I’ve always been uncomfortable with clerical families, especially with “pure” clergyman whose sole vocation is the pastoral ministry. There’s something artificial or unreal about them, and there’s a reason why the rebellious pastor’s son and daughter is such a trope.

However I don’t feel the same way about CofE clerics before the 20th century. I think the reasoning behind my intuition is as follows: As a good Protestant I think holiness is everyone’s calling and everyone is called to be a saint. As such, there should be no distinction in holiness by vocation. Now, fairly or accurately or not, the pastoral vocation is seen to define their role by being extra holy or being a better holy example compared to the rest. When your *job* is to be extra holy, it becomes highly performative, and artificial. I think clerical families, especially children, generally are able to sense when their fathers are just putting up a show, or at the very least, are under considerable pressure to maintain appearances.

I don’t feel the same way about pre-20th century CofE clerics is because clergyman back then was just part of the social furniture. Their role in society was primarily that of the intelligentsia/literati. Every Oxbridge don or fellow was simply automatically an ordained cleric. Even if they were not scholars, their role in the parish was that of the clerk or administrator, that “parish” in some places remains a unit of civic division is very suggestive. Also the Roman Catholics interestingly call their regular clergy, as opposed to the monastics, “secular clergy”, also a suggestive name.

My point is that the older clergyman was not defined by being a “holy man”, whatever formal deference the English show clerics everyone takes it with irony. The older clergyman had a secular function and role in society, they were either intellectual scholars, doing stuff like framing probability theorems or hypothesising about black holes before it was cool, or they were the parish administrators.

However, with the decline of the role of clerics in secular society, “pure clergyman” whose role is purely religious threatens to turn their practice into a highly performative affair. This is why I am generally uncomfortable with it. In this sense, I am generally pleased with the Presbyterian distinction between teaching elders and ruling elders, which emphasise it’s fundamentally lay nature while also just highlighting the functional nature of the leadership.

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