The following appears in today’s “Irish Times” (being read online from a Campanile Motel between the French city of Lille and the Belgian border)
Reverends Ian and Katharine Poulton have combined parenthood with running two parishes in Dublin. writes SHEILA WAYMAN .
IF HAVING one clerical parent can be a burden, spare a thought for the children who have two. This has been possible within the Church of Ireland since 1987, when the ordination of women as deacons started, with the full priesthood becoming possible three years later.
Ian and Katharine Poulton, who live in Killiney, Co Dublin, are one such clerical couple. They have two children, Michael (18), who is studying engineering in Trinity College Dublin, and Miriam (16), a boarder at St Columba’s College in Rathfarnham.
“We’ve always lived in the house with Ian’s parish and I have always been the commuter. It has always worked for us,” explains Katharine, who was the first woman to be ordained a deacon.
Currently, they are rectors of two very different parishes. She is in charge of St George and St Thomas in the northeast of Dublin’s inner city, which she describes as “a multinational congregation, an ever-changing scene because of the location, with people coming and going”. She also does chaplaincy work in the Mater hospital and Mountjoy jail.
Ian’s parish of St Matthias is very much typically “south Co Dublin Protestant”, he says. But, covering Killiney and Ballybrack, it does have a cross-section of people.
They live in a fine, newly built, spacious rectory across the road from the church, with a sweeping view of the Dublin mountains.
The Poultons believe in quite strict demarcation as regards events and social occasions in parish life where, in other situations, the spouse might be expected to attend as well.
“I work in my parish and Katharine works in her parish,” Ian explains, “otherwise you would spend so much time just being an adjunct.”
“We do a little bit of trading off from time to time,” says Katharine. “I go to the odd wedding or baptism party and he has to come to something.”
When the children were small, juggling parenthood and ministry was difficult enough, particularly when Ian was in East Down, just outside Downpatrick, while Katharine was serving in Portadown, 45 miles away. She went part-time and they used a childminder to help them through.
Living in an urban area now, they feel they are more anonymous than clergy families living in rural areas, and they say they have always tried to shelter their children.
However, as someone who grew up in a rectory herself, Katharine does think people’s attitudes have changed. “In terms of people’s expectations of a rectory family, when I was growing up certainly I wouldn’t have dreamt of not going to church. That has changed.”
She also recalls, when she was a young adult at the end of the 1970s, a phone call coming through to her father’s rectory in the North, saying his daughter really should not be going down to the pub.
Michael and Miriam’s church attendance, in common with many of their peers, has dropped off in their teenage years.
“They only go on ‘high days’ now,” laughs Katharine.
But Ian is quick to point out that as boarders at St Columba’s, they must go to chapel seven days a week. Now in university, Michael maintains he’s allowed a couple of years off after that!
“We don’t force the issue,” says Katharine. “They will go to special things, a bit grumpily! There are other clergy families where the kids are very involved with everything that goes on.”
As a family, they are used to their home being used for parish meetings and regular callers to the house.
“I think our children see that as a kind of privilege, that they get to meet such a cross-section of people,” says Katharine.
“You can be in the house and you might meet a bishop, and the next day you’ll have a Traveller at the door.”
The need for confidentiality has been instilled in the children from an early age. “There is a rule that nothing that’s heard is ever repeated,” explains Ian. “People come in and they say all sorts and sometimes the children are invisible to them.”
The Poultons had to juggle their schedules when the children were younger.
The advantage of Ian holding evening meetings in the house, rather than in the church hall, was that they didn’t have to get a babysitter if Katharine was out.
“Because I do hospital chaplaincy as well, I can be called anytime and sometimes you just have to turn around and go somewhere in a hurry. Miriam had to come with me once to the hospital when I was called. She just stood outside the ward waiting for me; she was too small to be left in the car.”
There is little time at weekends for family life, so they have always made four weeks summer holidays together sacrosanct. However, this year only Miriam will go away with them, not Michael.
Sundays are a total write off as regards family time, Katharine points out. She goes out at 8.30 in the morning and is often not back until evening.
Christmas is also very busy for both of them.
“My inclination would be that you should have somebody home on Christmas Day for dinner who doesn’t have anywhere else to go. But actually when it gets to that stage I couldn’t face it,” says Katharine.
“Once we get home from church, we just laze around.”
There are bonuses for rectory families too. “Clergy pay is never great but there are things we get,” stresses Ian. “St Columba’s is incredibly generous to us.”
“And we live in a nice house and in a nice area,” points out Katharine.
“You are kind of classless sometimes,” adds Ian.
She believes their children have probably had a wider view of life from living in a rectory but she does not think that either of them will follow their parents into the ministry.
However, “I think they might have a sneaking admiration”.
“Miriam has for you,” Ian says quite definitely to Katharine, “but she’d never tell you though.”