When you hear the term “Preacher's Kids,” what image comes into your mind? The pure and docile maiden who never dares to project and voice her opinions? The neglected child who festers at home waiting for his parents to end their long days tending to the ministry? Or perhaps the rebellious youth who steals the church offerings and sneaks out in the middle of the night? Preacher's Kids have become a popular term, but what does it really stand for?
The PKs of NY series will explore the lives and views PKs. The story is told through the voices of a dozen PKs from the five boroughs of the city and from different faith backgrounds. As would be expected in the city, the PKs are wildly diverse in their ethnic backgrounds. We picked PKs from ten ethnic backgrounds: Jamaican, Haitian, African American, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Indo-Guyanese, Indonesian Chinese, Japanese, Dutch and mixed.
Our first two articles reflect on the older generation of preacher's kids who watched their parents build ministries decades ago and are now building ministries themselves. The yin and yang of the relationships between pastor parents and their kids is represented by PKs James Gordon and Roderick Caesar, Jr. Later features will explore the diversity of today's PKs and a hypothetical New York City operated by PK officials. Other features of the series will explore other rich textures of PKs in New York City, both past and present.
Part I The Yin and Yang of Old School PKs
James Gordon thought he had died on Friday. He couldn’t recall where he had been over the weekend. “Monday morning, the Lord literally woke me up. I could not move, they had to take me to the hospital and bring me back to life.” He was homeless in his own country of Jamaica. He was rummaging through garbage for his next meal and sleeping on the roadsides.
The young fourteen year old had fled a home with fourteen children supervised by preacher parents who spent more time at church than at home. Gordon’s birth didn’t stand him on any social pedestal. He was the third child, second boy, of the family. He got tired of the scramble for attention and love. He thought he would fare better on his own. With some pain he recalled, “My parents were never with us because they were too busy preaching. The Lord called them to become preachers so I couldn’t really do anything about it.”
Decades later, Gordon is the Pastor Doctor of Macedonia Cathedral New Testament Church of God in St. Albans, Queens and hailed for his international evangelism. On Sunday mornings, there is powerful gospel singing coming out of the storefront church through its door with stained glass hues of lilac and periwinkle. Neatly dressed in dark slacks, brown blazer and white felt hat, Gordon is expressive and articulate. The Pastor lives above the church with his wife Jacqueline, whom he's been married to for 21 years, and their three sons. It is hard to imagine that he was once homeless, illiterate, and filled with a fury and sadness about God.
At first the young Gordon was relieved to be away from home. He recalls that “after a while, I realize that leaving didn't hurt much.” However, the hedgerows were lonely, and as a homeless teenager, he was cursed and abused. “I had no one and was being ostracized and being abused in many different areas.” He started to realize that his emotional pain was surpassing his physical suffering. Being home was like being in a room lit by dim love, but being alone on the road was like being in the dark. “It was when I realized I was on my own--not getting the love that I should get from my parents while my siblings were getting it, that made me feel alone and hurt.” The young boy struggled to find a way out.
His parents had never sent Gordon to school. So, on the road the teenager tried to learn himself. “I learned to read by newspapers on the roadside, try to formulate words, break it up into syllables and then try to read by myself,” he says. With this meager start he developed some confidence to go to school. He enrolled himself, saying, “I sent myself to school and started to learn to read when I was 18.”
I asked Reverend Gordon if he prayed to God then. Slowly, with mixed feelings, he replied that he had.
He prayed to God to relieve him of his desperate situation, but he also resented God for placing him there. With no parents or family members to go to, he faced a really raw adolescence. In his harsh place in the world, Gordon was angry when people tried to tell him to follow God, pray and he would get help. “I didn't want to hear anybody tell me about God, because I believed that I'm a preacher's kid, I shouldn't be going through what I was going through.” All he could think of was that “my father had been preaching and serving God for all these years and now look at me suffering.”
Gordon describes those years of a love-hate view of God with a tinge of guilt because he never gave up on God. Instead, he looked for a different way of leading a religious life. He even felt a tug on his heart from God that he should be a pastor too. After some education, he enrolled himself in Bible School at the age of 24. It was like he was a moth attracted to the flame. In light of his experience of a pastors’ family he was frightened, even angry, by such a calling from God.
“A few people said to me that I was going to be a preacher. I resented it very much.” All he could imagine was that he was being stuffed into misery again. His fellow students and professors kept pushing him to be a preacher. God was tugging at his heart too. Where could he fly to? Maybe, he could flee to a Communist country like Cuba where God was officially dead. Gordon says, “The call of God was in me so heavily that I ran away to Cuba. If I went back to Jamaica, the call will come in me forcefully and people were trying to push me. I didn't want anyone to push me into that so I said to myself 'you know what, I'll run away.” Officials said God was dead, but he still lived in the hearts of Cubans.
In Havana, Cuba his running days came to an end. The flood of bitterness and anger in his heart was drained by a pastor in a Methodist church. Gordon was still wrestling with his demons. He quietly snuck into the back of the church which was led by Reverend Larry Reeves. “I was in the back of the church. He was preaching; he stop his message and walked down in the middle of the isle. He pointed to me; I was at the second to last bench in the back, wearing a striped shirt.”
Reeves called, “'Young man, come up here.'” Gordon felt himself enter into a drama. He went up to center stage. “I went up and stood in the middle before him. He started to prophesize.” Every word was transfixed into the young Jamaican’s mind. Reeves said, “'The Lord should tell you, you must stop running now.’” Gordon’s mind probably flashed questions like signs: How did he know? Where can I go now? Do I want to go? No! I can’t move.
