I just want to go home

A minister's wife explores ways of easing the experience of moving

Mary Barrett is a pastor's wife and freelance writer living in Gloucestershire, in the United Kingdom.

My husband held me as I sobbed in his arms. "I just want to go back!" I cried. "I want to go back to Cambridge."

We had just moved from Cambridge to Cheltenham. Leaving our home, where we had lived for six years, was hard. How painful to just walk away from family, friends, and church members.

As Rima (our eldest daughter) and I drove out of the driveway for the last time, I desperately wanted to slam my foot on the brake and exclaim, "No, I am not moving!" But I made myself keep moving.

Moving even under the best of circumstances is not only stressful but often heart-wrenching. Yet it is the usual lot of a pastoral family. What can we do, then, to minimize the emotional upheaval when we wave Goodbye to one home and say Hello to a new, strange, and empty one?

Make sure your foundation is secure

To begin with, no matter how trite or dogmatic it might sound, to best survive a move, one needs a solid, daily relationship with the Lord. Whatever the trials that inevitably come with such a transition, a close walk with Jesus, in which we are always in an attitude of prayer, thanksgiving, submission, and repentance, can make all the difference in the world.

Our move has taught me some thing invaluable concerning my friend ship with God. Home is not a house in Cambridge or Cheltenham; rather, "home is where I hang my heart," and I choose to hang my heart where the Lord would have me. Making sure that our bond with God is strong provides the firm foundation on which we need to build our new experiences.

Maintain the familiar

My husband loves to jog. Before we moved he joined a running club in our new location. At first, I thought he was crazy; now I see the wisdom of this decision. Four weeks after our move he was regularly jogging with his new acquaintances. The stability of doing something he really enjoys has helped to minimize the instability and lack of routine that accompanies every transition.

I found that even shopping in the same brand name stores can give a sense of constancy. Trying to find a new dentist, doctor, and music teacher can be quite frustrating, adding to the pain of the move. I suggest maintaining as much of the familiar as possible before tackling those tricky issues. One pastor's wife said that the most difficult part of her move was finding a swimming pool similar to the one in her previous hometown. She felt unsettled until that piece of the puzzle was put in place.

Be open to new possibilities

Every move offers new opportunities and exciting challenges, a chance to make new church friends and to introduce unchurched acquaintances and neighbors to God. A new church can call for fresh ideas, a different way of doing things. It can help us not to become stale in our approach to ministry.

Mike and May discovered that in each church they pastored, each nurturing and outreach program had to be adapted. Rather than being annoyed at this change, they found it fascinating to watch how God took their programs and used them differently in various churches. Yes, they went through the frustration of filing away treasured pro grams, knowing they would never work with them again, but they were able to have a ministry that was based on God's leading and not their plans.

As far as my husband and I are concerned, our move has revived our desire to depend on God more than ever. We pray together, as regularly as we can, and we make a conscious effort to hand our churches over to God. When God doesn't answer our prayers the way we would like, we make a more determined effort to praise Him.

Adjustments

Getting a new home in order can be difficult. Tim and Sarah had so much to do that they finally sent an SOS to Sarah's dad, who spent a week helping out. Asking for help allowed Tim and Sarah the freedom and time to deal with their move more comfortably. In short, don't be afraid to ask for some help. It can make a big difference.

Tessa, in contrast, adjusted to her new pastoral home by simply using the same color schemes as in her previous homes. She updated her new house with inexpensive new accessories. It gave her a sense of belonging and security and yet the freshness of a new start.

Often one of the best things you can do after a move is make an effort to be a part of the new community. Set aside time to join a club, bake a cake for your neighbor, and go out and talk to someone on your street when you see them gardening or washing the car. Volunteer at a local charity. Any one of these can quickly help you acclimate to a new environment.

Being there for your children

Whatever adjustment pastoral couples face in a move, it is nothing compared to the trauma that children may experience.

For instance, we have lived at our new address for 12 months now. Rima and Sharna still hanker after their old home, friends, and familiar surroundings. At times, their requests to "go home" leave us guilty and helpless.

Listen to your children. Do everything possible to help them adjust. Encourage them to maintain contact with old friends. If possible, take them to your previous location and allow them to say Goodbye once more. Spend time with them discovering fun and exciting places in your new area. Encourage them to do things with their new friends. Be patient as they establish new routines. Maintaining contact with other pastoral couples gives PKs a chance to share their similar joys and struggles.

Finding your niche

Adjusting to a new role in a new church isn't easy, either for the pastor or his or her family. But neither is it easy for a church to adjust to a new pastor. Step back and get to know your members, what motivates them, and what they need. Surrender your pet ideas, how you plan to work for God in your new church, and listen to the way in which God directs you. Be dependent on Him to lead you to the particular niche, that new way of evangelism, that different way of doing things. What worked well in your old church might flop in your new one. When we truly abandon ourselves to God in our ministry, He can give us satisfaction as we serve Him, even if surrounding circumstances tell us otherwise.

Moving is a part of ministry that we dread; yet it's a part of ministry we all face. Whether from Miami to Los Angeles, Cambridge to Cheltenham, or Botswana to Singapore, it's not easy. All we can do, through the grace of God, is attempt to make the transition as smoothly as we can.


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Mary Barrett is a pastor's wife and freelance writer living in Gloucestershire, in the United Kingdom.

July 1999

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