Moving…and kids

When do you tell kids that you are moving?  How do you walk through the moving process with children?  This is the first time I had to deal with this question in my life.  Last time we moved we had a 10 month old and he really didn’t care.  Now with a 5 (almost 6) year old and a 3 year old this question is extremely relevant.  As we walked through this process those questions came up a lot between my wife and I.

Here are some of the things that we are dealing with.

1. We wanted them to hear it from us.  As rumors start to fly (and they always do during the spring) we did not want them to hear it from an off handed comment that someone let slip out.  We wanted them to hear it from our mouths and not like we were keeping a secret from them.  So when we learned people were talking, we told them. 

2. We wanted it to be a positive conversation and experience.  Yes, it will be sad to leave the only house they have ever known.  This is the house where they learned to walk, celebrated birthdays, and the place where they made friends.  This is the only congregation they remember and is full of people who consider them as one of their own kids or grandchildren.  But there is positives about moving too.  We will be closer to family and some close friends.  We will be in walking distance of our son’s new school and in a community, that I am sure, will be as welcoming and loving as my present one.  One of the major reasons we asked to move was because my son is starting school and if we moved now we may only move once during their school career but we never wanted to let them think we are moving BECAUSE of them.

3.  We want to involve them in the process.  We are having them pick out things to sell during our yard sale.  We will have them pack up their boxes of their toys and get their rooms ready to move (or as much as they can do).  We will also let them cry and be angry about it, just like we are at times.  To be a healthy move we have to go through all those emotions and especially for my 5 year old, we have to allow him to do that as well.  We have showed them pictures and the outside of the church and parsonage.  (They didn’t do the walk-through with us because they are a little too young and our attention needed be on soaking up the new place and listening, not parenting).  We have showed them on a map where we will be moving and a floor plan of the house.  This seems to get them excited and connect with the process.

4. We try to answer all questions.  As things disappear from their regular place and move into boxes there are lots of questions.  We are trying to do our best to answer them.  We are finding that we are answering the same questions too.  Over and over again they are asking the same things, which is understandable.  Moving is a weird concept that a 5 and 3 year old have to wrap their minds around.  And there are some questions though that we don’t have answers to and we simply say “I don’t know.”

5. We are removing them from some of the process.  The plan for the actual day of the move is that they hang out with grandparents.  This way they are, for lack of a better phrase, out of the way.  Movers moving boxes onto trucks is just too inviting to curious minds and exploratory natures.  I am quite certain my 3 year old would be packed along with all the boxes in the back of the truck if she was around. 

What we realize is that there are no real rules for this.  You take that, the knowledge you have of your kids and all the advice that other clergy parents who have gone through this process freely give you and mix it all with lots of prayer.  I know our kids will grow up hating to move.  Hating the fact that my calling has dictated they move and are yanked out of the places they call home, but…such is the clergy life. 

My hope is that with patience, planning, prayer and honesty the therapy won’t be too expensive in the future.


Moving…and the Suck

For months, which have felt like years, we have known we were moving.  The process starts so early that decisions are made as the new year begins.  Even before that my wife and I discussed whether or not to put my name out there.  Once we came to that conclusion the painful part begins.  Slowly our fingernails are pulled off as we wait, wait, keep quiet, and wait, and wait.

I wanted to write about our experience for a while now but with the amount of secrecy involved I could not.  I thought about writing and then posting later but I decided not to.  Sunday was announcement day for our conference and now it is public knowledge and legal to discuss.  So here I go.

What I need to get off my chest is the fact that this process just sucks.  I am not upset at the cabinet or anything like that.  It is the process.  I understand it, respect it, and have no better way to conceive of even doing it, but it still sucks.  It may be different when you are sitting at your desk and then the DS calls with the option of moving.  But for us we wanted to be proactive for the sake of our children and requested a move.  (Our son starts kindergarten in Aug. and moving now will potentially mean there may be only one move in our children’s school career, key word is POTENTIALLY).  It fit our family the best to request a move this year, so we did.

What sucks about the process is the secrecy and the waiting.  My wife and I have felt like we have been living in a lie for the last four months.  First as people asked if we were putting in paper work we had to dodge the question.  Then as fellow clergy, neighbors, church people, and even random people off the street asked and we once again had to dodge the question.  My pat answer has been “we’ll see.”  Since we United Methodist Clergy are only appointed one year at a time, that will probably be my answer from here on out.

