This past Friday, we closed on our new house. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Scott has been appointed to Mt. Olive United Methodist Church, and our first Sunday is June 15. A lot of times in the Methodist church, there are parsonages (homes owned by the church) for the pastors to live in, but in this situation there wasn’t. We looked into renting, but never really found what we needed for our family. So we took a giant leap of faith and bought a house. I swore that I would NEVER buy another house as long as Scott was an itinerant pastor in the UMC (been stuck with 2 houses in the past 5 years!), but I guess I should be careful saying what I will ‘never’ do 🙂
When someone decides to become a Methodist pastor, they make a commitment that they will be an ‘itinerant’ minister. Now please note that this is my understanding of the process. I may not be using all the correct words, but this is the way I understand it. I didn’t really even know what the word ‘itinerant’ meant when Scott first started on this journey towards becoming Methodist clergy!
According to Merriam-Webster, itinerant means ‘traveling from place to place; especially, covering a circuit’. So I decided to go to one of the most reliable sources for information, Wikipedia, to learn more of this ‘itinerancy’ process 🙂
According to Wikipedia, the UMC’s itinerancy process dates back to the days of circuit riders. You may remember learning about circuit riders in your childhood history classes. Here is what Wikipedia had to say about circuit riders:
In sparsely populated areas of the United States it always has been common for clergy in many denominations to serve more than one congregation at a time, a form of church organization sometimes called a “preaching circuit”. In the rough frontier days of the early United States, the pattern of organization in the Methodist Episcopal denomination and its successors worked especially well in the service of rural villages and unorganized settlements. In the Methodist denominations, congregations do not “call” (or employ) a pastor of their own choice. Instead, a bishop “appoints” (assigns) a pastor to a congregation or a group of congregations, and until late in the 20th century, neither pastor nor congregation had any say in the appointment. This meant that in the early days of the United States, as the population developed, Methodist clergy could be appointed to circuits wherever people were settling.
A “circuit” (nowadays referred to as a charge) was a geographic area that encompassed two or more local churches. Pastors met each year at “Annual Conference” where their bishops would appoint them either to a new circuit or to remain at the same one. Most often they were moved to another appointment every year. Once a pastor was assigned a circuit, it was his responsibility to conduct worship and visit members of each church in his charge on a regular basis in addition to possibly establishing new churches. He was supervised by a Presiding Elder (now called a District Superintendent) who would visit each charge four times a year (the “Quarterly Conference”).
Because of the distance between churches, these preachers would ride on horseback. They were popularly called circuit riders or saddlebag preachers. These frontier clergy were never officially called “circuit riders,” but the name was appropriate and it “stuck.” Officially they were called “traveling” clergy. They traveled with few possessions, carrying only what could fit in their saddlebags. They traveled through wilderness and villages, they preached every day at any place available (peoples’ cabins, courthouses, fields, meeting houses, later even basements and street corners). Unlike clergy in urban areas, Methodist circuit riders were always on the move. Many circuits were so large that it would take 5 to 6 weeks to cover them. The ministerial activity of the circuit riders boosted Methodism into the largest Protestant denomination at the time.
So what about now, in 2014? Well, we really don’t have circuit riders anymore, but the idea of ‘traveling preachers’ still exists on some level. Modern Methodist practices, according to Wikipedia, are described below:
As well as being constantly on the move between the churches in their charge, Methodist ministers were regularly moved between charges, a principal known as itinerancy. Although most charges in the US now consist of a single church, the tradition of itinerancy is still alive and functioning today in US Methodism, as it is in most Methodist Churches worldwide. Although not moving as frequently as in the past, the average US United Methodist pastor will stay at a local church for 2–5 years before being appointed to another charge at the Annual Conference.
And here is where I find my family today, ready to embark on our next adventure.
While we have been in the Huntsville area these past couple of years, I feel blessed to have met many military families. Due to Redstone Arsenal and several defense engineering companies located here, there is a heavy military concentration. What I have learned these past 2 years (we had 2 one-year church appointments in a row) is that these military families seem to have some of the best advice and kindest words regarding moving. See, they are used to moving all over the world based on where our country needs them to be at the moment. They understand moving and not really ever having a place to call ‘home’. They also recognize that by moving to so many different places, you are able to make new friends wherever you may land. This is also the case for Methodist clergy families. We have been blessed to meet so many wonderful people from the different churches we have been appointed to.
Some of the people I have been blessed to meet while here in Harvest, AL, is a family of one of Elsie’s classmates in her first grade class. His name is Sebastian. I won’t say that he is Elsie’s ‘boyfriend’, but he was her dancing partner at the Valentine’s dance 🙂 He is a super cute fella, and I was able to meet his parents at the dance. His dad is in the military and stationed here in Huntsville. His mom, Eva, is super sweet, and it was a pleasure getting to meet them both.
