Saturday, 3 January 2015

Methodist Stationing - some reflections (part 3)

In a break from my tradition over the last 4 years of penning my own posts on this blog, the following comes from the pen of my wife, Jude.

Those familiar with the Methodist Church's system for deploying ministers will know something of the strain that it places on those ministers, and on the churches that are searching for the right person to lead them on the next stage of their journey. But what about the minister's spouse/ partner/ significant other? How does this affect them?

What follows below is a very personal, and at times painful, reflection on the events of the past few months. It is raw at times, but it is real and, I firmly believe, needs to be said and to be heard. I hope its sentiments strike a chord with those involved in the process - however they are involved. Do feel free to comment below.


Stationing – from the other side
I was recently told by the person charged with offering me pastoral care during the stationing process that if I wasn't prepared to go wherever God led my husband, then I shouldn't have married him. Yes, really; I kid you not. I start this guest blog with that little anecdote not so that I can get your sympathy from the outset, but because the idea behind it highlights the difficulty of the position that I find myself in just now.

I wondered whether 'from the other side' was the right title to use, as there is within those words enormous potential for misinterpretation. Amongst other things, it could be seen as implying a taking of sides, opposition, maybe even outright conflict, and the possibility of deep and inextricable entrenchment, and I don't think that's really the idea that I want to convey. On the other hand, I saw a Star Trek meme on Facebook the other day. There stands a smiling Captain Jean Luc Picard, finger pointing to the future, saying "Don't just hope for a great 2015, make it so!" – a sentiment that fits with the current belief that if you dream hard enough, or believe hard enough, or even at a pinch actually work hard enough, you can do, be, get, achieve, anything at all. Personally I think that's a load of bollocks, and a dangerous load of bollocks at that. But I digress. The point is, the difficulty for me is that at this moment in time, the only way I can see of making 2015 a great year for me is by leaving my husband.

As you'll know if you've read John's previous blogs on the subject, this summer John's appointment in Sheffield comes to an end, and in September he takes up a new role in Kendal, Cumbria. And here's the problem: I don't want to go. Don't misunderstand me. There's nothing wrong with Kendal. It seems a nice place, with good people. Our new house is lovely. And I know that it's the right place and the right appointment for John, a new role and a new challenge in his life and ministry. There's nothing wrong with Kendal – except that it's not Sheffield.

I love Sheffield. I have friends here, and family. I have a role (several actually), I have things to do, things I want to do here. Here, I like to think that I serve a purpose, that I'm useful, that I make a difference. Not being here means leaving all that behind. My friends can't come with me, so no more talking over coffee or lunch about the things we hold dear together. My children aren't coming with me, so no more being there and being mom. The roles and purposes I fulfil here will stay here, so no more doing what I've enjoyed doing here. Forgive me if I seem overly dramatic at this point, but it feels to me that here I am something, but moving away means losing everything, and becoming nothing.

And forgive me if I'm wrong, but I assume you're already formulating a response. Let me stop you right there. (Unless you're thinking of sending commiserative chocolates and flowers. In which case, carry on. But forget the flowers.)

Seriously. Please don't tell me that I'll soon make new friends, that I'll always be mom, that I'll soon feel at home, that I can always find a new job, a new role, a new purpose, a new whatever. The only thing I hear in those words is "It doesn't matter." Never mind, you can always get a new one, like a broken watch or a lost hat. It does matter, and I do mind. I don't want a new anything. I want the relationships, the places, the things I have now, that I've found and built and nurtured over the last ten years. I don't want to have to start all over again.

And for God's sake please don't tell me that God has something wonderful in store, or that it's all in God's hands, or that all things work together for good, because you don't know that any more than I do. Don't tell me that God cares, or that I simply ('simply'?) need to trust in God, because right now it feels like God doesn't give a damn any more than anyone else. And do you really think that reminding me that I lack the faith that everyone else apparently has is going to make me feel better?

In the next week or two a large number of Methodist churches will hold their annual Covenant Service, using the Methodist Covenant Prayer:
          Christ has many services to be done;
          in some we may please Christ and please ourselves;
          in others we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves.
to which the response is:
          I am no longer my own but yours…
          I willingly offer all I have and am to serve you,
          as and where you choose.

This year I think I shall forego the Covenant Service. I was always told not to make promises that I couldn't keep, and I'm just not prepared even to mutter the words (either stubbornly or hopefully) through gritted teeth when I know that I don't mean them.

I've never considered or felt myself called to be 'the minister's wife'; I feel called to be John's wife, and he just happens to be a minister. (I suppose I should be grateful that our pastoral friend stopped short of suggesting divorce, though I admit I have considered the option. Once. Briefly.) To return to the pastoral sentiment with which I began: on this occasion, I'm not prepared to traipse around the country after my husband. I don't want to deny myself just to keep everyone else happy, and I'm not 'willing' to do so, either to please Christ or to please John. That doesn't mean I won't do it, though, because let's face it, what other option is there? When it comes to the stationing process, the 'significant other' of the minister has little choice in the matter, despite what the Methodist Church says. (Actually, what the Methodist Church said in my case was, "What you want is very important, we must take your needs into consideration too." "OK, I want to stay in Sheffield." "You can't, there are no appointments in Sheffield." Yes, really.) There's also the minor detail that the house comes with John's appointment, and Sheffield City Council don't allow tents in the park.

The upshot of all this, then, is that in September it will be time for John to move on, and I shall just move on by default. But still, I want. I want, I want, I want… I know, it's whiney and selfish and manipulative, and I can only suppose it makes John feel bad. (Which, just for good measure, makes me a rubbish wife too, because a good wife is supportive and sacrificial, isn't she? So yes, let's add that to the list of stuff I feel really crap about at the moment.)

I notice I keep saying 'at the moment', or 'just now'. Maybe I am clinging after all to the possibility that something might change. But it won't be John's calling that changes, or the ending of this appointment, or the beginning of the new appointment. And I suspect that Sheffield and all it holds is unlikely to move any closer to Cumbria any time soon. So… yep – once again, it's ME that has to do all the changing to accommodate everyone else. Well, that sucks!

Actually that sums up where I am (at the moment) – it sucks. So if – when – we meet, and you ask how I am, and I say I'm fine, please understand that I'm not lying or fobbing you off. I'm not in denial, and I'm not resigned to the situation or getting used to the idea. It's just that there's nothing you can say right now, and nothing I want to hear, that will make my 'I'm fine' more than what it is.

Jude