Moving is said to be one of life’s most stressful experiences – especially for us older people. Age surely adds to the stress, but I suspect the stress may be inherent, given what I believe must be a natural human desire for stability.
I’ve often wondered whether human beings may have been meant to remain permanently within walking distance of the place they were born. My guess is that our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived and died within a fairly confined territory, from which they emigrated most likely only under duress when pushed by stronger tribes invading their territory or other natural calamities. (And, in any case, when they moved they would have moved together as a group, not as we do now as isolated individuals). Theologically, there must be something one can make of the fact that the first individual move in history would have been by Cain, who “left the Lord’s presence and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden” (Genesis 4:16).
I recognize there are some more adventurous types who do not share my deep craving for stability. America, after all, was populated by immigrants (my own grandparents among them) who had the fortitude to get out of the situation they found themselves stuck in and go to someplace with greater opportunity. Once here, Americans have traditionally been a highly mobile people. Yet movement takes its toll on people and has undoubtedly exacted a severe price – not just on individuals but on our collective national experience. Our modern economy also encourages the greater movement of people and businesses, all of which presumably contributes to a more productive and more free economy.
On the other hand, my own personal experience and that of many others I have spoken to is that, especially in people-oriented professions, it takes a significant amount of time to hit one’s stride and become truly effective. Perhaps that is what underlies the traditional practice of the Church in formerly favoring life tenure for Bishops and Abbots. Canon Law (c. 522) also expresses a certain preference for pastors to be appointed for an indefinite term in order to possess stability in office. (That sounds a lot like our American system for federal judicial appointments). In the US, bishops are authorized to appoint pastors for a definite, but renewable term of 6 years, which I suspect may be common practice – 12 years widely being seen as the optimal term of service for a pastor. (In my case, since I am a member of a clerical society of apostolic life, to whose care the parish has been assigned by the local bishop, my initial term of appointment will be even shorter – just 4 years – in accordance with the constitution of my community).
Ministry in the Church has always entailed some degree of readiness to move – despite the difficulties moving inevitably creates for both individuals and communities. Jesus, himself, in the gospel account proclaimed just last Sunday (Luke 10:1-9) directed his disciples to go to every town and place to proclaim the kingdom of God. I have a particular fondness for that gospel account, among other reasons, because it was the one read at my ordination to the priesthood in Toronto in 1995. That ordination began several good and increasingly productive years of priestly ministry in the St. Peter’s community in Toronto, followed then by these incredibly blessed 10 years (now quickly coming to a close) as part of the St. Paul the Apostle parish community in New York. As I work my way through the physical stresses of packing and moving and the emotional stresses of saying good-bye to people, Jesus’ words to the 72 disciples and the privilege I have been given to share in their mission will I trust strengthen me to undertake my wonderful new assignment as a pastor with even greater enthusiasm.