Moving in Place

On April 30, 2021, the United Theological College packed its bags and moved in with Montreal Dio. A week after the move, I found myself wondering about an upcoming meeting, “Where will we meet now that the building is sold?”  The virtual world—in which we had connected, learned, taught, planned, and worshipped for over a year—was, surprisingly, anchored in physical space. It took a moment to realize, “Of course, we’re still meeting on Zoom!”

My parents were life-long pilgrims. With four small children in tow, they left their ancestral home, my birthplace, in the United Kingdom. We went to Jamaica, then to rural Quebec, then small towns in Ontario. By Grade 10, I had lived in six different houses (and one caravan) and attended seven schools. I know others with similar experiences, and I envy those who have lived in the place where their grandparents were born. In my ministry I have continued to move, living and working in many different communities on several continents. My 10 years in Montreal at UTC set a personal lifetime record for staying in place.

As human beings we need our feet on solid ground, however much we move, however much we live in our imaginations or occupy virtual spaces. We have bodies, bodies that need to be located somewhere. And yet God calls us to be a people on the move.

The way I reconcile this tension is to learn. To be curious about the place I am in, to notice and learn the details of the human and natural world. I linger in forests and rooms; l learn the names of people and of trees. I have learned how to grieve departures but not for long, to be grateful for welcome and the gifts of a new place, to make friends, and to embrace change. I have learned how to move in somewhere and to plant my feet. I hope that I have also learned how to let God move and change me.

These are gifts, honed through moving, that I bring to this newly forming community at Dio-UTC:
Curiosity about Dio’s quirks and gifts—attic crevices, self-willed printers, the beauty of wood and stone, personal stories;
Gratitude for welcome, for all the ways the Dio community has opened its doors and its heart to UTC. Gratitude also for the gifts change brings as we learn to live together;
Openness to change and to new relationships; a desire to connect deeply;
Skills to attach things to Dio’s fragile walls and to help us create places that feel like home.

Dio and UTC are in motion, accommodating, adapting, adjusting. We are learning one another’s idiosyncrasies. We are on the move, as we seek spaces large enough and safe enough to gather during a Pandemic and as we create new circles of belonging. We are heeding God’s call to journey to new places of witness and of service.

My prayer for this time is that we notice and give thanks for God’s faithful presence amid change, that we let the turbulent Spirit blow us where it will, and that we heed Jesus’ call to love one another not merely “with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:18).

This message was written by Dr. Alyson Huntly, Director of United Church Studies, for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community.