A North Carolina church has tapped into a mission field it hopes other congregations might emulate by helping people on the move.
A pastor and volunteers at Circle of Mercy in Asheville say the church’s moving ministry combines muscle power, fellowship and pastoral care to accompany congregation and community members through difficult moves.
“Let’s be honest: All moves are difficult because moving is a very emotionally draining process,” said founding co-Pastor Ken Sehested.
Mercy Movers is an expression of both ministry and mission because it flows from the congregation’s calling to be peacemakers, he said. “It’s a good illustration of how ordinary peacemaking works. It’s one way we invest in each other’s loves. And it’s a pastoral ministry because moving is a tumultuous time in any person’s life and it makes a big difference to have a group of friends around to help.”
The ministry was launched more than 20 years ago when members attending a church potluck were informally organizing a fellow member’s move. Since then, about 45 moves have been carried out by Mercy Movers volunteers ranging in age from 6 to 84.
The sophistication of the assistance has grown with each move, Sehested said. “We’ve seen an accumulation of wisdom over the years.”
That includes learning how to coach movers on packing, arranging child care or pet care during moves, providing a rented moving van and making sure at least one or two volunteers with pickup trucks are available on moving day.
Volunteers also have learned to hire professional movers for especially heavy or large appliances or furniture, he said. “And we always have a number of cars parked close to the trucks so we can more safely transport lamps and electronics and other more breakable items.”
But preventing broken spirits is also the ministry’s purpose, he said. “People are always surprised by how much stuff they have and how emotional packing can be. And if they have kids or pets and a work schedule, that puts pressure on getting this all done as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
Mercy Movers coordinator Karl Kauffman said he was drawn to the team because he went through 11 moves after high school. That experience helped him both identify with the anxiety of the process and the skills needed to get the work done.
“It’s just in my blood that I know how stressful it can be,” he said. “You’re putting all your belongings into boxes and you’re in that in-between space and being in that limbo (between residences) is just hard and stressful on a lot of people.”
No wonder then that huge smiles and tears usually greet Mercy Movers volunteers when they arrive in force at residences, he explained.
“There is always a sense of gratitude. I have seen relief on people’s faces when we show up with a crew of 10 to 12 people, and our crews aren’t messing around. They show up and they start moving boxes.”
Kauffman said he gets a feeling of participating in authentic ministry during moves. “For me it’s doing something for others that needs to be done and that I can do. It just comes down to service and being true hands and feet.”
Helping with moves often is an enjoyable, stress-relieving time, said volunteer Susanne Walker Wilson.
“What’s fun is to be together with people you like and to work hard together,” she explained. “I love it because kids are welcome right alongside older folks and maybe they are only carrying a lamp shade. Everybody is welcome.”
Participants also typically bring pizza, donuts or other food to the moves, which provides another spiritual dimension to the gatherings, she said. “It definitely feels like breaking bread and sweating hard and just doing the things that need doing, and that’s Jesus’ story. This ministry is a way we can hold one another and walk alongside one another.
“We’re not supposed to do this life alone, and we can’t do a move alone. Paying strangers for a move is not the early church model.”
In January, ministry members helped a family restart their lives by moving them into a new home after the father had experienced struggles with addiction and homelessness. And the family was not connected to Circle of Mercy, Walker Wilson added.
“It was fun to be doing this with a family that had no intention of worshiping with us and who we were not trying (to proselytize),” she said. “We just showed up to be the hands and feet for them. We rented a truck and brought pizza and we sat on their porch and there was a profound sense of gratitude all around.”