Musings of a Clergy Child

Growing into a faith of my own

Nell Goddard

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Passionate and poignant by turns, very funny one minute and deeply moving the next, Nell Goddard's account of being a 'vicarage child' is above all truthful. Truthful to what it's really like being at the sharp end of clergy life; truthful, especially, to the gospel itself.
Rt Revd Prof N T Wright, University of St Andrews


Vicarage life can be exciting, hilarious, scary, surreal and delightful... and that's just one day! Nell Goddard writes honestly and openly about the ins and outs of growing up in a Christian home, from her experience as the daughter of two vicars. With hilarious anecdotes, tough lessons and spiritual reflections from wrestling with faith, this book charts what it's like to live in the goldfish bowl of a vicarage, grow up in the shadow of your parents, lose your faith and find it again. With both rewritten blog posts and brand new material, this collection of tips, letters and musings will appeal not just to clergy children and their parents, but also to teenagers growing up in Christian homes, and to those who want to know what it's like to live a life of ministry you never really asked for.


  • Clergy child's lament
  • Introduction
Tips for clergy children
  • Bring-and-share lunches are highly unpredictable
  • Sometimes the smallest offerings have the biggest impact
  • People will come in and randomly start dismantling your house
  • Do not give out your address over the phone
  • Boundaries are excellent things
  • Don't feel obliged to invite the entire congregation to your birthday party
  • You will never realise how important your hospitality is until you're on the receiving end of someone else's
  • Always lock the toilet door. A surprising number of people will just barge through closed ones
  • Teach your parent to turn off their phone
  • Make sure you check out the parish profile before your parent applies for a job
  • Learn to accept strange gifts with grace
  • You are, to all intents and purposes, the vicarage social secretary
  • If someone's coming to stay, make sure you're informed well in advance
  • It's OK to grieve
  • Don't bother waiting for your parents before leaving church. It's a waste of everyone's time
  • There are certain things you should never tell a caller
  • Always carry ID. You never know when you might need to prove yourself
  • Your love life will be a continual source of parish speculation
  • Sometimes it's just awful, but God is still good
  • Forgive; it changes lives
  • A letter for the new clergy child
  • A letter for clergy parents
  • A letter for when the church has hurt you
  • A letter for when you feel as if the church has stolen your parents
  • A letter for when a friend leaves
  • A letter for when you feel inadequate
  • Coming home
  • Dancing in the grey
  • Confessions
  • Chains
  • Walking the forgiveness path
  • Interrupted
  • Trust and obey
  • Hide-and-seek
  • Be still
  • Barefoot
  • Battling
  • Fingertip faith
  • Prayer for a friend
  • Here is love
  • On being human
  • Naked
  • Out of the ashes
  • At the feet of Jesus
  • Heaven has a climbing frame
  • Without words

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Passionate and poignant by turns, very funny one minute and deeply moving the next, Nell Goddard's account of being a 'vicarage child' is above all truthful. Truthful to what it's really like being at the sharp end of clergy life; truthful, especially, to the gospel itself.
Rt Revd Prof N T Wright, University of St Andrews

For me, this is what is really enchanting about Musings of a Clergy Child. In 154 pages, Nell, you have given us a living example of how to be simultaneously completely grown up - realistic, candid, hard-hitting - and utterly child-like for God - unfussy, honest, and attentive to the small truths that normally pass us by. As the father of a clergy child, it is a beautiful example for my own little girl; but it's also a beautiful example for me - and for all of us here. Because there is not one of us who is not called to be at once grown up, mature in the faith, and also childlike, transparent before God as a child is in the presence of a parent he or she trusts completely. And Musings of a Clergy Child is brilliant at a practical level - for reminding clergy families up and down the country that they aren't alone in the fact that 'God has not called them to normality', as you so elegantly put it. It's also extremely valuable in that it offers what so little Christian literature bothers to - a vocabulary for lamenting in the face of God's goodness. This book, Anne Atkins says, is 'wonderful and precious'; and Simon Ponsonby tells us it 'will do good to your soul'. They are both right.
Patrick Gilday, Rector of Benson and Ewelme

Nell Goddard takes the lid off vicarage life and reveals the life of a clergy child to be anything but a sheltered one. With tenderness and insight she describes the rich and rare mix of holy, human experience which shaped her growing-up. Her faith journey so far has been remarkable, painful, joyful, very much her own and shot through with instances of how God and life, in her words, 'intersect in the most beautiful of ways.' ... Everyone should read 'Musings of a Clergy Child' : beautiful.
Rosemary Lain-Priestley, Archdeacon for the Two Cities

