Claire Hailwood believes her mixed experience as a vicar’s daughter made it that much harder to consider church based work


image: posed by an actor

I was born in the city where my Dad was training to be a vicar. I was raised in vicarages in various places. I didn’t realise until later childhood that not everyone went to church or even knew what a vicar was.

Growing up in a vicarage had lots of perks and quirks.

We lived in beautiful houses (that I didn’t appreciate fully at the time!). I had a front row seat (literally on a Sunday) to the activities and adventure of church, that for me as a child were often exciting, and were with people who I enjoyed being with. I’m sure I got some preferential treatment sometimes because my Dad was the vicar.

And there were the quirks of vicarage life – various dignitaries who visited our house meant we had to be on our absolute best behaviour. My first Saturday job was ringing the bell (singular!) after weddings on a Saturday, of which my Dad did at least two most Saturdays in summer.

And then there was the time where I was handed a box of ashes on the doorstep to give to my Dad for the service at the crematorium the following day…

Perks and quirks.

Without my parents’ faith and willingness I wouldn’t have the foundations that I do or some of the opportunities that I’ve had in my life. In hindsight, I see the heart of my parents and the cost they willingly paid in pursuit of growing the kingdom of God.

But I was adamant, for years, that I would never be a church leader.

There was the obviousreason – I didn’t want to be like my Dad whose style was different to my own, and I wanted to mark myself out as ‘different’ to him. Much of that was rooted in my pride, but also partially a desire to forge my own path.

I felt some of the cost of my parents’ call personally. As I remember, most evenings my Dad was out and although I would never have admitted it as a teenager, I resented church for that and missed him.

And then, to be honest, I didn’t want to be on my best behaviour all the time, sometimes I didn’t want to smile at random ‘old’ people because Mum and Dad introduced me in conversation after church because I wanted to go home. Neither did I want to sit on display on the front row every week.

In my early teens, we moved to a new parish. It was small with a much older congregation but with a vision and heart to grow and see families come in and see the community impacted. My parents knew that God called them and they were obedient, so we moved.

I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want to be in the music group, the Sunday school or youth group (which was how it was in the early days). Our move coincided with a difficult time for me in adolescence and a lot of blame for that went on the church and my parents for pursuing that call.

In hindsight I’m proud of them and grateful for their example. I’m proud of what they led the church in to, for the lives changed and community impacted. To see it and them flourish is brilliant. In hindsight.

I was adamant that I’d never do the same!

So I became a youth worker based in a church [insert eye roll emoji]

I convinced myself that was different and disconnected somehow. It was only when we came to grow our family that I was confronted with the fears that my teenage decision was rooted in.

After a lot of soul searching, praying and seeking some wise (honest!) counsel, I realise that I needed to surrender my ‘I will never’ if I was to continue following God authentically. I needed to confront some things from my own experience that had become distorted over time, that were restricting me.

I needed to forgive. And repent.

I got to a place where I knew I would say ‘yes’ if God called.

And then I didn’t work for church for a number of years as the call on my life led us to grow our family and for most of my time to be home based with a bit of schools based youth work on the side. I confess I secretly wondered if I’d dodged a bullet!

In 2013, I had the opportunity, with my husband and our three young children, to plant and pastor a church in a new city. It was a different context to what I grew up in but with a similar call, a similar cost and potentially a similar impact on my children. To go to a place with just a few people, with faith, rooted in prayer and see what God might build.

There’s much that we’ve done differently to what has gone before because I’m cnscious of my experience, but no longer scared about repeating only the negative. And much has felt similar in a way that I’ve loved.

As I’ve watched my children growing up and being part of pioneering and being involved, I’ve got the privilege of seeing the good it has done them, but also the chance to revisit some of my experiences through a new lens. It’s been redemptive, sometimes painful, and worth it.