I understand the part about secrecy too.  This is a “needs to know” process and the public doesn’t NEED TO KNOW.  But that doesn’t mean they won’t stop asking.  We have lived in the middle of demands to keep quiet and curious/anxious people.  White lies were told (*Lord please forgive me*).  Change of subjects were frequent.  And my wife and I dodged the question like prize fighters.  But every so often a punch would land and we had to do our best to not answer.  IT SUCKS!  It is simply part of the process though, so we have to live in the suckiness.

The waiting is hard too.  Actually that doesn’t do it justice.  The waiting is horrendous.  My wife and I are also planners, very detailed planners.  We like to know what is happening and when so we can best prepare ourselves and our family.  It is our nature and there is no escaping it.  But with that nature comes the need for information which is hard to come by in this process. We simply had to wait to hear, wait to see, wait to talk, wait to tell.  We had each other and we did let some close friends/family in on our journey, but the waiting was horrible.  Part of the process I know, but still it sucks.

There is more to come as we say goodbye to Trinity and hello to Indian Trail.  But I had to rid myself of the Suck and now that it has left my fingers and is on the screen, my soul feels lighter.  Confessing and professing is good for the soul.

Can I get an AMEN?

Its Really None of Your Business

I am currently in year five of my current appointment.  I am now tied with two other pastors for the longest tenure at this church.  Now that I am finishing up the first quarter of my fifth year I have been getting lots of questions about whether or not we will be moving.  It has not simply come from parishioners, most of them have not asked.  It is outsiders who do most the asking.

My wife came home from getting her hair cut and during the small talk she told her hair dresser that I was a United Methodist minister in Thomasville.  The hair dresser asked how long we have been here and then if we were moving this year.  I have been asked by other random people as well and it finally hit me why I get frustrated when people ask that question.

Whether a clergy family is moving or not is such a deeply personal question.  Yes it affects the local congregation and it is public knowledge that we Methodists move, so it is a natural question that can be asked.  Yet I don’t think people understand what they are asking.  First three people have to decide it is time to move, the church, the pastor and the cabinet.  None of which are even thinking about this in the fall of the year.

Plus, the question itself is loaded.  Are you going to move? = Do you feel your time at your current appointment is over? Have you done everything you can to work with that congregation to move deeper into their calling as a church?  Can they afford you any longer?  Do they not like you over there?  Do you not like them?  Are you ready to uproot your family and move away from the only place your kids know as home?  Do you feel like you are will be represented well enough on the cabinet that your gifts and graces will be considered over your current salary level?  Is it a good move year?  Are there still things hanging that need to be dealt with at your current church before you feel you could move?  Is your congregation healthy enough to endure a move this year?  Is your spouse happy with the life s/he created at this appointment and wanting or willing to ‘start all over again’?  Will your children be hurt tragically to leave the only friends they have every known?  Are you scared your next parsonage won’t hold a candle to your current one?  Are you emotionally ready to move?  Are you spiritually ready to move?  Are you, as the pastor, ready to start all over with new faces, new demographics, new family dynamics, new sources of power, new staff, new town, new life?  I could go on but I’ll stop there.

There is so much that goes into a clergy person’s decision to move that to flippantly ask about it in a random conversations is almost rude.  It is like asking someone, “How much do you make in a year?”  It really isn’t any of your business.  But hey, for ministers anything goes right?

I can tolerate the question when my family asks it.  I dodge the question when fellow clergy ask it.  I duck and swallow hard every time a parishioner asks it.  It rocks my nerves when random people ask it.  They of all people don’t understand the spiritual, personal, political, and did I mention personal realities that resides in the true answer.

Limited Itinerancy

This was a new word that showed up on our Clergy Profile forms this year. What it means is a minister has issues/needs to stay in or around a geographical area. Instead of being an itinerant minster for the whole conference they can only be an itinerant to a certain city or country. This word came up again while having a conversation with Rev. Ed Moore, who is the executive director for Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School, during the Spirited Life Retreat. He stated that our current system is starting to encourage more Limited Itinerancy. As I have thought that it seems to be true.

