by Becky De Oliveira—
I moved to Colorado with my family in 2014, and Boulder Adventist Church was only my children’s third church. As a pastoral family, we haven’t moved around as much as some do, and even when my husband has changed jobs (church to conference, for instance) we’ve been able to stay in our house and community.
I was nervous about moving to Colorado from Andrews University where my kids and I flew safely under the radar. Japhet wasn’t “the pastor;” he was the chaplain. There is a slight but significant distinction, and I knew I’d had it easy for a long time. At Boulder we would live in a fishbowl, under a microscope, the beneficiaries of continued scrutiny, so I was told. I remembered it from England—the way people would pay attention to my clothes, to the way I handled my children. The massive ace I carried in my pocket in the UK was my status as a foreigner; because I was American the judgment fell less harshly. People made allowances for whatever I did, kindly assuming cultural differences or pure ignorance. I knew I would receive no such free pass at Boulder. “Ugh,” I said to myself when I thought about it.
We arrived on a Wednesday, as did a pair of Australian houseguests who politely stepped over the clutter of unpacked or semi-unpacked boxes as they used our parsonage as a base for travel around greater Denver. Our oldest son started high school the very next day. There were flowers on the porch when we arrived, with a short note welcoming us. (Japhet had already been living in the area for more than eight months, staying with a generous couple who provided him a room and sense of family.) Maybe the flowers don’t sound like a huge deal; perhaps many churches extend gestures like this. But none we’d ever encountered. The flowers were only the beginning. In the five years Japhet served as Boulder church pastor, a role he only left this past summer, church members went far above and beyond the call of duty to make us feel loved and welcome. Birthday and Christmas gifts. Lunches and dinners out. Excursions across the state to experience more of our new home. An anonymous donor provided our youngest son with an intensive educational experience that made a huge difference to his learning and confidence. Two couples took our oldest son on a medical mission trip to Belize, an experience that he enjoyed and that proved important for his college applications later on. We often received random gift cards for Whole Foods or Flatirons Coffee. Our kids received bicycles. But best of all was the unconditional friendship offered by so many people in the church—whether or not my husband always did exactly as they wished. My children were not criticized or harassed. Having heard firsthand or read about nightmarish stories of pastoral family bullying, I cannot express how relieved I am to have raised my kids more or less to adulthood without any major church-induced trauma.
When Japhet took a job in California this summer and decided to commute for a couple of years while I finish my doctoral work and our youngest son completes high school, a few people encouraged us to find another church, to give the new pastor “space.” We’re absolutely giving Pastor Jenniffer Ogden (who is fabulous!) space, but we’re sticking with our people, with our community. “Where else could we possibly go?” I asked Japhet, rhetorically. “These are our people; we have no others in this place. We love these people.”
Becky De Oliveira is a teacher, writer, and graphic designer working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado. This piece appears in the Winter 2019 edition of Mountain Views.