This past weekend a fellow clergy person asked me, “So where do you call home?” I hesitated – awkwardly and noticeably hesitated. “Where do I call home?” I thought. Just last month I sold my home that I’ve lived in for the previous 15 years. The home that my beautiful bride and I crossed the threshold in, the home in which we raised our children, and the home in which I kept all my tools for my “honey-do” list. I moved out of my childhood home of 18 years to attend college and never returned for more than a weekend or summer break – now that home is gone as well as my parents have sold it. For the past two years I’ve lived in a parsonage – a house provided by the church. Before April of 2017 I never knew the town in which I would live even existed – “I guess I would call Bangor my home,” I replied.
I hesitated in my response because I poignantly realized that all of my residential connections, which sentimentally provided a ground of stability and familiarity for the better part of my life, were now gone. As an itinerant pastor – one who is willing to go and serve the church wherever appointed – this is nothing new in the United Methodist Church… but it is new for me and my family. For well over a year I wanted to sell that house so bad, to be out from under the mortgage, taxes, insurance, and maintenance; but now that it’s gone, it became a stark reminder that I do not have any friends.
Yes, I am a pastor and, outside of the church and fellow clergy, I do not have any friends. To be fair, part of this is my own doing and the path that I chose in life. I moved away to college and never really returned. In less than four years of graduating high school I had already completed college, gotten married, started a family, bought a home, and was working fulltime in law enforcement. When others were partying, I was changing diapers and mowing the lawn. Naturally, by way of life and distance, old friends faded away. Deep-rooted relationships were never established while I worked as a police officer; coupled with adding two more children to the family, attending graduate school, and beginning a new vocation as a pastor, unsurprisingly didn’t leave much time to make new friends.
Since moving to Bangor nearly two years ago, do you know how many backyard barbeques, family outings, couple’s date night, or even an offer to come over and watch the game or to go grab a beer I’ve been invited to? Zero. I realize that “adulting” – working fulltime, running children to activities, completing errands and doing household chores – takes a significant amount of time. But zero invites in two years? “Why is that?” I often wonder. Quite frequently – and frankly – I believe the answer is because I’m a pastor, and all that stereotypical baggage that comes along with it. Combine that with folks learning that I’m a retired police office and suddenly I’m labeled as the anti-life-of-the-party and not on the top of too many people’s list to become friends with.
Let me be clear, I want to be your friend because I’m human. All humans desire and need companionship. I don’t want to be your friend just so you’ll come to church. It’s true that I may eventually invite you to come to church because that is what God has called me to do, but that is not my motivation for our friendship. On top of that, I promise you that I am not judging you when we’re talking. I don’t care if you’re not religious or that you haven’t been to church in decades (or ever), or if you’re Catholic or if don’t know what a Methodist is. I also promise you that I’m not contemplating your eternal destination by what you’re saying, how you dress, what you drive or whatever else you may think pastors are concerned about… and no, I don’t care that you curse (I do, too). Like you I love my family, I’ve got bills to pay, I enjoy sports, worry about the future, and want to be involved in the community. My kids aren’t prim and proper, I get sick of politicians, too, my wife loves Netflix, and I like a good cheesesteak every now and then (sauce, fried onions and sautéed mushrooms). I promise you I won’t ram the Bible down your throat, proselytize at the hibachi, or try to baptize your children at the pool party.
So, where do I call home? Currently, home is Bangor. It feels odd to say that not because I don’t own or rent property here, but rather because of what I consider to be a part of what it means to call home – to have connections, meaningful relationships, to have friends. Yes, many people are friendly with me, I have an abundance of acquaintances, and 640 Facebook friends (really?!). Yet, I lack that group of friends, even that ONE friend, who knows who I am and vice versa. There isn’t anyone here that knows who I am, what I value, or someone that I can confide in, let alone know the easy stuff like what my dream car is or the names of all of my children.
Inevitably, as a product of the itinerant appointment system of the United Methodist Church, there will come a time when Bangor will no longer be where I live. It is my hope though that whether it be for a few more years or another decade, that I can find a person or two that I can call a friend and that Bangor will not just be a place where I live and work, but a place that I can call truly call home.