If you follow me on social media, you know that one of my churches has voted to leave the United Methodist Church. Their decision has a far-reaching effect on many fronts, including impacts on my family and me. As I am committed to remaining in the United Methodist Church, we will be uprooting ourselves and going to a new appointment that our bishop and cabinet discern best suited for my gifts and graces. Before I go further, let me be clear about a couple of things: 1: I’m not here to criticize my congregation’s decision, although I disagree with it for many reasons (I have shared these views with the leadership on multiple occasions). 2: I am not looking for sympathy or throwing a pity party. This post is me telling you how disaffiliation affects pastoral families because I have not seen a lot of discussion on this front. I believe people need to understand that disaffiliation has impacts beyond the congregation, the annual conference, and the general church.
The most obvious impact for me is that I will have to move to a new appointment, thus (most likely – the cabinet is still discerning where to send other pastors and me) ending my ministry at both churches I serve. My other church cannot afford my salary on its own, and as I’m an Elder in Full Connection, I must serve full-time. I have loved serving my parish, and we have been through a lot together. When I first moved here, COVID-19 was beginning, so we navigated the tangled mess of two in-person shutdowns mandated by our bishop, social distancing, masking, and all the other things that came along during the pandemic. It was here that I grew in my skills related to social media and live streaming, was reminded of the importance of phone calls and text messages, and how to try and hold two new-to-me churches together while we had to be separate. Here is where I learned about being creative in bringing internet access and streaming capabilities to two churches in the middle of nowhere and where I could use those skills to help a nearly 200-year-old camp meeting revival join the digital age. We have mourned the loss of loved ones together, celebrated new people coming into the churches, and met many needs in the community. I don’t believe that God is finished with either of these congregations, and I hope they keep growing in Christ and making disciples.
Not only have we weathered the ups and downs of the church, my family and I have had many events during our nearly three years here. When we moved here, we had a foster child that we hoped we would get to adopt. These churches walked along with us and cried with us when she left our home to return to her biological family (we’re thankful that this ended up being a positive thing for her, though we still miss her very much). They celebrated with us when the local CPS office was able to place two other children with us, who it looks like we will get to adopt by the time it’s all said and done (their cases are different, and both are on track to be legally available for adoption soon).
The act of moving is not something I’m looking forward to. On top of the obvious tasks of packing up my office and boxing up our things in the parsonage, I have to say goodbye to these people I’ve grown to love. I have to depart a community that I have been able to be involved in through participating in events and being part of the volunteer fire department. My wife will have to (likely) find a new school to teach at, and my kids will have to adjust to a new house, school, and daycare.
Many people take for granted the nature of itineracy. It’s naturally assumed that those of us who agreed to go and serve where we are sent would move silently and without emotion. For many of us, that does happen, at least it seems to. We – the clergy – don’t voice our lament very often. Yet, when a move is unexpected or due to sad circumstances, people should know that we go, but we don’t go without sorrow, grief, and sadness. Grief is especially the case for my family and me due to this move coming about because of disaffiliation. My father-in-law served this appointment when he returned from seminary, so Jessica remembers spending some of her growing up in the same parsonage that we now call home. She remembers people still here and those who have departed to the church triumphant as being like other grandparents, aunts, and uncles to her and her sister. For her, the grief is also raw and honest.
I believe naming and expressing our grief is healthy. But, again, please don’t see this as me asking for pity or ranting against Pleasant Hill’s decision (even if I disagree, I will never fault a congregation for going in a direction they genuinely believe God is leading them). I hope that people understand that disaffiliation has far-reaching consequences beyond church doors. As I prepare for whatever is next, I thank God for our time here and mourn what feels like a profound personal loss.