My family and I moved to Missoula almost exactly one year ago so I could take on the duties of Senior Pastor at University Congregational Church of Missoula. This article provides a great opportunity to reflect back what I’ve seen in my new home town.
First, it’s not just the views. Yes, it’s gorgeous here, but that’s not the best thing about Missoula. The best thing is that the people here have been so gosh darn nice. From the grocery clerks (Fresh Market on Reserve is the BEST) to the mayor’s office to the guests at the Poverello Center (who have a habit of applauding their volunteer meal servers), the people with whom we’ve interacted have been amazingly helpful and kind.
With all that niceness, though, I hear a lot about how disconnected people feel from each other. My pastoral colleagues and I have noticed an increasing sense of loneliness, especially among younger people. A lot of our people are extremely busy; they work multiple jobs, serve on multiple boards, volunteer everywhere, but they don’t feel like they have real friends and this is an ache in their hearts.
That sense of separation from each other shows up on a macro level with very strong divides between the rich and poor in our community. The housing crisis threatens to create a permanent underclass with fixes eluding the most dedicated efforts. This may be the single greatest threat to the livability of our town.
Second, oh my it’s beautiful here. I feel like I’ve lived through a series of postcards in a year. The emerald greens of May give way to shimmering golds of July, then the fireworks of autumn light up the trees only to be cooled by the snowy blues and whites of winter. As a transplant from western Oregon, I learned how to drive in the snow and, that at 24 degrees, I didn’t need to take a jacket if I was just going out to the store.
In this first year, we’ve been told that every season has been “unusual” in some way — a too wet spring, a too warm summer, a too long autumn and a much too cold winter. We’ve been fine through all of it, but the facts of climate change worries long-time Montanans who are seeing more and more threats to the land they love.
Moving to Montana has been an act of faith all along. These larger concerns about affordable housing, climate change and loneliness, have all held their place in my personal transitions and show up significantly in the ministry of my church. For me, faith is about leaning into these transitions with the trust that more grace and more hope will emerge. With all of it, I am grateful for my first year in my new home.