Josh Longbottom knows that look. A sideways glance, furrowed brow and then a whisper.
“Usually people choke and spit when they find out. They’re like ... what? I blend in to the pizza delivery/failed rock star persona of many people in Lawrence,” Longbottom says, laughing at his own long hair and buttoned-down clothes. “No one ever asks, unless someone brings it up. It’s usually a joke somewhere in the room. Someone’s like (whispering) ‘Psssst, he’s a pastor.’ But when they find out, they never forget.”
That’s the Rev. Josh Longbottom, to you, associate pastor at Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vt. His vocation might be surprising on first glance, but there’s one person in the world it never surprised.
“My dad was like the first one to say, ‘You’re going to be a pastor,’” Longbottom says. “And that was really annoying because when I realized that is the appropriate path, it was problematic for me, for my rebellious side. My dad’s like, ‘You’re going to be a pastor,’ and I’m like, ‘No, I’m not.’”
Longbottom’s father, Donald, is a pastor. After college, a career as a carpenter and tons of soul-searching, Longbottom decided to go into the “family business.” And he’s not alone — preacher’s kids (aka PKs) who become preachers themselves aren’t a dime a dozen, but they aren’t uncommon in Lawrence either. They’re on staff at major churches, preach every Sunday somewhere in town, and are even married to each other, as in the case of the Barclay-Taylor-Willems family.
In fact, if you walk in to Lawrence First United Methodist, 946 Vt., you’ll run into a man with more than 100 years’ worth of PKs in his family, the Rev. Tom Brady. Brady, of course, is now a PK-turned-preacher, not that the preacher’s life was what he expected or what his father, Merris, necessarily wanted for his youngest son.
“My grandfather and then his dad, it goes back a long time ... it’s like six generations in our family,” Tom Brady says of Brady preachers. “My parents always wanted me to do what I thought would make me happy and that was more important to them. In fact, there was a point where my father tried to talk me out of it, so I didn’t feel too much pressure.”
The Brady PKs
Destiny and family
As much as Longbottom’s father knew his rebellious third child would eventually become a pastor, the Rev. Merris Brady thought he knew the way things would go. First off, he didn’t believe he would continue the family tradition himself and, secondly, he never thought Tom would, either. Wrong and wrong again.
“I went to college and trained to be a city manager. It was while I was in college, I was asked to take a church just as a lay person, kind of fill in for three months after there was a change, and that’s when I got hooked,” says Merris Brady, retired and living in Topeka. “I believe if God calls you into the ministry and if you can do anything else, go ahead and do it, because if God wants ya, God’s going to have his way.
“That’s how it worked out with Tom. Of our three kids, he was least likely of the three that we thought would go into the ministry.”
Longbottom, meanwhile, ignored his dad’s prediction for as long as he could. It wasn’t until he was in his mid-20s that he decided that he was destined to go from PK to preacher.
“It’s not training or upbringing or something like that, or we all would have been,” he says, hinting at his three siblings, none of whom are pastors or even regularly attend church. “There was something different about me and the way that I interact with the Scriptures and think about life. I call it an ‘orientation.’ (It) is the best word that I have. My orientation to thinking about the world is religious.”
When ending up in seminary and on the path to being preachers themselves, both Brady and Longbottom found that not only did their childhoods prepare them for seminary mid-terms (“I could just say what I imagined my dad would say and I would have a B,” Longbottom jokes), but also gave them no illusions about the more difficult parts of being a pastor.
“It’s totally different because when you’re a PK, you see the inglorious side of the church as well. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Church can be an intense thing. It’s not always easy on families,” Longbottom says. “People are always upset with the pastor for not doing this or that. Other people love the pastor and then they fight over any little intimate detail they can find out about your family life or whatever.
“When I gave in to what I believe is a ‘calling’ for me, I knew pretty much what it would require for my life. I was not naive about it in the same way that people who haven’t seen behind the curtains are.”
Life in a fishbowl
And life behind the curtains can mean different things these days then, say 30 years ago. Back then, Tom Brady dreaded family vacation for one specific reason: He was forced to go to church on vacation. While out of town, he and his brother and sister would have to march into a church, sight-unseen, and go to Sunday school with children they had never met, nor would see again.
Merris Brady explains that back then, and even now in small towns, the life of a pastor and his family is life under a microscope.
“We always went to church and we had family devotions every morning at the breakfast table,” Merris Brady says. “I think it’s different that in you live in an environment of values and religion, but the downside is you live in a fishbowl, too.”
The Rev. Jeff Barclay says that though he never had the experience of being a PK — his dad was a state cop — he was very aware that his children would have not only the pressure of being a PK, but also the child of an educator, as when not working as a pastor, Barclay was running religious schools, including Veritas Christian School in Lawrence.
“We really worked hard, and it was really intentional to make sure their identity came from their relationship with Christ, as opposed to, ‘You better behave because the deacons are watching,’” says Barclay, pastor at Christ Community Church, 1100 Kasold Drive. “That was never an issue and it worked well for us, not that we didn’t have our parenting challenges, because every parent does — it’s naive to say that they don’t. We can look like the Cleavers, but we’re not.”
Barclay isn’t sure if any of his kids will adopt the PK-to-preacher model like Brady and Longbottom, but they certainly have a head start. Of his six kids and former live-in niece, three are married to PKs, children of the Rev. Pieter Willems and the Rev. Paul Taylor, senior and associate pastors, respectively, at Mustard Seed Church, 700 Wakarusa Drive. With a family tree like that, Barclay wouldn’t be surprised if one of his children ends up following him into the ministry.
Brady also wouldn’t be surprised if one of his children made it a seventh generation of Bradys in Methodist robes but says he isn’t pushing any one of them into seminary. But his oldest son, Scott, who is studying health and physical education at Kansas University, hasn’t ruled it out.
“I’ve considered it, definitely more than my brother and sister,” Scott Brady says. “I guess I have the right last name for it.”