The preacher continued, “’He has a call in your life, and this is the time’”—a preacher! and God!-- reaching out and personally touching the young man; his heart began to beat harder—“’that he wants to change your life. You cannot run away from the call. He will open a door for you; you will go places to deliver the word of God. This is your day to receive your blessing.'” To Gordon it was Spirit from Heaven, life not death opened up before him, a Heavenly Father’s embrace, Home! “I'll never forget, I broke down in tears and cried.” The tears came from a depth no mind can plummet. All the numbness, the fury, the loneliness and the sense of oppression were gone. Only their ghosts remained as tamable, ignorable, and lacking power to determine life.
And this was the beginning of his life as a preacher.
Gordon went through four phases of healing. First, he traveled quite a bit as an evangelist. He wasn’t fleeing his ghosts of a hurtful past so much as he was shaking them off. He focused on the Caribbean nations, Canada, the United States and England. He got married and settled in Jamaica. His two eldest sons, now aged 21 and 15, were born there.
Second, he finally made his peace with pastoring a church. After completing degrees in the United States, he settled in Yonkers in 2002 until 2006 when he moved to Queens.
Many years after he ran away from his pastor parents’ house, in the Spring of 2007, Gordon and his wife made a decision to open a church. Gordon felt that this was a culmination of a sense of direction from God. Now, he could finally empathize with his pastor-parents. Gordon reflects, “The Lord spoke to me to open this church. I tried to run away from it, but I couldn't escape. A preacher wasn't something growing up I wanted to become, because I saw my parents spend most of the time in church and not with us children.”
Gordon also sees many people in his neighborhood that are like he was. “People don't go after spiritual things,” he says. But he feels that God is calling them just the same as he called a young boy fleeing every which way from God. Now, Gordon stands in the role of that Methodist pastor in Cuba, “My main aim is to bring people to Christ.”
A third phase of Gordon’s healing began when he started writing his first book, Purpose Under Process, which was published in 2005. He admits, “Before I wrote the book, I blamed my parents on causing me to go through all this. I didn't want to forgive them and became sorry for myself.” He still felt the anger that he had as a kid. I thought, “I shouldn't have gone through this because I'm a preacher's kid.”
The pastor is also the author of two other books, God's Divine Purpose and Child Abuse and Coping Strategies.
Just as Gordon taught himself to read, he started to teach himself how to come to terms with his past. He first wrote about finding purpose in life. Now, he is writing about how to help PKs and other teenagers.
He seeks to utilize his experience as a Preacher's Kid and his own spiritual awakening for the betterment of those around him. He said, “I've talked to other preacher's kid and they go through some real tough experiences. Because I'm a preacher's kid, I couldn't fulfill what people expect of me. They expect me to live up to the highest level in which I could not.” A teenager caught between inattentive parents too busy doing ministry and high expectations of the church audience can be rocked out of the cradle into the hedgerows.
“When a child reaches the age of 14, that's a time he or she starts to understand what a parent's love is. Not knowing my parent's love left an impact in my life,” Gordon concludes. In the 2007 issue of Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Karen Coats coined the term Preacher's Kid Syndrome to describe the situation in which the parents of a PK will reconcile everyone's problems but those of their child.
Gordon’s reconciliation with his past has encouraged him to become a certified clinical Christian counselor for families and children. He has guidance for other PKs, “I tell them to be themselves, not to beat themselves about their hardships or what they've been through. I let them know that God has a purpose. Things that many preachers’ kids face in the church are the views of the members of the church because they expect so much of them as a preacher's kids. They [the members] might have been verbally, emotionally, or psychologically abusive. I try to let them understand how to forgive, to pass the past and to let God heal their wounds.”
Finally, Gordon’s endless promotion of love for abused youths and broken families has come back on himself in the form of compassion for his pastor-parents. He also is aware of his own temptations as a pastor to neglect his own family. “I too have to pass and move on. I try to do my best not to allow my children to go through this.”
Coming to America from the West Indies has given Gordon a vision for youth realizing the American Dream.
“We want to reach as many young people as we can, to have a better life, to keep them out of jail, and for the drop outs to pursue an education- that is my American Dream. You just need to understand yourself and know what to do and what not to do,” he said. So then, what does the American Dream really mean?
Gordon is inspired by his experience of reaching educational heights in the United States that were a just a dream for a homeless kid in Jamaica, West Indies. In the U.S. he earned a bachelor’s and graduate degrees in psychology and Christian counseling. He currently sits on the advisory board for the Joint Commission on Chaplain Accreditation and Education.
“We live in a country where you have a lot of opportunities. First of all, education is important. What I realized is that this country, as long as you keep within the law, you can achieve the American Dream,” he explained.
“Oh yes! God does value education!” Gordon emphasized. “The Bible tells about wisdom and knowledge in the Scriptures, you only can receive that through education. If you don't educate yourself, you can't have wisdom, you can't have knowledge of things.”
There are two general stereotypes for P.Ks.: The self-righteous know-it-all, and the rebellious youth. Pastor Dr. Gordon is neither. He is seeking to define his role differently as a preacher and counselor. His book God's Divine Purpose is a guide to understanding of one’s life journey: “My point here is to encourage you, to have a point of view, to stand for something, to believe with all your heart, and to commit yourself for which you believe. It is only then that the passion that gives rise to purpose will be realized. […] We only have today, tomorrow is promised to no man. Therefore, apply yourself, encourage yourself, change your attitude, and make adjustments if you must, but press on to the end. To do anything less is to abort the purpose that God has given you.”
Originally published June 9, 2011. [20111113_0700]
___________________________ To be continued______________________________
Macedonia Cathedral New Testament Church of God
11341 Farmers Blvd. Saint Albans, NY 11412
In 2007 the Cuban Methodist Church had about 30,000 adherents and 820 churches.
Iglesia Methodista en Cuba
Calle K. No 502, 25 y 27
Vedado, Apdo 10400
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