My family is preparing to move again, for the third time since my son was born, and he’s not even four. We have moved from Massachusetts to Oklahoma, moved in town, and now are moving to the Seattle area. These are big, traumatic changes for one so little, even more so as he has autism. Clergy families have an undo amount of pressure placed upon them from many angles. There are expectations placed not only upon the pastor who is called to a church, but upon their spouse and their child. Family life is more public than other families. Relationships outside of the church, while vital, are hard to maintain, and relationships within the church can be complicated.
As we are preparing to move again, I have been thinking about ways that a church community can help welcome a new pastor and their family who have gone through such a transition, especially if they are moving to a location where they do not have family or friends in the area.
1. Welcome them, but don’t overdo it. Don’t show up on the day they have arrived. They may be tired or even exhausted from their travels. If they have young children, they may be weary of strangers. Often how churches like to welcome people is with food. Ask ahead of time what they would like—if you want to bring them dinner, ask first if they would like this now or another day, or if they would prefer a gift certificate for a restaurant as they may not even have their dishes unpacked. If you are going to provide food, ask if they have any dietary restrictions (and ask what their children would prefer—some children are picky eaters and no matter how wonderful your casserole may be, a child may not be up for trying something new after arriving to a brand new place). Give them space and time to move in and adjust.
2. If they have children, ask if they would like help connecting with the local school district. For our family, as we have a child with special needs, this is extremely helpful and can help ease some of the transition challenges. If your pastor has pets, create a list of local veterinarians and/or dog parks. Pets are family, too.
3. Also if they have children, ask if after they arrive if the family would like some free child care provided so the parents can unpack or run errands. This is a big help when trying to set up a household within the first few days of arriving.
4. Don’t assume the pastor is going to start work the very day after they arrive. Give them some time to help their family adjust and unpack. This is a way you can minister to your new pastor. And if your pastor is single, also give them space and time to unpack. This goes beyond moving—never assume that a single pastor doesn’t have other things they need to do because they don’t have an immediate family. I know in my first church, I often resented the assumption that I was free to stay longer on Sundays because I didn’t have children or a husband.
5. Related to #1 and 2, create a list of local favorites—restaurants that deliver, local parks for children, museums and art galleries, and other local places of interest. Encourage your pastor to take some time in the first few weeks to visit these local favorites (and count that as part of their work time, getting to know the community).
The most important thing you can do for your pastor and/or their family before they arrive is to ask before making assumptions of what their needs are. I know for myself and my family, in the times we have moved, before and after having our son, there were times assumptions were made that ended up complicating the moving in process rather than helping. There were also wonderful people who asked what we needed ahead of time and eased our transition. But it is always best to ask first.