Finding Stability and Community in Itineracy

November 1st, 2010

My parents moved while I was out of the country this summer. Again. My parents have moved many times, and so have I, because my father is a United Methodist minister.

Growing up as the preacher’s daughter gave me an inside view into the ministry that many seminarians were not privileged to receive. I moved frequently. I estimate that I have called at least fifteen towns and cities home. My family became adept at packing and moving into a new house, so much so that when I arrive at a new house, I can find everything in the kitchen because that is how the kitchen is always set up.

But this ease at quickly unplugging from a community in which we have developed friendships and a network of support also hindered us when we moved to a new place. Due to the nature of United Methodist appointments, we never know from year to year whether we’ll still be living in the same place next year. Why become invested in a community, putting forth the effort to build a relationship if you may be leaving the next year? For that matter, why would a community invest in the pastor and the family, if they also know that sooner or later the pastor will be replaced with a new one? Some small communities find it difficult to allow strangers into their lives, especially within a closed rural framework.

As a reserved, home schooled child, I found it difficult to enter into a community of youth already had plenty of long-established friendships, and didn’t seem to need one more. I learned self reliance, but I also learned that I had to be open to people as they are. As I have entered the ministry as an adult, I have learned more about how deeply important relationships are in life, and especially in ministry. Even though I change addresses nearly as often as the seasons, I still find that the relationships I find and build in the pauses of transience are life-giving.

Now that I am pursuing a call to ministry as an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church, again subject to the call of God (or the District Superintendent), I realize that I may be moving for the rest of my career, which officially has not even yet begun. I am entering ministry with my eyes open, knowing what joys and difficulties a pastor and her family will experience while they serve the church.

In addition to growing up as a pastoral nomad, I have experienced ministry life as an intern at a small, rural, two-point charge. I entered my field education placement an hour’s drive away from my home and my school, able to be physically present only two days a week. I was frustrated with not being able to be present in ministry with the congregations. With all of my moving and constant shifting, I began to wonder if I would be able to practice ministry at all.

I grieved the loss of the community I had built my first year at school at a church in town, walking distance away from where I lived. I was reticent about the smallness, the insularity, the style of worship (not foreign, but not preferred) that I would not have chosen for myself. I had such grandiose plans, ideas of worship, missions, youth groups, community outreach; and there I was stuck at a church that seemingly had none of these things to offer. What they offered instead was a chance for me to grow: into my call, into my self, into a pastor.

As I grew more comfortable, I found friends in my two charges. I also found God present and working, helping me grow in understanding. My early reticence transformed into an appreciation of the joys and challenges that a small, rural church can bring. Through their encouragement and patience they had allowed me to grow and learn how to practice ministry in a way that is healthy and brings the glory of God to the world. We grew together as a church, and so even now that I am not serving that church, I still am a part of that community. Even though I was only at their church for a brief seven months for my internship, we grew in ways I hadn’t imagined at the beginning of my time there. I learned it is essential for me to be open to changes to the call I have received. God is unpredictable. God laughs at plans.

As I continue to learn more about this life that I am pursuing, I want to explore the different ways that I can create and enter into community, whether it is for a day or a decade. I had a conversation with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove about intentional communities. Jonathan is a founding member of the New Monasticism movement in Durham, North Carolina. He does not move like some ministers, but has chosen to stay rooted for decades in his community. Even though I am not called to live as he does, he still spoke words that resonate with me: “To love people and to live in a place as if you are going stay makes a world of difference,” he told me. “That’s why stability is rooting ourselves in God’s life; it’s the only thing that’s eternal anyway.”

When I root myself in God’s life, then I enter God’s call to share the Gospel, wherever I may find myself. I have to be willing to be moved, to be transitioned into different ministries, and I have to be open to transformation through each new community I enter. I am entering with my eyes wide open, knowing that I am opening my life to constant interruptions, through anything so small as a phone call, to a hospital visit, to an unexpected move.

One would think that I would try to find some semblance of stability to balance the constant movement of my childhood. Instead I am running toward this call I have received to serve this family of God. Many of them I have not yet met. But they are already my family, my community, my church. I cannot wait to join at the table with them, sharing stories, heartbreak, and laughter.

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