The Rev Canon Dr. Emma Percy has studied history in Cambridge, theology in Durham, and serves as Chaplain and Welfare Dean at Trinity College, University of Oxford. Yet, in her book What Clergy Do: Especially When it Looks Like Nothing, it is quite clear that her best training to become a priest in the Church of England was in her home through the everyday aspects of motherhood. This life station is the metaphor she selects to give a fresh expression of the life of the clergy.
Language is often used in the church describing relationships as family. The church of my childhood used the title “Brother” and “Sister” as if they were the religious “Mr.” and “Mrs.” I tend to use these more as terms of endearment with my closest colleagues. I also have found Paul’s exhortation to Timothy regarding the relationship between men and women to be an excellent guideline, “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”
Anyone who has been in the church for any length of time has also discovered that, like most families, the church has dysfunctional patterns and behaviors. This makes Percy’s concepts intriguing and unique in regard to her purpose for the family metaphor. Her emphasis is on the family as the location for cultivating maturity and character. It is “at best the place in which we grow up, developing the virtues and values that enable us to reach maturity.” Percy likens parenting to discipleship and states, “As a parent, what we hope for in our children is that the language, values and manners they have learnt in the household will fit them to take their place in the wider world, behaving in ways that, though unique to them, accord with the values we have tried to instill.” I could not help but dream of the Church if every local expression made this their aim.
Percy focuses specifically on the role of mothering as a parish priest. The nurturing role that shapes a child is her premise for the shaping of hearts to lead them to maturity. Nurturing connects to human flourishing and the intent is that through proper feeding and nurturing one grows to leave the home and make their place in the world as designed by their Creator. This takes intentional parenting on a moment by moment basis while also keeping the household functional in all its practical necessities. After pastoring for thirty-eight years and parenting for the same, I relate to Percy’s work in a manner I had never considered and as I survey the state of the church in America I fear we have focused on keeping the spiritual household functional without giving as much attention to the maturity of the souls within it.
“The devaluing of caring roles in our society, because they are associated with the domestic and the feminine, has implications for the caring nature of a priest’s work and increasingly for the way it is valued.” I also must admit feeling the sense of being devalued as a stay-at-home mom was real and experiencing the shifting sands of culture negatively toward the clergy is heightening that experience as well. There is a societal perspective that tends to treat stay-at-home-moms (SAHM) as less productive than those who pursue a career in the marketplace. Much work has been done to assess the monetary value of a SAHM and in a recent article by Motherly the annual income, if paid, is estimated to be $162k per year in the U.S. It has been interesting and heart-warming to see many young men become stay-at-home-dads so their wives could pursue their careers. This serves the metaphor well for priests as nurturing is not a gender-based ability.
Well-nurtured souls become mature, interdependent people who have the ability to enter the world, be what God has designed, and pass on what they have received. They are less about themselves and more about others and find their authority from within rather than without. In all the training I have received over forty years regarding spiritual leadership and pastoral ministry I grieve that little has addressed this most important aspect of pastoring. I wonder if we have been so distracted by the “household” growth, finance, buildings, and activities that we forgot the main thing of maturing those living under the roof?
 I Timothy 5:1-2 (NIV).
 Emma Percy, What Clergy Do: Especially When it Looks Like Nothing (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2014), 16.
 Ibid., 16.
 Ibid., 17.
 Percy, 18