Moving to a new place can be hugely challenging whatever stage of life you’re in, but it also has its blessings.
I walked into town this afternoon. It is one of those early autumn days with splashes of sunshine, wind and a smell of woodsmoke. As I passed the local school, I could see parents gathering and a teacher in the distance, marshalling her class. Usually that would be me. But I left my school at Christmas, after thirty years based in London, to move to this small town in Sussex for my husband’s job. This move simultaneously broke and mended me.
A friend claims that there has never been such a misnomer as the ‘settlement’ process. The whole thing is about as unsettling as you can get. It’s like a plant being ripped from soil or a bird torn from its nest. And yet between the goodbyes and hellos, the scattered coffee cups and half-packed boxes, the curious and tender eyes with which you discover a new place…God is there. My husband trained for the ministry late in life, after two previous careers. So, I found myself, in my mid-fifties, dropped like a stone in a new place, with no job and no children to sweeten the fall. To be clear, I had fully approved this move. But change, even a desired one, is not easy.
My situation may not chime with yours. You may have small children or teenagers, or you may be a single minister making a move alone. At every stage of life, for every person involved, resettlement holds its own peculiar battles. But there are blessings too. And some of mine would have been the same whatever season I was in. So, I thought it might be helpful, eight months on, if I share some of them. And I’ve decided to do this in the form of questions: -
How will we know when it’s time to move?
I think, based on my experience and those I’ve spoken to, God sometimes ‘warns’ the spouse first. Maybe it’s because we can see the effects things are having on our minister partners more clearly, or because we take longer to adjust to the idea of moving (once my husband decided, it was all systems go!). But I found myself posing the question to him a few times over a couple of years previously – Do you ever think your time here might be over?
Apart from this, I would say there is a generally unsettled feeling, a sense of not being able to do more. God may use other circumstances too. I would not wish a health crisis on ANYBODY, but my husband’s out-of-the-blue heart surgery made him ask God about the future. Also, our youngest was nearing the end of university and had only one more summer at home. I wanted to teach less and write more, and a move out of London would make this possible. Besides, I was brought up in the country and had always yearned for fields and trees and a soft scoop of sky beyond the window, instead of concrete.
Finally, my very ill in-laws had moved here to be nearer my brother in law’s family but were proving challenging to care for. Then we discovered that the Baptist church were looking for a minister. Like the final piece of a puzzle falling into place, our get-together with the leaders was the most extraordinary meeting of minds I have ever experienced.
What about my job?
It’s hard leaving a job when there is nothing to go to. You may be in the fortunate position of being able to work from home or to start applying for jobs in the area, once you know you’re moving. Or you may not. I had decided to take a term or two off as I had a couple of paid writing projects to be getting on with and I knew I could combine those with settling us in at home. But the thing is, this move is not just for your spouse, it’s for you too. God would not call one of you somewhere else without calling the other one. It might be that you will have to wait before getting the right job. But it will be worth the wait. I have been doing supply teaching for two terms now and finally local, longer term jobs are coming up which I’m enquiring about.
How will the children cope?
They will have their own battles, but they will be blessed in other ways. I can testify to this from our experiences before my husband was a minster. Our two grew up abroad but had to come home suddenly at the age of 8 and 13 respectively because I became ill. It was horrible for them. Our daughter hated the local primary and our son had to find his place in a UK secondary at a time when hormones make life impossible anyway. But they had a wonderful send-off from their schools abroad, they were welcomed ‘back’ into our home church with open arms, and after the initial difficulties, settled into life in the UK with gusto. They both did well at school and uni and now have great jobs. God is good. He will not let our children down either.
How will I cope without my friends?
This is a tough one. It will hurt saying good bye and if, like me, you were young/had babies/supported each other when the kids left etc. it will be huge loss. But I told myself I would never lose the old friends and I would make new ones too. I chat with my old friends from London every day on messenger, whatsapp and text. They come for a day or weekend in the country and I go back to London for special get-togethers. I know I’m blessed to be only an hour or so away. But, wherever you go, good friends will come and see you. You will never lose the people God has put into your life if you are determined not to. And eight months on, I have made four new friends whose company I enjoy enormously.
Who can I get support from in those tricky weeks when ‘you can’t tell anybody’?
Moving church is very odd. In most situations, if you applied for a new job, you would probably tell a few people and word would get around. Often, and I know people vary in the way they do this, this isn’t possible when you are a minister. Also, for some people the whole settlement process take ages. It took us six months from going on the list to accepting the call and four more months until we moved. Apparently, this is pretty much as fast as it gets! For the whole of this time, my husband didn’t want me to tell anybody because of the interconnectedness of our friends, but I was blessed by stumbling across an ex-minister’s wife on Facebook who was a wonderful support. God’s timing with this was superb and she messaged me during the whole process - going on THE LIST, waiting for churches to contact us right through to the preach-with-a-view weekend and the big vote itself. I don’t think she will ever know what a treasure she was during my ups and downs, hopes and fears, panics and celebrations. Ask God to find you such a person.
What about my pets?
My daughter asked me to put this one in. She was very worried about Oliver, the black and white cat, who had lived his whole life in London. Our vet suggested putting him in a cattery during the move so we knew where he was. This, ridiculously, was one of the scariest things as he’d never been in one before. But we found one on-line near our new home, visited it to check the owner was a nice person (she was) and drove him down there the day before our move, hoping he would survive (he did). We got him back the day after the move and kept him in for a week before accompanying him around his new patch. He loves it here. There are fewer cats (so many dogs in the country!) so he has fewer fights and a bigger garden.
I can’t pretend I don’t have the odd downer, particularly when I see photos of old friends meeting up without me or think of my old school and the great team spirit there. But then I remember all the good things about living here – our beautiful manse, the nature reserve next to the house, the Ashdown Forest, the sea, shopping with my daughter in Brighton, the extra time for writing – and I feel so blessed.
Of course, this is not everybody’s experience. Some people move to a church where they are not happy. They are not well treated, or they feel let down in some way. I do not know why this happens and I wish it didn’t.
But what I do know is that broken things can be mended:
'Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.' Is. 41:10
But these are the verses that helped me most during our move, and I offer them to you for yours:
“Are you tired? Worn out? … Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11: 28 - 30
The writer of this article wishes to remain anonymous.
The aim of Manse Life is to raise the profile of what personal life is like for a minister, and ground it in reality. We are doing this because ministry life is unique. There are incredible joys, amazing privileges, and inspiring times. These are all brilliant. There is also heartache; fear, frustration, loss, relocation to name a few and there is often no recourse for these feelings. By providing an outlet for people to write constructively about their personal experiences at home and church and share these in a positive environment we believe will bring hope and a sense of perspective. It will help people feel less isolated, to find common ground, to reflect, provoke thought, spur faith, share ideas and best practice, and to raise a smile.
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