We have started to encourage this because of a couple of factors.
1. Duel Income Families: There is a need, especially within clergy families new in ministry, to be duel income because of low salary. EXAMPLE: If a new ordained Elder gets paid $40,000 a year, a supplement income is almost a necessity. Stay with me…Let’s assume a freshly ordained clergy person is in her second appointment making the minimum salary for an Elder $40,000 (this is not the minimum in WNCC, it is actually lower, but a nice round number makes easier math). This minister has two children under the age of five and a husband who they decided will stay home to help raise the children. Here is how this household’s salary would break down. $40,000-$12,000 (family health insurance) – $5,000 (taxes, remember clergy are self employed employees) – $18,000 (food, other insurance, & utilities*) = $5,000 left over for discretionary spending. If this family has any debt (student loans or credit card) there is nothing left at the end of the month. This also allows only a little to be used for savings for retirement or future schooling. A second income is necessary to not live in luxury but really survive.
2. Health care: The cost of the clergy family health care is so high that a spouses works full time in order to but children on that insurance plan maybe totally worth the sacrifice.
3. Career of Spouse: All clergy spouses are not teachers, nurses, or homemakers.
4. Clergy Couples: There are a growing number of clergy couples. Statically unproven but I feel comfortable saying we have more Clergy Couples than ever in the UMC system. This creates new opportunities for the Cabinet to contemplate appointments as well.

What this means is that instead of appointing ministers to churches the Cabinet now has the honor of appointing duel income families to geographical areas where they both can find employment. If a pastor’s talents and gifts are suited for a certain congregation they have to figure in can the spouse find employment in this area? Pastors may reject the appointment (as much as they can) because of the limited employment options available.

I pray for the Cabinets who will be meeting in the next months to discuss the new appointments. As the cost of health care rises and the minimum salary continues to decline are we as a conference, denomination, creating a limited itinerancy system? I would answer yes!

*These are rough estimates and will vary depending on location and style of living. This may actually be a low-ball estimate but are closely based to my personal expenses in this area.

The Past Decade – A Personal Look Back

December 31st, 1999 my girlfriend of five years and I head out and decide to do something CRAZY. This might be the last night of our lives; we need to soak it in. On Christmas break from my first year at Duke Divinity School and my girlfriends last year at Western Carolina University we cherished the fact that we only had to drive 2 and 3 hours to meet up in our hometown of Charlotte, NC.

What were we going to do to bring in the new Millennium? Were we going to party like it was 1999? If we were going to go out, we wanted to make sure we had tried something we hadn’t tried yet…and it starts with a ‘s’. Wait for it…sushi! Yes that is right, 10 years ago, we sat down at an unfamiliar menu and attempted to figure out what type of sushi we liked. At the end of an odd meal, we looked at each other and agreed…not too bad. Then we headed down to Uptown Charlotte to stand in the midst of a huge crowd and watch the crown drop (it is the Queen City btw) and the fireworks. There, that cold night, the world didn’t come to an end. But I was able to kiss my girlfriend for the fifth time on New Years Eve and welcome in the year 2000.

Ten years later we will be in Charlotte once again. My then girlfriend is now my wife and after we drop our two children off with grandparents we will be heading off to a nice restaurant in Uptown Charlotte and then catching Jeff Dunham at Time Warner Arena. For the 15th time I will be able to kiss the same girl to welcome in the new year. Ahhh…life is good.

Enough mush though, as I write this I am amazed at how my life has changed in 10 years. Ten years ago I was in my first year of Divinity School and now I am in my second appointment and in my third year here. Here are some highlights in my life from the past decade…

2000 – Middle Year of Duke Divinity School Education and moved into 1311 Norton St. Awesome house with awesome friends.
2001 – Had a front row seat to watch Duke Men’s Basketball team win a national championship and went to my one and only Duke/UNC game at Cameron. Asked girlfriend to marry me…she said yes.
2002 – Got turned down for Commissioning in the ordination process (must wait to finish for another year, SUCKS!!!). Graduated Duke Divinity School and got married (two weeks apart) and then in August moved to Mossley, England.
2003 – Rang in the year under Big Ben, enjoyed the ministry within the three churches I was in charge of in the Ashton-under-Lyne Circuit of the British Methodist Church. Explored and toured Great Britain and some of Germany and Italy (I miss Rome). Flew back to the US to go through interviews again and then flew back to be commissioned and accept my first WNCC appointment as an associate at Hawthorne Lane UMC in our home town of Charlotte, NC.
2004 – Finally after four moves in 12 months, moved into a very nice parsonage. Wife graduates from Southeastern School of Neuromuscular Massage Therapy and becomes a licensed Massage Therapist.
2005 – Find out we are pregnant and announce it at Christmas to our families.
2006 – Get ordained as an elder of the United Methodist Church and become a father of a wonderful little boy Dean…who goes on to have colic…won’t wish that on my worst enemy.
2007 – Move to Thomasville, NC to become the pastor of Trinity UMC.
2008 – Find out we are pregnant again.
2009 – Become the father of a beautiful little girl, Campbell (Belle).

