I mentioned in a previous post about the Learning Partnership (LP) workshop that I attended this morning. For those who are unfamiliar with Methodist jargon, an LP is a group of primarily lay persons drawn from the probationer's local context, whose aim is to assist the probationer in training towards achieving certain goals. These can be spiritual, physical, or a combination thereof. An LP can also serve as a sounding-board for the probationer, and is a forum where constructive feedback may be given.
It all sounds so wonderful, and I am most grateful that in my own Circuit the people who are members of my LP are committed people who sincerely want to help me and support me in this first phase of ministry. However, this is unfortunately not the experience that all probationers feel, and my heart bled for one fellow probationer who had to attend the workshop on her own. Now I don't want to be unfair to her Circuit - after all, it IS a long way to travel in this particular case, and many people may have had prior commitments or have to work on a Saturday morning.
But as I was sitting in the workshop this morning, I had an overwhelming sense of isolation. A large part of this is that my family is not around to share these experiences with me. Perhaps Barry Marshall's comment to the lay folk that "you are all at home, but your probationer is in many cases not at home" really hit hard as he illustrated the reality of being separated from family. But part of it is a sense of isolation from the wider Church.
The uncertainty of what will happen in 2010 concerning College / Circuit, and for how many years I'll be in either one of these two situations really eats away at me at times. For instance, if I am going to College next year, well so be it. My preference would undoubtedly be to continue in Circuit, not because I have a problem with seminary education, but because of my own stage in life. However, we made a promise to go where we are sent, and so I will honour whatever the Church decides. My problem is the whole uncertainty around the decision (or, at this stage, lack of decision).
For instance, if I am sent to College, but only for one year, then it would be virtually impossible for my family to relocate with me. My son would be in Grade 6 next year, and if he were to change schools for one year, he would then have to settle in a new primary school for another year and then have to change a third time as he starts high school. The downside of this would be that I'm not sure that I could handle being apart from my family for a second year - this year is rough enough, and we're only in mid-March.
On the other hand, if it is for two or three years, then we could reunite as a family. Granted, my son will still have to change school after two years, but he would have had to do this to start high school, regardless of what my ministry situation is. So that we can deal with. However, one needs to make a decision about this fairly soon, since a relocation of this nature would entail the sale of my house in Johannesburg - not something that one can initiate and complete in a couple of weeks, especially in the current economic climate. Renting it out is not an option, as I could not see myself stressing about what tenants may be doing to my property; whether they will pay the rent; etc. - especially if I am located some distance away.
The other concern is that if I am sent to College, there is apparently accommodation provided. Whether such accommodation can house my wife, son, mother, and her parents as well is another story - a burden I would regard as completely unfair to place at the Church's door. At least in a Circuit manse, one could make a plan as such manses tend to be quite large in most cases.
My frustration is however two-fold.
Firstly, I cannot believe that there is absolutely NO-ONE in the ENTIRE MCSA that has an idea of the expected outcomes of sending probationers to College, or what the criteria would be for one, two, or three years. We're spending nearly R100 million on a new seminary, for crying out loud - I can't believe that this would be done in a vacuum. Good stewardship principles dictate that there MUST be a body or bodies of persons who have been entrusted with such planning, and I have no doubt that this would be the case with the new seminary. Surely there must be SOME information that can be shared with probationers, if only to put our minds at rest as to what the Church plans to do with us for the next few years?
Secondly, I get extremely frustrated with statements made in reports to Conference expressing concern about separation of ministers from their families, yet almost without exception our stationing reflects the opposite of such stated concerns. Too many ministers are relocated without apparent concern for their family situations. My previous Superintendent, for instance, is stationed in Johannesburg while his wife has had to remain in Klerksdorp. She is a school principal there, and anyone who knows the government school system will be aware that getting a teacher's post in a new centre is problematic enough, but getting a principal's post is virtually impossible. So Itumeleng and his wife take it in turns to commute about 400km each weekend, just so they can spend SOME time together! He's never complained, but I know he's taken major strain over the past three years because of this. And it's just not right! It's not healthy for a married couple to live this way, and a minister called to preach the Gospel should especially not have to live this way!
Now I don't want the folks at Uitenhage to read this and feel that I am being ungrateful - on the contrary, I am extremely grateful for the love and hospitality that they have shown to me. My local Circuit has given me everything I could possibly need in order to exercise my call, and I'll never take that for granted. On the other hand, I was living 15km away from a Phase One centre - it's not like there was no other option but to send me 1000km away. I understand that there may be an element of spiritual formation that comes from a relocation of this nature, and I'd feel a whole lot better if someone could explain to me just what that is.
I'm also aware that many reading this blog will say I'm being unfair, and probably with some justification. After all, I knew what I was in for when I candidated; many others before me have gone through this and survived; I can't expect the Church to rearrange its entire programme to accommodate me; etc, etc. All these things are true. But I need to rant SOMEWHERE, or I'll go insane.
And right now - probably another unfair statement, I know, but allow me this indulgence - I feel that the Church is not listening to our cries. I say "our" cries, because while I may be the most vocal about this, I'm not the only one who is feeling this way. Some of my fellow Phase Ones are really, really hurting right now. Many of us cry ourselves to sleep most nights. Watching couples in Church on Sunday, holding hands, rips our hearts in two.
I really love God. I love His church, and I am still in awe that God would call a stubborn, opinionated, hotheaded "hardegat" like me to serve Him in full-time ministry. But why, oh why, Lord, does it hurt SO badly sometimes? And why can't our Church, to whom we are dedicating our lives, give us some answers?
(PS: The logo above is not intended to depict a broken Church, but right now it reflects my broken heart as one trying to fulfil one's calling within this Church that God has called me to)
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