The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

May 18, 2013

Children adjust to life as ‘preachers’ kids’

BY MARY WICOFF
Commercial-News

DANVILLE — The teenage years are difficult enough, but imagine growing up with dozens or even hundreds of pairs of eyes watching your every move.

Some children growing up in a parsonage can take that in stride, while others are uncomfortable with the attention.

Pete Ferrill, whose father is a pastor, understands why people might judge a minister’s family. The thought is: “If you can’t influence your own kids, how are you going to influence the congregation?” he said.

The same thinking applies to a judge’s family. If a judge can’t control his children, how is he expected to handle the criminal in the courtroom?

Preachers’ kids are expected to behave a certain way, but, he said, “These kids are as human as anyone else.”

Ferrill said he considered his childhood normal, and didn’t have problems growing up. However, as he grew older, he became more conscious of the decisions he made and how they reflected on the family.

All parents can do is teach children values and how to apply them. “What you live rather than what you say is more important,” Ferrill said.

His father, Don Ferrill with the Walden Methodist Church and who fills in at churches, gave his sons the foundations needed to understand the laws of God. But he also went a step further and asked how the sons would apply those values.

“How are you going to grow and continue to flourish and nourish from this foundation?” the younger Ferrill said.

And then the parents need to let go, he said, adding, “Parents have to set them free at some point. You have to lead them in the religious ways and show them, not just tell them.”

As for his own 6-year-old quintuplets, he and Jenny are raising them with religious values.

“We have to lay the foundation,” he said, “but they’ll grow and make their own relationship with God.”

Jason Henton said having a pastor-dad was “pretty cool” while growing up. His father, Ron Henton, worked in Newport, Ind., at the time, and so his friends didn’t even know his dad was a minister.

People in his church expected the three Henton children to do the right thing every time, but didn’t put pressure on them.

Henton said he turned out to be the class clown while attending Danville schools — but he was just being a “regular kid,” not a preacher’s kid.

“All of us are different,” he said of his siblings. “I just happened to be the one who acted out more than the others.”

Henton said he was never suspended, adding, “I knew better than that.”

He’s now the sports/Young Men Aware director at the Danville Family YMCA.

Zach Downing grew up with two ministers as parents, Randy and Bonnie Downing, pastors at the Rock Church.

At first, he felt pressure not to get into trouble, he said. But, he added, “When I matured, not getting into trouble came naturally.” He described that turning point as after his junior year of high school.

His parents expected him to behave, he said, and they shaped who he is today. “They taught me how to make choices,” he said.

His friends didn’t treat him any differently, either, adding, “I had a perfectly normal relationship with my friends.” The Downing house was always filled with his friends.

Downing is a student at Parkland Community College in Champaign.

As for the Lifetime reality show, “Preachers’ Daughters,” Ferrill said viewers don’t realize that it’s not reality. The camera becomes an external magnifier and exaggerates the characters’ responses, he said. Also, the people on the show are under contract, and have to do what the producers expect them to do.

“When you’re a character, you have to live up to that self-image. You’re showboating for the camera, but you’re not living it,” he said.

The Ferrills have experience with documentaries, as they were the subject of a TV show when their quints were born. He learned then how much producers and directors control what happens for the camera.