But I Like My Friends in Ur! Don’t Overlook the Children Whose Parents Itinerate
By: Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Coppedge-Henley, senior pastor of Harrison United Methodist Church in Pineville
When Abram and Sarai heard God’s voice telling them to go to Canaan, they knew the command came from God and they trusted that God would go with them. But when they packed up the tents and the sheep to leave Ur, they did not also have to pack up the kids, at least not yet. They did not have the tears, the stomping, the kicking of the dashboard, the challenge, the tears of one who did not understand why her older sibling was throwing tantrums. They did not have to hear the ones they love the most in the world say to them, “I’m not going. I like my friends in Ur!” Itinerant clergy have heard the call of God and have been ordained in this system. We knew what we were signing on for, but our children did not.
What do we do when our child sobs through the last worship service at the only church they have ever known? What if they have a difficult time adapting to a new school system? How do we help them when we move them from a town with three stop lights to a city of a million people? There is no one-size-fits-all answer. All I know is that children should not go unnoticed in a process to which their parents have been called.
I do have few thoughts born of experience. Parents, make sure there is a housewarming present just for your child. Put it in their new room before they get there and be excited with them when it is discovered. Our son found a Buzz Lightyear in his room one year and he loved that doll! Be sure you have answers to questions they will inevitably ask about school, “Yes! It is close enough to ride your bike there!” Try to meet new neighbors ahead of time. They can be an invaluable part in helping your children adapt.
Clergy families are not alone in living an itinerant life. Parents may be the first responders, but the churches who receive clergy families are a huge part of this transition. Who in the church can immediately reach out to the preacher’s kids: other children, a Sunday school teacher, or youth leader? Staff Parrish, please make sure this happens! Our 21 year-old son still has a stuffed animal (patched and mended) given to him by a VBS director when we moved as he turned three, but don’t tell him I mentioned that. Parsonage committees, allow children to pick the paint color for their new room. Our daughter chose purple during one move and the committee did not hesitate.
Today, I give thanks for clergy parents, for churches, for neighbors, for schools, for individuals who love clergy children. In my mind, you may just be the most important people in the world. COVID19 makes this more challenging, but your role in their lives is still as important. Preacher kids may have liked their friends in Ur, but you can be a church for which they will one day give thanks; a church that helps them adapt to circumstances beyond their control; and, most importantly, a church who will help them love Jesus.
To hear more WNCC clergy share the challenges and joys of their experiences moving within the itinerant system, listen to to the latest episode of the Means of Grace podcast here.
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