In previous posts I have shared my excitement and gratitude to God for the fact that I have received a posting for Phase One, the first part of my training to become a minister of The Methodist Church of Southern Africa.
But make no mistake - next year will bring major change for me, and I'm not only talking about the fact that my initial posting to Zwide was changed to Uitenhage. As an aside, apparently this is a fairly common occurrence in the MCSA as stations are juggled between Synod and Conference each year, and according to colleagues, things can still change after Conference. One colleague even mentioned the possibility of the removal truck turning left instead of right, indicating that the "powers that be" have changed their minds once again (that one surely MUST be an exaggeration?!).
But more seriously, the biggest adjustment will be leaving my family behind in Johannesburg. This has been an extremely difficult decision that my family has had to make, but a necessary one given that my 10 year-old son is currently in Grade 4. Since probationers can be relocated as much as four times in five years, it doesn't take rocket science to understand what a disruptive impact this would have on James' schooling.
While my new Superintendent was somewhat taken aback when I informed him that my family wouldn't be joining me next year, understandably he is in no position to offer me any guarantee that I will remain in one place during my entire probation. Still, the upside for the Circuit is that they will be able to rent out their four-bedroomed manse for next year, since I will be occupying their one-bedroomed flat during my stay there. At least I will, in this way, be "paying my way" as the rent will hopefully cover my stipend and other costs as a Phase One rather than this having to come out of the Circuit budget.
I also understand the Church's concern regarding ministers who are separated from their families, and are looking at ways to reduce this phenomenon. In the case of probationers, there is no easy answer to this one since serving in different congregations and contexts is an important part of our training. It is also unknown whether one would be going to college in second year, since while it is the stated aim of the MCSA to make residential seminary training a core part of a minister's probation, finances do not (at this stage) allow for all probationers to attend college and many would complete their full probation in Circuit appointments.
For that matter, I'm not sure if all probationers would necessarily want to go to college, and it seems that the older you are when candidating, the more reluctant you would be to go. One of my fellow candidates has already expressed her reservations about the possibility of being sent to college, and if I had to be perfectly honest, I too would prefer to remain in a Circuit. This is probably because I'll be turning 40 next year, and given that I have a family, the idea of being a full-time student at this stage of my life has limited appeal.
However, this does not mean that I am anti-college per se, and I'm sure my attitude would be far different if I was 20 years younger. Still, if the MCSA decides that I am to attend college in 2010, then so be it - my promise before Synod that "I will go to whichever Circuit I am sent" must include ANY station if it is to be real - even including college!
But that's still some time off. My immediate concern is getting through 2009, becoming used to life as an "appie" minister, and - most challenging of all - living without my family. Thankfully I have been blessed with a two-month contract from my former employer, which came totally out of the blue. It pays well, and will allow me to put aside some money to supplement my income from next year. Probably a fair chunk of these funds will go towards bus fares for my family to come and spend some time with me. James already wants me to teach him how to surf (although with my double-left-footed sense of balance, that could be rather interesting!).
It'll be a bit like bachelorhood all over again, which is probably not the worst thing given that I'll be working in a Circuit, studying, and attending lectures. But make no mistake - when you've been a husband for 17 years and a father for 10, you get quite attached to those special people God has entrusted you with, and being apart is going to be tough!
And I'm not talking about the domestic tasks such as cooking, washing, and cleaning, either - these things I can do, and if all else fails, there are places where you can get your clothes washed and ironed, and your belly fed. Drive a broom or vacuum cleaner occasionally, spritz some furniture polish once in a while, and generally keep the place tidy, and that side will be reasonably sorted. But chatting to my wife on Skype is not the same as whispering "sweet nothings" in her ear, and "electronic hugs" sent to my son are no substitute for the real thing.
Ah well ... at least there are school holidays to look forward to!
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