Leaving Home (Part One)
I have waited far too long to write about what’s been happening in my life for the last year, and now it’s time for a mammoth write up. I’ve been living for a year in a really odd state of limbo and wasn’t sure what information to communicate to everyone around me. Internally and externally there has been lots of upheaval and lots of things that have been waiting for a resolution. As soon as I thought I knew what was happening next, something else would change and I’d hit the pause button again.
For a full year I’ve known that I was about to embark on a new chapter of my life but didn’t know where or what it was supposed to look like. I’ve done a lot of guessing, a lot of praying and I feel like I’ve had lots of false starts down different paths.
I’ll back up a few years: since Richard died, I had no doubt that living in Morecambe and helping to lead Home Church was the right thing for me to be doing. The move here and the vision for the church had been the dream for both of us, not just him, and things were going so well before he got ill that I wanted to continue the excitement of where church was going. I just love building church and even if I’ve had to do that in a diminished capacity while things were difficult, and to lean on people around me harder when dealing with grief, it’s what I’ve wanted to do. I have had amazing people around me who have recognised that and given me as much space and/or responsibility as I’ve needed at Home Church. My fantastic brother-in-law stepped up to be the pastor and he is an incredibly gifted leader. I was able to support him in that role and stay involved in the leadership, coordinating teams in church, speaking in various other places too, and training for Free Methodist leadership. There have been big obstacles to overcome, as in any church, and especially one recovering from such a large loss. For each one though, I felt resourced beyond my capacity and have counted it all as an incredible opportunity to get to be part of helping people through this.
This time last year though, changes had begun to happen in me. I can’t go into all the details as some of it is very personal, some of it involves other people, and to be honest, it would be dull to read all the emotional ups and downs and questions I’d been wrestling with for months. The short version is: I felt like it was time to move on.
I have never been in a situation like this before. The biggest decisions in my life have previously been made quickly and seemed so obvious that there was very little wrestling involved. Getting married? Let’s do it. Giving up full time work to live as volunteers? Let’s do it. Moving to bible college? Let’s do it. Planting a church in Morecambe? Let’s do it. Although there was a cost involved in those decisions, what was ahead seemed so much more important than what we were leaving behind, so we just focused on that and made it work, no matter how tough all those things were.
This time has been different though. It has been an unsettling and a stirring to move from somewhere, without knowing why or what I’m moving to. I fought it for a long time, tweaking everything in my life I could think of in order to keep going where I was. The thought of leaving Home Church behind was too difficult so I kept going, trying to fix the gaps and get over what I was feeling. I was determined to stay unless God sent me an angelic visitation or something equally dramatic to say otherwise.
I’m drifting – I said I wouldn’t go into all the details – the result is that from September to December last year I had lots of tearful conversations with different people, trying to work out what was going on, and came to the conclusion it was time to move forward. In January I stepped down from some of my leadership responsibilities at Home Church, and by Easter I had let go of everything. People have been great – really encouraging and supportive – and I got on with getting the house ready to sell and put on the market. It’s been up for sale for a few months now and as a family we are all geared up for moving on once the sale goes through.
I won’t yet go into what’s happening next for me though, because there’s more about what I’m leaving behind.
At the beginning of the summer things took another turn. My incredible brother-in-law hit burnout and Home Church was put on hold for the next few weeks. It’s not my story to tell, and there isn’t an easy way to explain it anyway. There has been no big disaster or fall out or wrongdoing. It might seem odd that a church stopped running because the pastor stepped out, but there have been a combination of reasons that meant that lots of people needed a break, and time to make decisions about where things were going. Over the summer people have had some breathing space to stop and assess and pray about what to do next. It’s been really weird for me because for the first time, I am no longer on the leadership of the church as it goes through a crisis. For the first time, I’ve just had to sit and wait to see what would be decided.
By the end of the summer, the decision was made for Home Church to close.
