Friday, June 10, 2016

Ask a Pastor's Wife: My Answers

This question comes from Julie R.:

Since we are in the middle of a big move, and I know the Methodist church preachers move as much as military members do, how is the Church with providing resources and assistance with relocating your family? The Army provides school liaisons to help with school transitions, there are multiple agencies that can help provide anything from dishes and toasters, you name it.  The army makes it as stress free as they can. Not to say it's easy, but there is help out there if you need it.
Great question!
You are correct in saying itinerant United Methodist pastors move frequently; I believe the average is every 4.5 years. You are also correct that both types of moves can be challenging. But a ministry move is different from a military move in a few ways: 

1. There are no designated liaisons. In our most recent move a lovely church member sent me a detailed document with doctors, dentists, grocery stores, school contacts, etc. Upon meeting her when we arrived in town, I thanked her for the list. She responded that she hoped someone would do the same for her if she were in our shoes (#dountoothers). 

The church did collect about a dozen gift cards from local restaurants for us. That went a long way in helping us adjust to the new area, and took away some of the stress of cooking with half of my kitchen still in boxes. 

That type of outreach isn't standard practice, but it certainly was kind and helpful. I'm sure this varies from church to church, but it does set the tone for how welcome the new pastor and his/her family feels in their new congregation. In theory, the church community itself should be your liasons. 

It is also helpful when the transitioning clergy person and his/her family can meet and discuss the challenges and strengths of the church and community. To date, we haven't had this type of meeting, and I'm sure there are a number of reasons for that. But we plan on making sure that whatever clergy person follows us has a fair and honest idea of the needs of our congregations before we move on to our next appointment. 

2. Though there are standards unique to each conference, moving isn't always a streamlined or predictable process. For example, for our first appointment (moving from Michigan to Illinois) we packed, paid for, and drove our own U-Haul. Some members of the church were at the parsonage to help unpack, which was enormously helpful. I believe we were reimbursed for some of our moving costs later. 

For our second move (within the Illinois Great Rivers Conference) we solicited bids from several moving companies who walked around the house and gave us estimates based on predicted weight of our stuff. We chose the company with which we felt most comfortable. We packed the boxes, the moving company packed the truck. They drove the truck, unpacked it, and set up our beds before they left. It was a two-day process with an overnight hotel stay in between. The moving company sent the bill to the church. 

By our next move perhaps we'll be better prepared. We're beginning year 3 of our appointment in Neoga/Etna/Toledo this July, so if the average holds true for us, we may be moving in the next year or two. But maybe not! Only the bishop and district superintendents know for sure.  Since we're getting a new bishop in the fall, who knows what might happen! 

3. Moving is expensive! Though most moves within the conference aren't farther than 3-4 hours away, the process drains both emotional and physical energy. Also, money. The new church picks up the cost of the move, so pastors and their families do their best to keep costs down, as they don't want to bring stress and financial tension before they even arrive at their new charge. 

Many families opt to break down and store their moving boxes from year to year so as not to have to pay for new ones. We bought zero boxes for our last move, reusing sturdy produce containers from our local grocery store instead. 
Fun fact: liquor stores also have excellent boxes. 

4. The timeline is usually short from appointment to moving day. Appointments begin on July 1. The process to fill vacancies and shuffle pastors begins months before that. Typically, pastors get the dreaded call from their district superintendent between February and March. I've known pastors who have sweat through their shirt at the mere appearance of their district superintendant's phone number on their cell phone in the late winter months. 

Anyway, if you find out in March that you're moving in July, there's just enough time to start looking at schools, getting bids for movers, making necessary repairs to the parsonage, saying goodbyes, and hoarding boxes. 

I hope that answers your question, Julie. And best of luck in your upcoming move!

If you have any more questions, post them in the comments or email me at 

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