Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary. —Edward Abbey
When my students at A-State Wesley Foundation talk about home, they most commonly mean the place their parents live. I’m going home to see my family, they say, or I have to get my winter coat next time I go home. They recognize that, even though college for them involves a residential component, that their dorm or apartment is not in itself “home.” It’s just a temporary place of residence.
We Methodist preachers sometimes get in the habit of thinking that way too. This can, of course, be a horribly unfair way of thinking, one in which we are blinded to our neighbors because our sights are set on the next (bigger, better) appointment. Some of us never learn to really live anywhere, which is sad for pastor and church alike.
But on the positive side, the sense of transience common to Methodist clergy and traditional college students can help keep us awake, particularly concerning this idea of home. Rather than get settled into a particular house or geographic region or spatial arrangement of the sanctuary, we are free to embrace a dynamic concept of home, one that recognizes that home is first and foremost about belonging somewhere—or, more accurately, belonging among a certain group of people.
Occasionally, I’m reminded of the various settings that have been home to me over the years, from my own days as a Wesley student at Arkansas Tech to seminary in Kentucky to a half dozen other places I’ve worked in ministry. When I see people from one of those “home” networks now, I don’t get too nostalgic. Sentimentality is not my thing, and I try to travel light. But I do give them a hug and say a prayer of thanks, grateful as I am for the people and places that have incorporated me into their lives.
More and more lately, I hear my Wesley students talk about our ministry as their home away from home. I think this goes beyond meals prepared or memories made. What they are saying is that they recognize that they have a place to belong among people who love them. I’m glad to know that my professional life can bear this kind of fruit for some people.
Home is not a place or a sentiment. It is a nest in which, regardless of our age or experience, we are held safe and nurtured. It is a web of belonging, a state of grace, a gift from God.