Here is the text from our very first public update about our hopes & intentions for moving!
Hello dear friends,
Hopefully since our last update, you have gotten mail from us and are now in possession of one of our family picture prayer cards. I was really proud of finally putting out what I thought to be a totally typo-free mailing, maybe for the first time ever. I had enough people read over the newsletter to edit it, and the two pages front & back were indeed free of errors. A few days after the mailing went out, I happened to look at the back of the prayer card. AHHH!! There it was, a double "the" Maybe you missed it, because when I texted a picture to Frank to show him, he didn't see the typo right away either. But pointing it out gives me the opportunity to share how that typo came about, as well as our hearts and our needs that we want to share with you and ask you to be a part of our discerning God's good plan for our family.
I could have left the back of our prayer cards exactly as they were from our typo-free prayer card from 2013, but when I updated the font & formatting, I decided to change the wording a little. I'll take an opportunity another time soon to share about the heart behind the wording of how we share the Gospel -- that by itself reflects how God has humbled & refined us through these past years. But more distinctly, I changed the wording from "in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia" to "in the Kensington neighborhood and throughout Philadelphia." Maybe you caught that, likely you didn't. But as the community around our current geography has changed, it has caused us to have to re-evaluate where we live & what we do.
When I used to describe ministry in our neighborhood, I would tell people, "Listen, if you don't want to do ministry, you're gonna have to beat it off with a stick!" Just walking out your door meant that you would be bombarded with need & opportunity. When we created ministry schedules for our visiting mission teams, they always had wide margins to accommodate the wealth of unexpected opportunities that would come up. Visiting our corner of Kensington to do ministry meant that all you had to do was walk out the door to encounter ministry opportunities. Living here meant all that you needed to do was have a door to encounter ministry. So for years, just having a presence in our neighborhood has been enough to keep us beyond busy and with a clear sense of purpose.
At first it was little by little, but more recently, the changes in the neighborhood have been drastic. Empty lots became brand new expensive houses. Longtime neighbors moved away and businesses geared towards the tastes of middle and upper middle class folks moved in. We often found ourselves saying, "Where do we live?!" when another unexpected business would pop up. Some of this stuff you can't make up -- like the Lululemon store that sells $98 yoga pants and an axe throwing facility, and a zombie themed restaurant coming this spring. This change in our neighborhood is something I never imagined when I moved here 17 years ago. Where we once had to create boundaries & routine self-care escapes from the city because ministry was so all encompassing, we now find ourselves having to look far beyond our block and our neighborhood to find opportunities to love and serve people in the ways that we feel God has called and equipped us. Part admission, part premonition, I felt that it was more accurate to change our prayer cards to say "in the Kensington neighborhood and throughout Philadelphia."
For so long, who we are, where we live and what we do have all been tied up in a tidy package with the label "Kensington Missionaries." All of these recent changes have pressed us to ask some hard questions like -- should we just be "commuter missionaries" and live in our same spot but keep finding more ministry opportunities farther away from our home? Does the improvement in our neighborhood mean that we did a great job for the past 15+ years, or that we are failures with nothing to show for our time here? Could we be more useful and effective in regular non-ministry jobs? Was the way we were living before even wise or healthy to try to go back to now that we have a family of our own?
One thing that I was not really open to was considering a relocation. When we first started really noticing changes in our neighborhood back in 2011 and began to re-evaluate what our place & purpose was here, we clearly felt God telling us to stay put. I even had a long-term plan to put a big ol' addition on our house one day so that we could stay put here forevermore. I would get upset with Frank anytime he suggested looking at houses in other parts of the city. With our identity, purpose and vocation wrapped up in our geography, I have held onto this home with a white knuckle grip.
Frank was patient with me, and despite the anxiety that would overcome me whenever we talked about all of the repair needs in our house. I just couldn't consider other options. I couldn't imagine what something different would even look like.
Until, for some reason, the time was right and I opened my heart and mind to other options. The month after month, year after year of trying to adapt and make this house and this location fit with our life and ministry left me weary and willing to say, "Okay God, then what?!" We been having these conversations for the past several months, and putting out our prayer card seemed like a good time to drop the first clue that God might be expanding our territory beyond our beloved Kensington. It has been a process of mourning and even rage at times when I realized that the neighborhood that I loved and became my home doesn't feel like home to us anymore. After the negative feelings have been reckoned with, we have been able to resume our question asking, but they now feel like exciting questions, like -- "Where could we live that we could really be planted within the kind of community that we need and that needs us?" "Could it be possible for us to have a home big enough to practice hospitality like our hearts have yearned for?"
Our greatest excitement has been in considering refocusing in our ministry and relocating to the neighborhood near our church in West Philly. Interestingly, a lot of the bodies that have filled our lot for our worship nights and other gatherings are West Philly friends from church who trekked over to our end of town to join in our efforts. As we consider locations around the city, there are certainly other needy neighborhoods that could use a Jesus-loving family to show up and live among them. But our real desire would be to get to work alongside those who we have already built deep friendship with.
We feel like such a move is inevitable, but as to whether it happens quickly and requires God-given faith or happens more slowly and requires God-given patience is uncertain. We would prefer sooner, and God certainly has done some crazy things for us! But like the Israelites following the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night knew that they had no business moving apart from God, we say, "If your presence doesn't go with us, do not send us up from here."
There are many more details of what our options and needs are than will fit in this already lengthy note, and there will be many updates along the way. If you would like to stay in the loop with developments and would want to commit to being part of a core team of pray-ers and discerners for us in this process, please drop us a line back so that we can include you in the more that there is to tell. Please to pray for us, and be willing to listen to the Father on our behalf as well. We covet your encouragement, the wisdom that God might share through you and the reminders you can give us that we are not on this journey alone.
With love, great hope and a little fear & trembling,
Elizabeth, Frank, Selah, Callum & Clementine