Finding a new church is a little more difficult for a “pastoral” family in retirement than for most people. It’s expected (required in some traditions) that a retired pastor find a new church that is “far away” from his/her old one. So it’s common to learn that “retired pastor X” from New York has moved to the Berkshires, the Catskills, the Hudson Valley, maybe even the “north country” – the Adirondacks, New Hampshire, Maine. We have done our share of such wanderings in the past two years, from Long Island (where we couldn’t stay) to Midcoast Maine last winter, and now to the Lakes region of New Hampshire this spring.
Along the way we have visited quite a number of churches! Some have been big, some small, some very small indeed… Even the “biggest and best” have not felt like home to us for various reasons. The “reasons” for a pastoral family are untypical. It’s not just a matter of “church shopping” until we find “one we like” or where “we feel comfortable” – because this is not all about us. We cannot simply choose a church based on “what suits us.” The Church is bigger than us, and we have to be welcomed, chosen, called, invited, found useful; we have to sense that “this is a community where we can worship and serve.” And of course we bring “our baggage:” our own history of worshipping and serving. Every pastor, and spouse, has a strongly felt set of expectations about “how to do church.” So this odd mixture of specific expectations, and a need to serve and not simply be served, shapes our search for a new church that we can call home.
After retirement, we worshipped and served happily with the Lutherans on Long Island, but after moving from NY we reverted to our Congregational tradition. Last winter we attended a large Congregational church in Maine; now after three months in New Hampshire we have attended three different churches here. It has been an eye-opening experience. Rural churches, like their communities, have been hollowed out in the past decades, and many villages and churches now close to disappearing after centuries of existence. One church had ten people in its Sunday service, up from five a year ago…
So we are grateful to God that we sense we may now have found a Christian community where we will “fit.” It bears the name “Community Church,” and it has a strong community presence; its traditions are Congregational. Worship there was a delight to us, and we shall see where we can serve – a start tomorrow at a midweek food program. Pray for us that we may be a blessing here, and well as be able to receive the spiritual nurture we need.
Wanderings, often in desert places, are part of the experience of all God’s people. How blessed, then, to arrive at an oasis with green pastures and still waters.