Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Will we ever get settled?

Will we ever get settled?

I had one of those typical husband, wife discussions or arguments about balance that just went nowhere.  Unfortunately, they have become way to common over these past 12 years of marital bliss (sic)!.  We have a spirited, unique family.   Two from multiracial adoptions.  And three kids with special needs.   There is always something happening at our house!  Now, to be fair, Emily-my dearly beloved in marriage-and I have not picked typical paths for both a family and a ministry.   By all accords, we did not plan what our parsonage would  look like or how it would be organized.   I think we just went with chaos and we are catching up to organizing it  even as we speak!

Since many are new to us, here is a quick synopsis.  In 2000, waaaayyy back when I was ordained, Emily and I were alone--that is alone with 3 cats, a rabbit, 2 hamsters and 3 Duprasis (Flat-tailed gerbils).  Yes we were technically illegal at seminary housing.  So a move to more understanding, Minnesota country living was just what we needed--so we thought.

Not knowing the "offense" our family would cause the "investors" of congregation owned housing, we simply shared our life with the world--a little naive.  We had neighborhood kids stop by to see "our zoo."  Yes, my first call allowed us to stay (so the story goes) but became increasingly  dismayed as we added rats, a chinchilla and neighborhood stray cats and a dog--and (very importantly) two human kids to our menagerie.   The love and support of the church didn't last.   Soon, we started to hide our life from others--especially those who wanted to spy and gossip about the "situation" in the parsonage.  A move  fast became a practical necessity.

Pursuing a another call in another part of the state, we had initially vowed to buy a home rather than get that great "free" housing we pastor's are spoiled with :)  Weighing three call potentials, we ended up in another congregation owned parsonage.  It was nicer than our previous house. And we had new, more understanding "owners"---so we thought.   Actually the first 3 years we thought went by well, without a word about our family mentioned.      However, not long after we added child #3, the illusion started to shatter.  With addition of child 4 and 5, the concern for the animals turned into a concern for our family.  Well, not so much a concern but an ultimatum--"I can't truly be an effective pastor with such a big family."  Good people were there too--who we miss.  But, the time once again, came for a move.  This time, in a house that we owned!  So we moved to another part of the state.   We would own our place so that the congregation  would not worry about our animals or our big family.  After more than 3 years since our move, I believe we have found our place to settle in.

Two things that have made the difference.  One, we own the chaos at our house.   Yes, we have many of the same looks when pets are brought up--but it isn't a congregation issue.  It's our zoo and we like it.  Two, both congregations I serve are used to big families.  In fact, for our age group, we are not the largest family in the church.   In fact, because the churches have gotten "older,"  both are--in theory--desiring young families.   Maybe not as wild as ours :)   But still the desire is there.  No,  by no means are the two congregations perfect--what churches are!   But, for the first time, in ordained ministry, Emily and I have been embraced for who we are, not criticized for what we are not!

Well, that synopsis took longer than maybe  it needed.  But it gives context to the topic of discussion with my lovely partner in parenting.  We still argue about the balance between the two spheres of life.  As a stay out home mom--with some part time work activities, she wants me to participate more at home and not get involved less with those far to numerous after-hour church activities.  The present discussion, still revolves around balance.  We still believe that our kids are a blessing and a blessing to the churches.  Yet, struggle with the reality that our congregations are not used to young kids or families.  Our local church assembly (called synod assembly) is addressing this topic.  I hope it's not too late because congregations are for families.   As technology seems to individualize our lives, we need our church's to embrace this chaos rather than avoid it.

In the midst of the chaos, Emily and I will have to discuss our plan of action for this synod assembly.  Unfortunately, she will not be there because of prior commitments.  That's similar to the responses I'm getting from other young families--nice try synod, but we have other priorities.  I wish the responses were  more enthusiastic but, like children, you can't make someone else feel the way you do.  Our church's need the chaos of young families just as much as these family's need the people of God.

According to Genesis 1, God spoke into the watery, chaos: Let there be Light!   My colleague in ministry Dave, likes to respond, "it was still chaos, only you could see it better!"   I don't know what our answer is for bring the next generation into our church.  In reading Acts this Easter season, maybe it's on our knees, guided by the Spirit.   That type of action, could change our families, church and the world!

Pastor Matt


  1. Could you elaborate a bit as I am confused. On the one hand, it seems you want order, control and structure in your life, the balancing of spheres and priorities. On the other, you want the church to embrace the chaos of young families.

    Certainly the past is filled with the perils of burned out and dysfunctional clergy and volunteer staff and families who operated full bore chaos in ministry 24/7 for far too long. By the same token, there seems a correlation between the erection of boundaries, and a declining relevance of the church.

    A return to the ministerial chaos of the past is not a healthy answer...but it sure seemed that a ton of ministry occurred during the chaotic off church hour clock rather than when it was on.

    Bottom line, it seems like a cake and eat it too type of situation which is seemingly near impossible.

  2. Thanks for your response. Yes, there is much ministry that happens after hours and I and our family have made adjustments to accommodate that ministry. I think one of the talents that you can't teach at seminary is learning the difference between a real emergency and just being bothered by a "troublesome" person. Also, we have been conscious that there is a difference between healthy boundaries and a hermetically sealed life. Vulnerability is part of the pastoral life--Emily and I realize that now more than we ever did when we started.

    I guess the bottom line for us--here, we have more healthy boundaries at this ministry setting. There are more honest visiting by members rather than making a list for the next property and council meeting. Maybe some may view it as chaos (and sometimes we do) but others see a creative ministry thread running through (kind of like creation). For me, it means putting my family on a higher if not equal footing to my professional job. A mistake I believe too many pastors make is elevating the "God job" so high, family gradually moves off the grid.
    Yes, for us now, we maybe can have our cake and eat it too. It may be the nature of the call or it may be a season in the call. I hope it is the former. And while "relevant" ministry is judged by a higher power than you and I, I think our ministry has grown and is much healthier. In comparison I am a healthier person in my responses to the positives and negatives. Some of that health may be experience. But I also believe, I am healthy and relevant because it's a good ministry fit.

  3. A good ministry fit is an amazing and wondrous thing... I tend to think its not just experience either.

    I've been pondering Sunday's lectionary (6th Sunday of Easter) and how chaos and love get intertwined in the epistle and the Gospel text. I could just see a council meeting with heartburn over the Peters response to the Gentiles as it throws "good order" to the wind by potentially replacing a door of rigid obedience and discipline with love.

  4. Actually, I believe the idea of chaos before the earth was created comes from Greek mythology.