Ask a Young Clergy Woman: Holiday Drama Edition

Post Author: Askie

Dear Askie,

9698410745_3d45d2389f_zMy daughter is a Pastor and I am so upset that she won’t come home for Christmas. We had wonderful family Christmases but now she’s always missing. She takes off at other times so why can’t she take off for one Christmas! She cares more about her congregation than her family! She knows we can’t afford to fly there so why can’t she come home? I’m so upset that we have to spend another Christmas without her. Daughter, I need you to come home! How can we convince her that we love her and we want to spend Christmas Day with her home?

Sad unhappy Christmas mother


Dear Sad Mom,

Oh, I get it. I really do. You didn’t sign up for this strange and wonderful life your daughter has chosen. You have not made any vows to the church. We young clergy women know that it isn’t always fair how our pastoral vocations impact our loved ones, from missing holidays with our extended families to spending too many evenings away from our kids to seldom being able to go away for the weekend with our spouses. Sharing your daughter with her congregation is really hard… and sometimes it doesn’t even feel like sharing. It feels like her congregation gets first dibs on her time and attention, and you get the meager leftovers. Big hugs for you.

If it’s any consolation, you are not the only sad mom out there… and your daughter is probably kind of bummed, as well. Clergy of all ages, genders, and religions sometimes lament the ways our callings change our holiday rituals. It is an indescribable blessing to lead a congregation through a Christmas Eve service, to tell the story of Jesus’ birth, to break bread and light candles, to proclaim that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Yet many of us feel some loss, too. We regret that we can’t make it home to far-away family, that our children are hanging up stockings without us, that helping others celebrate this holy night often means rushing around attending to logistics when we’d rather be drinking in the stories and songs we love most.

Getting down to brass tacks, though, sad mom, the answer is: no, your daughter can’t come home for Christmas. It’s just the nature of our work… Broadway stars have to work Friday and Saturday nights, tax preparers have to work long hours in March and April, pyrotechnicians have to work on Independence Day, and pastors have to work on Christmas and Easter. If you’re a church-goer yourself, try thinking about it from that perspective – what would it be like for you if your pastor was away for some of the most important services of the year? There are some pastors who might be able to get home for Christmas (maybe by leaving right after their last service and traveling through the night… not exactly a recipe for a holly-jolly day!), but it sounds like your daughter isn’t so fortunate as to be able to make it work.

So what’s a sad Christmas mom to do?

I’ve got good news for you, Christmas mom: you get to create some new traditions. Talk with your daughter (and maybe other family members) and come up with a plan that will help you all celebrate the holidays together in a way that makes sense for your particular lives. Maybe you can choose another day to be your family’s holiday celebration… Christmastide has twelve days, you know! Maybe your daughter could visit for New Year’s, or maybe you’d like to hold an annual family “Christmas in July.” Maybe you could start a tradition of Skyping together on Christmas morning. Maybe you could – at least once – visit your daughter for Christmas. Attending her church for Christmas services might be moving for all of you. (Please don’t expect her to prepare an elaborate meal on top of everything else, though. Order in, or follow Askie’s lead and make some Christmas fajitas! The red and green peppers are very festive.)

It’s sad to say goodbye to our old Christmas traditions, but this is a great opportunity for you to re-think your routines. How do you want to spend Christmas? Visiting with other family members or friends? Seeing a movie? Volunteering at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter? There are lots of options, so find a way of celebrating that works well for your family.

Will your daughter ever be home for Christmas again? She might be! Not this year, but there might be a Christmas when she is on sabbatical or maternity leave. There might be a Christmas when she is between calls. She might transition to a different kind of ministry that isn’t so demanding around the holidays. She might be called to a church that’s closer to home. Or maybe not.

My hope for you, Christmas mom, is that you will find a tradition that brings you closer to your family and to God. My hope is that you find a way to celebrate both the birth of Christ and your daughter’s calling to Christ’s church, with all the joy and difficulty that entails. And most of all, Christmas mom, I hope you have a blessed Advent and a merry Christmas.

Holiday blessings,


Image by: simpleinsomnia
Used with permission
3 replies
  1. Lucille says:

    I love the response you made to this mom’s letter! It was very kind and hopefully enlightening to her.

    My first thought at reading the letter was thinking about how I hoped the mom wasn’t pressuring her pastor daughter too much with the heavy load of guilt. It’s not like she’s choosing to be away from her family because she is spending the holidays on the beach or something.

    My second thought was why limit the holiday to just THE day? As you said, Christmas IS 12 days.. and you’re absolutely right. I know many people who, for instance, opt to celebrate Thanksgiving the Saturday following the actual holiday because of family members who are unable to be there on a Thursday afternoon. Does it make the holiday/time together with family any less festive or meaningul? I think not!!

    Hopefully the mom can get over her issues and help her daughter out by being more accepting and less black-and-white about the whole idea. In the spirit of love, family, and Christmas!


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