My mother has a suggestion from her mother concerning the comforting of cats. Many pets find moving to a new house to be traumatic. So when grandma moved, she always coated the cat’s paws with butter. The animal would spend the time in the car licking her self clean instead of fretting. It would be nice if there were similar procedures for the humans in transit during a clergy move.
With that in mind, here are eight thoughts on clergy family moves:
- Start to pack the day after you publicly announce that you will be moving, not the day before. Some clergy can’t sit on their hands. The moment they decide they want to leave, they begin to do things that tip people off to the fact a move is coming. This damages the clergy person’s effectiveness and may hurt the pastoral role for the next person. Laity who discover the stash of boxes before the announcement may think, “What’s wrong with us that he or she’s so anxious to leave?”
- Start to pack the day after the announcement. Don’t procrastinate! To have a healthy good bye, you must intentionally send two messages; 1) that until the week of the move, you are their pastor, and 2) your departure is irreversible. You deliberately show your enthusiasm for your next place of work by packing one or two boxes a day. Against this backdrop of an inevitable change, you express to each congregational member the gratitude and Christian love you continue to have for them as individuals. You release them into the care of their next pastor, without drawing comparisons between this church and where you will be going.
- Even if your move isn’t announced until the beginning of June, there is still time for an orderly transition. Trust the system. Avoid the impulse to act quickly. If you need to triage, realize this; what ever you failed to put in order or left behind in the church office, will sort itself out over the months to come. What you failed to do to help your family move all their possessions, may never get put right.
- Plan carefully for those with special needs in your family. Children under three may need to be farmed out to grandma during the move. Children between three and twelve will be very sensitive to your level of anxiety. They will need to see you handling the move in an emotionally healthy way. You and your spouse are role models for them in how to handle life’s transitions.
- You, as the clergy person, must realize that your spouse and teenagers have established their own lives in this town and have a right to request special arrangements for their transition. For teens, this might mean a set of planned return trips, vacation time with old friends, or remaining behind for their senior year in high school. Occasionally, your spouse’s needs will be in conflict with the way things are done in your conference. In those times, remember that you don’t have to live with your bishop.
- The hard part about moving is that it brings to the fore our attitude about stuff. All material possessions have a certain value in dollars and cents, or do they? It may not be necessary for you to cart your beloved library to the new place. Reference materials are available online and ebooks rule. Recognize that you and your spouse are likely to have a different attitude about many shared possessions. “Will it move?” conversations need to be held early and often.
- Use Thrift Shops as furniture buffer zones. Be generous in dropping off what you don’t really need and shouldn’t move. Use the thrift shops of the next town to buy temporary furniture, that you can replace with more carefully sought items as you have time.
- And finally, back to the cat. Think ahead as to where the pet will be during the move. A kennel or friend’s house may be a better place for both of your sanities. Don’t have unrealistic preconceptions on their ability to, or not to, adapt.