When our children were small, (aged 8 and 3), we moved from town life to village life when I accepted a call to parish ministry. As soon as the call was confirmed, I began a conversation with the village school about the childrens' education. And so it was, that for 6 weeks before the move, I was transporting my son to his new school. By the time I took up my post in the local parish church I had hung about at the school gate, meeting other parents, picking up on the local gossip, gauging the pulse of the neighbourhood and had already begun to form relationships within the community. My role then allowed me to deepen and develop those relationships begun at the school gate, as I moved around the neighbourhood, on the streets, in the pub and at the village shop. Perhaps it is no surprise that my ministry there was always more affirmed and accepted by those in the neighbourhood than by those in the church.
Fast forward 15 years and, once more responding to God's call, we have recently moved to a new neighbourhood. This time we do not have the school gate initiation process. Nor do I have a public role in ministry in this community. How does one form relationships and find a sense of belonging in a new place? How does one find the points of connection? Attending one of the local churches has helped, as has spending time in the (many) local coffee shops, walking along the promenade and shopping in the local stores. It's a much slower process, exacerbated because my work takes me away for long days, but there are signs of the beginnings of belonging - occasional conversations with regular dog walkers, a welcome by staff at my favourite coffee shop, recognition in the grocery store, life giving signs that begin to soothe my disorientation.
The sense of not belonging has come as a painful surprise for me in this move, a soreness that has chafed and eroded part of my being. But it has also given me helpful insight into an experience that is surely common for many people who move around for whatever reason. And so I continue to discover and explore and, hopefully, in time, intentionally or otherwise, create those places of connection and belonging for me and for others as we grow into this neighbourhood - where surely God is.