Insights from leading a discussion on relocating with special needs

Clergy members making moves see them through the lens of chronic illness

Joe MacDonald avatar

by Joe MacDonald |

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A pastor in the United Methodist Church agrees to participate in an itinerant system, in which a governing body, the Cabinet, moves clergy to where their gifts and graces are needed. I’m serving my fourth church at the First United Methodist Church of Belen, New Mexico, where next month I’ll finish my fourth year. Thankfully, I’ll continue to serve as pastor here for at least another year.

My supervisor, the district superintendent of Albuquerque, New Mexico, invited me last week to lead a discussion for pastors moving to new churches in July. As I prepared my notes and gathered my thoughts for the event, I realized that one primary subject needed a place in the workshop’s curriculum. That agenda had neglected to mention anything about pastors and families who live with chronic illnesses.

This concern needs immediate attention, as it directly affects our pastors’ and their families’ well-being and effectiveness. I knew I needed to include information regarding what my family looks for when we move from one church to another.

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Group support helps, especially when I let myself be vulnerable

During the session

I started my time with my fellow clergy members using a game I’d developed, in which they played a multiple-choice activity. The correct answer, however, was glaringly apparent to the participants. Everyone laughed and enjoyed our time together.

As I had their attention, I turned to the medical needs of my family, including my sons, who have hemophilia. I told them I’d found it difficult to live 50 miles outside of Albuquerque because my children needed to be close to their hematologist. Our treatment center is associated with the University of New Mexico Medical Center in Albuquerque, which is the only comprehensive care center in the state. From Belen, the nearest facility outside New Mexico is 483 miles away in Denver.

In addition to talking about treatment facilities, I spoke about issues that families living with chronic illnesses must face when moving to a different area of the state.

In our case, hemophilia is a rare disorder, so we depend on a medical team knowledgeable in the care of our sons’ needs. Some small towns where clergy members are stationed don’t have medical centers that can address breakthrough bleeding episodes, soft tissue issues, or muscle bleeds. We also need support when we have to access a vein for treatment. When we try to treat a bleed at home, do we have adequate medical support staff nearby in case we need help?

Our medical questions and concerns become a top priority when we accept an appointment to a new church. The Cabinet usually gives us a small window of time (24 hours) to accept or reject a position, so we must think and act fast to decide whether we can move.

I told the pastors attending my session that before moving to a new appointment, they should talk with medical personnel in the new area to get a better idea of what resources are available. Speaking with doctors and nurses in the area also helps establish relationships with those who’ll be treating our children.

I finished my discussion by telling the pastors that our Cabinet is good at considering concerns such as medical needs when considering a move for pastors. When I’ve faced moving, I’ve fully trusted those considering assigning me to a different church. Those who serve on our governing body understand my needs because I have many years of relationships with the leadership. They appreciate the struggles my family faces each move.

The effects of heeding special needs

After I finished the discussion, several pastors approached me and thanked me for mentioning chronic illness. Several clergy members told me that they have children with chronic illnesses and that bringing attention to their medical needs proved reassuring. They agreed that no one addresses pastors and their families with special needs. They told me that for the first time, they felt affirmed and heard.

For many in my profession, worrying about specific medical issues plays a minimal role when moving from one church to another in a less populated area. Hopefully, more of us will continue to speak up and allow our Cabinet members to know our unusual medical situations. Open dialogue can alleviate the stress and anxiety we face when clergy might be called to minister somewhere new.

Remember that our caregiver or patient advocacy duties don’t end at school or a hospital. For some of us, our work must occur in our church life as we continue to answer a calling placed on our hearts by the God we serve.

Note: Hemophilia News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Hemophilia News Today or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to hemophilia.


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