Matt and Clare moved from Sydney to Newcastle with their three children at the end of 2019. Clare had been offered the role of CEO for Compassion Australia, a significantly sized humanitarian charity. “Most aspects of my life have changed. I finished up my role as a Pastor for a local church and am effectively working as a stay at home Dad.”
He sums up the transition as “change of residence, change of job and change of church”. His big focus is his family, looking after the kids and supporting Clare. Even though the changes were well thought out there was still uncertainty about how they would play out. “I had to be careful not to catastrophise. It didn’t help that we heard stories of people in similar situations who’d experienced real problems with their children settling into their new environment.”
Thankfully, his fears for the children weren’t realised. “The kids have made friends and have adjusted really, really well. Those catastrophes didn’t eventuate.” The move has been positive, even though there have been challenges. “Newcastle is a very liveable city. We loved the Inner West of Sydney, but God has been very kind. Clare has a stressful, demanding role yet we are so close to beautiful beaches and getting into nature has been such a respite.”
The impact of Covid-19 hasn’t been any more difficult for them than most families, although it did break the pattern they were settling into with their new lives. Matt says he is in a good place now. He reflects on his change of role, “There have been some things I’ve had to wrestle with. Partly because of my new role, I would get to the end of the day and feel like I hadn’t achieved anything. One way of coping was to write down my five top goals in life. I’d then review my day by writing everything that I had done. I discovered that nothing I was doing was irrelevant or meaningless. They were all consistent with my priorities.”
He even talks about how he has learned to play the guitar and not feeling guilty for practicing, “it was consistent with my goal of glorifying God and enjoying his good gifts”, although he adds the sound may not be altogether “beautiful” at the moment.
He acknowledges loss. “I miss being in pastoral ministry. Reflecting on my gifts, I believe I’m most suited to working as a pastor in a church.” There is a possibility of doing some work, which he’s discussed with the area Bishop, although it is likely to be a non-Parish role. “That will be a nice way of dipping my toe in the water without compromising my commitments.”
He is very serious about his current priorities to support the family and Clare first, but hopes someday he will be working in a church again.
Matt’s transition has been a rich time of learning. He reflects on the better balance of time he has with his family, “my weekends are actually weekends, instead of being the most stressful part of the week. I think there are still things that I need to process and learn.”
One of those things is about how he managed stress and anxiety while working as a Pastor. “Now that I am more freed-up I think that I cared too much about some things that didn’t warrant the worry. One change is that I’ve hardly spent anything on clothing this year. Partly, because I don’t need to, but in the past I have put pressure on myself to look a certain way. It causes me to ask, where was the stress I experienced coming from?”
He talks about his desire to please people and learning better ways to make decisions. “I was recently speaking with the Bishop about another potential role and it was a good conversation. There was a real temptation to accept it, partly to please him, but it wasn’t right. Not losing a sense of myself is important.”
Learning that everything doesn’t have to be perfect has also been helpful.
While the circumstances fell into place to make the transition good for his children, he says that “there is a learning that my kids can be ok without the ideal environment. I have to be careful not to idealise those things and recognise that God is with us wherever we go. Also, they are more resilient than I give them credit for.”
How does Matt assess his work now?
For himself his work is to support his family in the best way he can. Part of this is supporting Clare, because her work is significant in bringing God’s justice to people living in poverty.
“We are partners in this. The shape of this partnership means that I take some of the load she carried in the past looking after our family. Previously we were in a context where I was working in church ministry and she was in a Christian organisation. But the Compassion role arose where she could have impact on hundreds of thousands of people. It came down to how could we could serve God best with the gifts we have.”
He builds to a crescendo, “I don’t believe because I am the husband that I have the priority on doing the work that I want to do. Clare has adapted around me previously. I believe that this has to be a two-way dynamic. I want to live out the claim that I believe she has gifts and she now has the chance to use them without sacrificing around me. I feel strongly about this.”
Hope for the future?
Perhaps planting a church. Having discussed the three different stages that William Bridges identifies in his book Transitions (i.e. endings, the middle or neutral zone and beginnings), Matt recognises that he is in the “middle zone” at present. The years pastoring a church ended well, enabling him to settle into this new transition.
“The generosity of the way people treated us was super helpful when leaving our church.” For now, he is enjoying the middle bit. “I’m in that moment experiencing God’s goodness…moments in the day when you just enjoy things.”