As we said goodbye to 1999 and welcomed in 2000, I was 22, had a wonderful girlfriend, a BS in Bible and Religion from Montreat College and was in my first year of Divinity School. Ten years later I have been married for 7.5 years and in ministry for just as long. I have moved 8 times within that time, the longest distance was across the pond. There have been ups and down, victories and defeats.

But over all, life is too good to be true. I look at the ‘highlights’ of this decade and I am amazed at what has happened. I wonderful what these next 10 years will look like?

Southern Savers Plug

We have a new member of the family. Her name is Jenny. Jenny dictates a lot of what we do during the week. “Jenny says that Harris Teeter is NOT having triple coupons, I guess we will go to Lowes this week.” “Jenny says there is a sale at Food Lion.” Jenny says there is a ton of stuff to get at CVS this week.” Jenny…Jenny…Jenny.

Jenny is the coupon guru from Southern Savers, Southern Deals and Frugal Steals. Somehow, being a mother of three (twins are in that three) she has the time to learn all the deals in all the super markets and drug stores in the south. (well most of them)

Truthfully ever since being introduced to this site we have cute our grocery bills in half. And it is hard work but there is some nothing like walking out of a grocery store seeing your bill be $130 and only having to pay $60. AWESOME!!!

Jenny did come to our church and did a coupon course. It was truly insightful and during these economic times she makes it extremely easy to save a ton of money. Last week we went to CVS and bought $43.43 dollars worth of stuff for $3.68.

Thanks Jenny. Check it out and my wife says if you go visit Jenny might send us a Christmas present.

New Members vs Lifers

As I shoveled my driveway (felt funny to type that in Thomasville, NC) free of the five inches of snow we received, my mind wandered to our worship service yesterday. We had a threat of bad weather and although the snow waited until the evening to come it still was a cold rainy Sunday morning. We had 30 less people than normal but I thought it was a great turn out compared to other bad weather days. While snow flew off the head of the shovel and landed gently into a pillow of more snow, it hit me that all our new families were at church that Sunday.

We had three families join at the end of last year. They all came excited about the church they were joining. They have been active in most events although not all, but have been faithful Sunday morning worshipers in these four months of membership. This is not true about some of our longer term members, the lifers. I’m not talking about the older generations but young families who have grown up in the church. They seem to have a completely different attitude and personality when it comes to church.

Now these are generalizations and stereotypes, there are those who don’t fit the mold. Maybe new members vs lifers is not the right way to frame this either, but it is what comes to mind.

New Members: They have joined the church because they feel a need being met. This means they are excited about worship and getting involved in the community of faith. They are faithful to worship services because they have a passion and a desire to be fed. They bring an excitement with them that is at times can be contagious.

Lifers: Church is an obligation. Church is something they do when they do not have a better option or when they are tired of being nagged by their parents. They support the church out of loyalty and duty. Since they have been around a while worship is something that will be there next week, no need to make a huge effort. Their lack of enthusiasm can suck the energy right out of the room or sanctuary.

I have been inspired by our new families and the energy they bring. I’m drawn to them because they are eager and are like sponges soaking it all up. I feel I am always try to prove myself to the lifers. Trying to get them excited about church once again. The amount of energy it takes to do that is draining and frustration is always around the corner. If I had my choice, I would rearrange church where there would be 5 new families for every one lifer family. But the reality is, unless you are a new church start, that is not usually the case.

How do you cultivate these new families and give their fires more fuel and oxygen? How do you remind the lifers that church is more than a family obligation? How do you replace duty for passion? Maybe that answer will come when I shovel the driveway on another day.