Family

Small Town

Last year I became a statistic. I’m sure I was already one of some sort. You probably heard of the tens of thousands who lost their jobs due to the recession, or at least under the guise of the recession. Whatever the case, I found myself with a few months, the length of my severance, to find a way to provide for my family, an imperative task considering we’d also had a baby on the way.

It was the first time I had to search for a job in nearly a decade, my entire adult working life. Prior to that, God had provided opportunities without my having to look under rocks; they had simply come. Surely I would find something just as quick. But this time I had to unearth those rocks and dig down deep, my best imitation at either a treasure-seeking pirate or a gravedigger. My efforts seemed at times nearly as desperate and unpromising.

Without really taking time to rest from a strenuous season of ministry, which I should have, I almost immediately produced a polished resume I was sure would grab the attention of those seeking a creative musician who could spell. I created accounts at the two larger church staffing websites, uploaded my resume, and began scouring the listings. Since we were immersed in the adoption process, which was, among others, a considerable reason the job loss really discouraged us, I looked for positions close by, within a few hours at most. I submitted my resume and waited.

I waited and waited and waited. Probably the most dispiriting aspect of searching for a job is the not hearing back, like one stranded on a deserted island who sends out messages in bottles and waits. Of the many positions I applied for, over half the churches never responded—not even an acknowledgment of my inquiry. An appalling indictment against us church staff. I resolved I would become much better about my own communications. I kept a running list of the places I’d applied and any exchanges, and among those was a church in the small town of Eaton, just a few hours south of Toledo.

The position was interesting enough, if only because it was somewhat close, allowing me to commute if necessary to keep the adoption proceeding. Although you can’t fully assess a church’s health simply by numbers, I noticed it was rather large for such a small town, so they must have been doing something right. I submitted my resume and to my astonishment very soon after heard back. Our initial discussion seemed fruitful, but in January, I received a call that while I was among their top candidates, they were likely going with someone else. Though I was disheartened, as with all the rejections I received, it hadn’t been my idea to move to a small town anyway. Certainly there would be something else.

Days and even weeks would go by without much word from any church, though I continued applying, having expanded my search nationwide. There I sat on my deserted island until one particular week towards the end of February, after my severance had run out, when a handful of churches contacted me each with their rejection notices. Hoping for something closer to home (near Arizona), I’d resolved Ohio had been unkind and so wanted to flee as quickly as possible.

If there was any encouragement, it was McCord Road Christian Church, where I’d started serving in an interim role two months after I left NorthPoint. They knew I was looking for a full-time position but couldn’t offer one, as they were seeking a part-time worship director. We agreed to serve one another while we both searched. My seven months there were productive, interesting, and therapeutic. McCord was a church where I could serve without stress, one that needed and desired my suggestions and implementation of such ideas. There was a small community amongst the larger where our girls felt little or no pressure as pastor’s kids and where Cindy could out of the spotlight incubate Micah. (Okay, that sounded weird.) Despite the financial strain, it was truly a wonderful season in our life, when we promptly made some good friends, something I hadn’t planned on doing. Certainly, those friends made it harder for us to leave when we did at the end of July.

That depressing week in February I did hear back from the church in Eaton. My conversation with Eaton Church of the Brethren was a lengthy one. My initial e-mail to them was in November; the rejection in January; the dialogue restart in early March; an incognito visit on our part at the end of March; phone calls and e-mails all the while; an in-person interview in early May; a scouting trip by their team to McCord in mid-May, the day before Micah’s birth; a second family trip for meetings with the search team, staff, and elders in June; and a third family trip for church meetings and at long last an affirmative church vote July 19. After courting so long, we figured why delay it any further, so my first day joining the staff was August 3. I don’t think Cindy knew me as well when she agreed to marry me. But then, it was probably better she didn’t.

For some reason it was time to Toledo after nine years here—three times longer than I’d initially thought we’d stay. But it wasn’t time for us to move closer to Arizona. So instead of moving to a bigger city, where it’s warmer more months of the year, God has led us to Eaton, a town of less than 10,000 people, where the weather is basically the same. What’s more (or less), the town we’ll be living in, at least for a while, is under 2,000 people and, to my knowledge, doesn’t have a traffic light.

It has its disadvantages to be sure, but we’ve already discovered the contentment and coziness often found in a small town, where more people know each other than don’t and their warmth is genuine and they aren’t too busy or indifferent to simply say hello and they regard you like they already know you. And they don’t mind run-on sentences like the previous. In fact, we’ll actually have time for long conversations. That’s sort of how the hiring process seemed to be: one long run-on sentence. But the period settled it, and we’re here. Or we will be soon. And maybe we’ll learn better what John Mellencamp was singing about.

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