This has had a massive effect on me. Although I had already made the decision to move on, I had envisioned a much gentler transition away from it, and a home to keep revisiting at times. My pride, my identity and my story has been wrapped up for a long time with this family of people, and a certain amount of optimism for the future depends on the perceived successes of the past. I feel like I have fallen into a chasm of grief all over again.
It’s been hard for me not to question and analyse and relive all the different reasons for how things got to this place, but here are some of the thoughts I have had:
Home Church has never been a big church. We have had a lot of people involved in it in the ten years it has been going, but never at the same time. People have come and gone so much that the numbers have remained fairly consistent but the people have changed many times. In every season since we have started, there have been challenges. There have been times when we spread ourselves too thin in our attempts to provide services in the community, and the team was too small to meet the many needs we encountered along the way. There were many people affected by illness who needed to step back from the responsibilities they wished they’d been able to fulfil. There were babies – many, many babies! – and, rightly so, family priorities had to take president over ministry ideals. We had people moving into the local area and people moving out of it. We had people falling in love and moving overseas to start a new life. We had massive projects started that got interrupted by unforeseeable tragedies. We supported people struggling with mental health issues who we tried to create safe and unrushed places for. We formed leadership teams and reformed them each time new people arrived and other people left. We disappointed people and let them down and sometimes people moved on because they disagreed with decisions we made. Sometimes we went too quickly and sometimes we went too slowly. Sometimes one issue hijacked everything for several weeks or even months and it was difficult to keep things on course.
Ultimately, it feels like we never quite got to a place of stability, to build enough momentum to be a strong church. It always felt like we were on the verge of something great, but even ten years on, it was like we were just getting started. This was incredible because it always felt like a pioneering church but also exhausting because we still needed the same amount of peppy optimism and dogged determination in the tenth year as we did in the first year.
The idea of Home Church was never to be one of those churches where the same people turn up on a Sunday, week in and week out, and go home unchanged. It was supposed to be a body of people who made an impact on their community and resourced one another to go deeper and higher in their faith. The question since we started has always been “How do we best build God’s Kingdom in Morecambe?” If that’s by gathering and equipping one another at Home Church then that’s what needed to happen. But if the answer is for people to be part of other churches who are also doing that, then it’s better to free people to go and join in on that instead of persisting in keeping a dream going. The point of church is to build up and enable people, not to drain them in order to keep a construct going.
I can’t honestly answer the question of why we never managed to gain enough momentum to become the kind of church we hoped for, but maybe things will become clearer in the future.
As I have grieved over all of this, and raged at God over my third loss in just a few years, there has been a concept that keeps coming back to my mind. In Acts 27, Paul is on a ship on the way to Jerusalem and the crew are shipwrecked due to a massive storm. As panic breaks out, Paul calls people to order and says “I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed.” (v22)
I had always seen Home Church as a home for people, hence the name. My focus was for it to be a place of security and family, where people could find stability and grow into who they were supposed to be. People came to it for that reason, and experienced things they hadn’t found elsewhere. My decision to move on has been agonising for that reason – I didn’t want to leave people in a place of disappointment and instability by no longer being there for them. I had finally come to terms with being allowed to leave, so when this happened shortly after, I felt devastated.
So this picture of a ship has become really important to me. What I have seen as a home, which has made it painful to me each time someone has left, maybe God always ordained as a ship. Perhaps our whole purpose has always been to meet people where they are, carry them to where they needed to be next, and them let them go on to a new thing. In this way, it doesn’t matter ultimately what happens to the ship – the important thing is that not one person will be lost.
I still have work to do on my wounded pride – the dream I wanted to see built hasn’t happened, and I have to let go of that, which is not an easy process. But the most important thing is the future of the people who have been part of Home Church, that not one of them is lost, but have been able to move on to where they were supposed to be next.
So I’d really appreciate your prayers for all of us, for the disappointment we are carrying and all the emotional processing that will be needed to handle it well. Also for the future of all those involved in Home Church, that it will be obvious which church each individual and family needs to plug into, for the next part of their journey.