Author info

Nell Goddard studied Theology at Durham University and is now Culture Projects Leader at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. Both her parents began training for ordination when she was just six months old. Since then her family have lived all around the country and been part of a spectrum of different ministries, from Oxford college chaplain to academic theologian to vicar of a central London parish. She has an older brother and a chocolate labrador, Bramble. You can find Nell's blog at


Review by Imogen Bell

At the end of a good book I often feel that I know its author. This is particularly true for a book which explores the life of an individual with all its hilarity, brokenness and restoration. With each turn of the page the reader learns more of the writer, so that by the final turn they are well and truly known, even perhaps a friend

What Nell Goddard achieves remarkably throughout the course of her first book, Musings of a Clergy Child: growing into a faith of my own, is the humble skill of knowing the reader. Getting to the end of Goddard's book left me feeling known. Though I am neither a clergy child nor a clergy parent, from the first page I was welcomed as a friend. Through stories, tips, letters and reflections she scripted much of what I too have experienced as a young Christian growing up in a 'Christian family'. I was left encouraged and amazed at Goddard's ability to express these experiences and to share repeated moments of vulnerability with her readers.

Musings of a Clergy Child is split into (a classically Anglican) three sections. Firstly: Goddard's 'Tips for clergy children'. As an ordinand about to embark on Church of England training, reading the insights of a childhood in a 'gold fish bowl' was a timely warning of the challenges of Christian ministry (whatever that might look like). Especially the challenges placed upon one's own family.

Secondly: Goddard's 'Letters'. Six letters, one to a new clergy child, one to clergy parents and four letters to those with specific situations, hurts and fears. For me, the last was the most important, 'A letter for when you feel inadequate'. Not only for my life, but for many lives of loved ones around me, this letter acknowledges the feeling that 'I am not enough'. It challenges the inadequacy and declares that our Father loves us. This letter is worthy of printing and posting around schools, universities, churches, workplaces, even on street corners. It speaks the gospel into the darkest of doubts. A wonderful declaration of one made 'enough' through Christ.

Finally: Her 'Musings', the "most obviously theological part" but not out of kilter with the rest. Twenty musings covering multiple questions, barriers and truths in the twisted and winding journey of faith. This section is a resource to be used repeatedly, reflections to be reminded of and situations almost universally experienced. Goddard's willingness to embrace and witness to the big issues of a life with Christ opens spaces for her readers to grow, to be acknowledged and to reflect on their own faith, feelings and struggles.

I have (a similarly Anglican) three reflections on Goddard's work: Vulnerability, Redemption and Transformation.

Goddard's book is vulnerable. It speaks of human life, in all its fullness and messiness. It is truthful and open about the doubts, questions and anxieties that the author faced throughout her life. I was struck by Goddard's honesty in her writing, her willingness to be vulnerable with her readers so that she might be known but also so that her readers might feel known, acknowledged, valued and understood. From inadequacy to doubts and deep hurts, Goddard reflects the brokenness of human life in a broken world.

But her vulnerability never leaves her readers in a place of despair. Redemption always follows. In each story of challenge, each letter of loss and each musing on a difficult day, joy comes in the morning, light emerges from the darkness, a crown of beauty replaces ashes. God consistently ministers to us in our vulnerabilities and Goddard reminds her readers that He will always meet us, love us and redeem us in our darkest times.

And then there is transformation. Something changes, a challenge and a call to a distinctive life. A life that welcomes, a home that is open, a hand that accepts bizarre presents or an offering plate that appreciates hard boiled sweets. Again and again Goddard exemplifies the transformed life with Christ. She forgives, appreciates, mourns and reminds her readers that our broken lives matter, that we all have the opportunity to reach the unreachable, the occasionally dysfunctional, the overlooked and underrepresented. Not without struggle, but with grace and humility a life is transformed and that transformed life in turn leads to further transformation.

This is an incredibly honest and profound book, exploring both the comedies and challenging realities of growing up in a vicarage. It is worth reading wherever you grew up as it provides insights into the twists and turns that emerge as one walks the path of faith. Musings of a Clergy Child gives particular insight to all those considering, training for and living Christian ministry and should be on all kinds of vocational reading lists! Goddard admirably reflects the vulnerability, redemption and transformation that unite humanity and describe the gospel. You will be welcomed from the start and known by the end.

Thank you Nell, I wait in anticipation for book number two.

Imogen Bell, Theos

Book details

  • ISBN: 9780857465467
  • Published: 23 June 2017
  • Status:
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 160
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