Googling God in the Garden City

10/18 Blog by Tim Akimoff.

I sat at the edge of the hotel bed and leafed casually through the yellow pages. Finding nothing, I opened the laptop and entered this into the search box: missoula alternative churches. There were just a few hours left in my two-day interview trip in the spring of 2006.  And I needed to find a house, a school for the kids and a community to be a part of.

I hate moving. My wife and I have moved sixteen times in sixteen years of marriage. Missoula was our fifteenth.

Once the job details are in place, the salary figured out, the benefits applied for and the 401K secured, the mind turns to the overwhelming thought of trying to learn a new city. Schools, neighborhoods, restaurants, hangouts, hideouts and building new relationships.

Searching for a church might not cross everyone’s mind as something to put on the moving to-do list, but in my experience it’s one of the best ways to ease into a new city.

I’m not a die-hard Sunday church goer by any means, preferring instead to fellowship with good friends and break bread together. But in most cases, churches can offer levels of support you won’t find elsewhere.

When you leave a community, your friends help you pack your belongings, some even help you drive your stuff away, but you are surrounded and comforted as you prepare to leave.

Upon arrival in a new place, you are alone and without your community. Your co workers might offer some good advice, but they are not yet your friends they will become.

When my computer returned the search results, I found what I was looking for. A small community of people where the motto was “Working to renew the city socially, culturally, and spiritually.” They did not meet in a formal church building, and they spent a lot of time loving the city by helping to clean up the river, serving at the local homeless shelter and supporting local artists.

I made a phone call to one of the pastors inquiring whether he knew of anyone with a spare room I could stay in until I found a house for my family. He offered his own spare room, and within a few weeks, I had a small community where I found friendships and help navigating some of the more difficult parts of getting to know a new city. I had friends who helped me move into my own place, and we even found babysitters to help us with our complicated work schedules.

Community takes time to build, but a good church is a good place to find a community in which to plant yourself. In this suburban world we live in, neighbors are not always as helpful as we remember from the movies, and co workers don’t always have the time to devote to your needs in a new city.

When I got my first paycheck after working the first two weeks in Missoula, I realized that the taxes from the moving expenses were taken out of that check, resulting in a lot less money than we needed to pay rent and bills. The church had a mercy account for such things, and one of the pastors delivered a check to my wife that allowed us to make our budget that month.

Looking back on the last three years in Missoula, that Google search proved to be the best thing I did in preparing to move here. Our community extends well beyond the church into many aspects of this particular society, but our church is where it all began, and our church community has walked with us through all the highs and lows.

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Tim Akimoff is an explorer interested in writing. Since most of the world’s great regions have been explored, he turned his attention to those great adventures still remaining. Family, community and social justice. He prefers living in states without a sales tax. With Oregon and Montana in the rear view, he has his sights set on the last frontier –Alaska.