A few weeks after the dance, the school had ‘Leadership Day’ and the students had a chance to show off their leadership skills for the parents. Eva and Pablo sat with Scott and me as we watched our little leaders sing and dance. I told them that we were definitely moving over the summer because of Scott’s new church appointment. Eva told me that they were moving as well, back to Texas. I asked her how Sebastian was taking it, and she said he was fine. Then she said something that I immediately took and branded on my heart. She said, “Sebastian just says that home is wherever the army sends us.” Eva probably has no idea the impact her words had on me that day, but it brought a soothing peace to my very anxious soul.
See, I don’t mind the moving that comes with this calling that our family has chosen to follow. But I worry for my girls. I had an extremely steady and consistent place to grow up. As I’ve mentioned in many blog posts in the past, I grew up in the same church and its school from kindergarten through 12th grade. I can’t even begin to count the hours I spent in those buildings. But to know that Zoe will have been in 4 different schools by the time she is a 5th grader really worries me at times. I was deeply stuck in that worry when Eva spoke those words. It was like I was stuck in the quicksand of worry, and she through me a vine to help me pull myself out.
“Home is wherever the army sends us”… How easily that sentence applies to our life! “Home is wherever the Lord sends us.” The word ‘home’ actually has several meanings. It can mean ‘one’s place of residence’, ‘a familiar or usual setting’, or ‘place of origin’. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that to me, ‘home’ isn’t a geographical location, but it is wherever my family is. Home is wherever Scott, Zoe, and Elsie are. And if God calls us to Mount Rushmore instead of Mt. Olive, I’ll still be at home, as long as these precious souls are with me. It kinda reminds me of the word ‘church’. At the surface level, many times people think church is a building or organization, but church isn’t either of those. It’s a body of believers – a community. People with the common goals of loving God and loving people. It’s always about the people.
There was one more aspect of home that God wanted to show me. Once again, He used someone to speak His words to my heart. This time it was through an email. Laura Edwards, the head of our Guest Services at church, sends out a weekly devotion to her team with some sort of encouragement and/or advice related to the role of hospitality in the church. I should first say that Laura might be the sweetest person on the planet. I have told her many times that she is like a real-life Disney princess! I look forward to reading her emails and letting her positive outlook and sweet spirit rub off on me.
This past week, her email was titled ‘Home Sweet Home’ and described her Mother’s Day weekend trip she took to see her Mom who lives out of town. She mentioned that although there was so much ‘familiar’ there, as well as comfort, she just felt somewhat out of place. It just wasn’t her home. As she was flying back to Huntsville, God showed her this scripture: “We are here for only a moment, visitors and strangers in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a passing shadow, gone so soon without a trace.” 1 Chronicles 29:15 (NLT) In light of that scripture and how our time here is so very brief, she then challenged everyone to “create opportunities to see God’s grace in action, in as many ways as possible, even if it’s visiting a sick friend, or offering encouragement to others, speaking to your customers at your jobs with quiet patience, or just being unnecessarily kind”.
That was it! The final resolution to my dilemma of itinerant living! WE ARE ALL CALLED TO ITINERANT MINISTRY! We are all strangers and pilgrims here on this planet. Although my family’s path may have a few more stops and changes of address than other fellow believers, we are all in this together. We are all called to be ‘traveling preachers’, sharing God’s love wherever we find ourselves. I should never feel comfortable here, because this isn’t my home! I am blessed beyond measure that He has given me such wonderful traveling partners in Scott, Zoe, and Elsie. When I am with them, I get just a taste of what my real Home is like. But as long as I’m on this side of heaven, nothing will truly feel like home. Maybe I should say that nothing SHOULD ever feel like home! If we start to get too comfortable here on earth, we might need to check ourselves. Max Lucado wrote,
“The only ultimate disaster that can befall us, I have come to realize, is to feel ourselves to be home on earth. As long as we are aliens, we cannot forget our true homeland. Unhappiness on earth cultivates a hunger for heaven. By gracing us with a deep dissatisfaction, God holds our attention. The only tragedy, then, is to be satisfied prematurely. To settle for earth. To be content in a strange land. We are “like strangers and pilgrims in this world” (1 Peter 2:11).
Lord, I pray to stay unsatisfied with this place! Never let me feel at home here! And to quote yet another Sara Groves song, one day, “to be absent from the body, is to be present with the Lord, and from what I know of Him, that must be very good’. There is truly no place like Home.