Being a Virginian never mattered to me as much as it did when I moved to Kentucky.
As of the day of this writing, I have lived in Lexington, Kentucky, home to the church I serve and now home to me, for 118 days. Prior to that, I’d lived in Virginia for 26 years (minus the four I spent in North Carolina for college). It really hadn’t occurred to me until I was seeking my first call just how formative this living in one state was. I was adaptable, I thought. I could move anywhere, thanks in part to growing up amidst the diversity of people, ethnicities, cultures and lifestyles found in Northern Virginia.
Oh, how wrong I was.
Lots of things about moving for a first call had never occurred to me before I was in the process of said move. Sure, I had been advised by professors in seminary and mentors in ministry on how to relocate for a new call, but I suppose I didn’t really understand their need to dispense such advice until I moved. Most of all, I had no idea how hard it would be to follow that advice.
Advice like: Make friends outside your congregation! You’ll need community beyond that of the church. This seems straightforward – and perhaps obvious – enough. But now that I’ve moved, I find myself at a loss on how adults make friends. If my church is my workplace and my congregation, where else do I turn? I’ve joined a gym, but I am so focused on my workout that I don’t have much enthusiasm for conversation. Do I join a book club? Take a class of some kind? Those don’t sound like bad ideas, but here’s the real truth: I am too exhausted to summon the emotional energy needed to navigate new social situations. This kind of navigation is what I do all day, every day at church. Don’t get me wrong — I love my congregation. They are wonderful and loving and are doing their best to help make this transition easy and joyful. (And joyful it is.) But even (almost) four months in, learning this new place takes everything I have. When I get home, I don’t have anything left.
More advice: Learn about the culture of the community you serve. Don’t assume you understand it, or that you will in just a few months. This advice, thankfully, has been a bit easier to follow. Many in my congregation have lived in Kentucky – if not Lexington – for decades, if not generations. They take great care to share with me the things that are important to them and to this area more generally. For one thing, there’s college basketball. Until I attended my first University of Kentucky men’s basketball game back in November, I do not believe I had ever been in a room with so many people wearing the same color. (Blue. Blue is that color.) Until I began at this church, I had never been involved in a congregation that scheduled meetings around a men’s basketball schedule. (It’s an issue of parking. Mostly.)
But of course, basketball is not everything (at least not at all times of the year). There’s also horse racing. Twice now, I’ve been to Keeneland, the main racetrack in town, each time with different church members who have very patiently explained the data found in the program, the characteristics of thoroughbred horses and how to make an informed bet. There’s also bourbon, the success of which in Kentucky is directly related to the success of the thoroughbred industry: the water here is filtered by limestone, which removes iron (which makes bourbon taste yucky) and increases calcium (which gives horses strong bones).
And those are some of the more obvious Kentucky passions. There are many more — some of which I have started to become aware of, and many of which I have not. And I know enough to realize I know next to nothing about Eastern Kentucky, a place proud of a different culture than much of that found in Lexington. And though I find myself already becoming aggrieved at recent national press coverage of Kentucky state politics that feels out of touch, I remind myself that I am new here. I don’t understand this culture yet.
Some final advice: Give yourself some grace. You can’t do it all. This might be the hardest piece of advice of all. I regularly fail to meet my own expectations of myself. My house is perpetually cluttered because I usually feel too tired to clean. I’ve watched far more hours of TV in the last three months than can possibly be good for me. Not only have I not found a community outside of church, but I haven’t yet found a counselor to process things with. I don’t always make it to gatherings I’m invited to.
The fact of the matter is some of the ways I’ve failed as a pastor have caught me completely off guard. I’ve misjudged people and situations and have let people down. No one is perfect, least of all me — despite what I might ask of myself. So I thank God for grace — grace that my congregation bestows upon me far more than I probably deserve, and far more than I give to myself. Grace that reminds me of my call to serve God and God’s people — a call that is always-evolving, that allows room to grow and that encourages me to persist in settling into my new home.
LINDA KURTZ is associate pastor for Christian formation at First Presbyterian Church in Lexington, Kentucky. Now that she’s finished seminary, Linda enjoys being outside, reading for fun, and taking photos of anything but people.