consider the fact that my actions would reflect on my parents and their ministry work, so I had to be well behaved at all times.
Others referred to the ambivalence with which a pastor’s daughter is viewed by the church community; there is a sense that because she is privileged she is obliged to conform to
a set of very high expectations: