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My First Home

The house beckons, but pastor has a higher calling

-Jane Martin

It wasn’t until I was 56 that I lived in my very own home. In my work as a pastor, I had lived in parsonages for all my adult life. These homes have had their charms, and the congregations I served have always faithfully cared for our needs. My husband, three children, and I have been very blessed. And yet . . .

There is something very powerful about living in your very own home. As a farmer’s daughter with deep ties to the land, “place” has always been very sacred to me. Following my call to ministry from community to community has come at a cost to my spirit.

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My father grew up down the road, at the big house, where most of the apple farm is located. When my father and mother were dating, my father bought additional acres, and they got engaged on this property. And on this property, they built the “Little House.” It was here that they raised five kids. And when my father took over the farm from my grandfather, our large family moved back to the homestead, and Grandpa moved into the Little House. When Grandpa passed, the house was empty, and my husband and I bought it to have in retirement.

We so treasure our Granville home that I suspect that when people hear us talk about it, and then actually see it, they wonder whether we are of sound mind! In this day of walk-in closets, en suite bathrooms, and open floor plans, our Little House is small and simple. And yet, to us it is a palace.

Imagine our deep joy when we were called to serve a church just a few miles away, one without a parsonage. That is how it happened that for the first time in my adult life I was able to live in my own home.

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The kitchen with the farmer’s white-enamel sink is made from pine boards harvested off the farm. One of the knotty-pine cupboards has a bullet embedded in it, from one of the many generations of deer hunters who walked the farm. There is no dishwasher, and the kitchen had only apartment-size appliances. I have been so reluctant to change a thing. Though I did finally relent and allow my husband to install a full-size refrigerator!

On one of the walls, my mother had hung copper-like Jell-O molds in various shapes. I remember she bought them with her S&H Green Stamps. They have hung there so long that when you take them down, the shapes are still outlined on the wall.

We did turn one of the tiny bedrooms, once shared by my two younger brothers, into a lovely bathroom. And we added a bathroom upstairs, where there are two bedrooms. The bedrooms have child-sized built-in bureaus and closets. One room offers a desk, the other a bookshelf. There are dormer windows in this sweet Cape-style house.

Our time lasted four years.

I have been called on to serve a church away from here, and so we have moved again to another parsonage. It has three floors and is a beautiful old home. The church is spirited and gifted. It is a privilege to serve as pastor to this new congregation.

I feel a certain peace, however, when I walk in the door on our day off. The first thing we do is take a walk around the land to see what is growing. My husband, a retired hospital chaplain, has a farmer’s heart. He has been able to keep up the garden he cherishes. Over the years, he has planted a few apple and peach trees and raspberry and blueberry bushes. He cuts and splits and stacks wood for the fireplace. Our flower gardens are more beautiful each year. Many of the plants come from the gardens of my great Aunt Doris. Daisies and iris, morning glories, hydrangea, and forsythia blossom and bloom.

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When it is time to leave, I walk around the home and whisper a goodbye to our beloved Little House.

My Dad is in a nursing home now. My mother has gone on to heaven, as have my great aunt and my uncle, who both lived just down the road. My sister who built a house in the orchard has moved on. My brother has taken over the farm. During the holidays, I found myself looking back and filled with the bittersweet memories of generations past. Amid so many changes in my life and in the world, I look ahead with hope and faith. Grateful for my roots and for our home, I lift up my heart to the One “who has been our dwelling place for all generations.” (Psalm 90)


The Rev. Valerie M. Roberts-Toler is pastor of Blackstone Valley United Methodist Church in Northbridge. Send comments to valrt@comcast.net. E-mail your 600-word essay on your first home to Address@globe.com. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we will not pursue.

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