- Growing Up PK
If, as Samuel Johnson suggested, “Life’s a short summer, man a flower,” then Southern Baptist preachers’ sons are either daisies or Venus flytraps.
I grew up a daisy. As the preacher’s kid, or PK, I was expected to fill whatever role the church needed me to play. In children’s choir, I sang solos. For Christmas plays, I was given the lead. Sunday-school teachers looked to me to explain biblical passages, as though they thought hermeneutics was hereditary. I even shoveled snow off the church steps. Kids at school would see me coming, cover their mouths, and say, “Oops! I can’t cuss around you.”
In 2001, Jim Baker’s son, Jay, wrote Son of a Preacher Man, about growing up televangelist, but that is not the typical PK story. The typical story involves Mission Friends; youth retreats; Bible school; and spending Friday [End Page 175] nights in nursing homes, hospitals or the solemn, antiseptic houses of church members. It involves duty, discipline and weirding people out. (At my first job, when I was seventeen, the boss was a bastard to everyone except me. Later I heard it was because he feared going to hell.) Most important, it involves a commandment not just to honor your parents but to make sure that if the church ever asks them to leave, it is not because of you.
Owing possibly to that commandment, few PKs have written about the experience. This essay will discuss six books—four memoirs and two novels—by and/or about PKs. The closest one to my experience is Elizabeth Emerson Hancock’s memoir Trespassers Will Be Baptized. Hancock and her sister, Meg, grew up in eastern Kentucky, where their father was the pastor of King’s Way Baptist Church. The book is more a confederation of funny tales—“Acid-Washed Samaritans,” “Bluegrass Ladies of Faith,” “Joseph and the McAlpin’s Bargain Basement Blazer”—than a narrative. Well, most reviewers found them funny. “It’s no exposé,” wrote one about Hancock’s style, “never snarky, mostly fond, and when she can’t be fond, she’s gentle.” I agree that her stories are fond. “It’s a refreshing read for folks who are tired of seeing faith equated with ignorance and hatred,” a reviewer wrote. “Refreshing”: right again. The problem is that refreshment is all Hancock goes for.
One scene illustrates this. “One Sunday afternoon,” Hancock writes, “I’d been playing under the tall-back love seat in Daddy’s church study when I overheard Mrs. Pence.” Mrs. Pence has walked in to complain about a nursery worker using language that is “decidedly too adult.” After prodding the woman, Hancock’s father learns that the questionable language is “the F word.”
At the sound of this, Hancock is all ears. She doesn’t know what the F-word is, specifically, “but I did know it existed, out there in the dangerous universe of things that made you a sinner just by hearing or seeing them.” (I laughed at this—the laughter of recognition.)
Trespassers Will Be Baptized: The Unordained Memoir of a Preacher’s Daughter
Elizabeth Emerson Hancock.
Center Street Press, 2008, 288 pp., $9.99 (Kindle edition).
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‘The F word?’ Daddy said, dropping his pencil in midsentence. ‘The F word. You’re sure about this?’” (Here, I did not laugh. The pencil-dropping is a dippy detail. My father has driven drunks to detox, preached...