So what have we done, so far, in transitioning from Washington to Michigan?
The first point to make is that I’m a pastor and my move from Washington to Michigan was occasioned by my accepting a pastorate here. So the first step in transition was the candidating process itself.
Initially, I was contacted by the leadership of this church about an application that I’d sent to them. All that I knew about the area was that it was north of Detroit, Michigan. I did know a bit about the church from its website. Helpfully, the church had pictures of the building and people so I could get some sense of what the surrounding neighborhood was like. I had no idea what the area was really like when I sent the application. When I was contacted, I immediately attempted to orient myself to the area.
One of the first steps was looking up the city the church is in – Sterling Heights – in Wikipedia.
I then looked at satellite pictures using Google Earth. I found out, for example, that Sterling Heights is home to a couple of automotive and aerospace assembly plants. So that tells me that there is a manufacturing base to the local economy.
I then found out that Sterling Heights (#61) was on the Money magazine’s list of the top 100 medium-sized cities in the United States (http://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/bplive/2008/snapshots/PL2676460.html ). That was fortunate as that article let me know about the city’s strengths and relative weaknesses. I then began to appreciate that Sterling Heights was a mid-sized suburban city within the state of Michigan.
I then caught some news and was interested to see that the McCain-Palin campaign stopped for a major event in the city – which told me that the city had some importance in the area.
I started doing some searches using Google maps such as “banks,” “restaurants,” “school,” and even “church.” I learned that there was a clear shopping district, that the area seemed solidly middle-class, and there were several churches nearby. Barb and I joked about seeing some of our favorite restaurants were nearby.
So I constructed a tentative 'mental model' of what Sterling Heights was like. Of course, after collecting such raw “data,” the key thing was the first visit where I could see with my own eyes what the place was like and adjust my model. I was pleased – the place seemed even better than I’d thought. After meeting the people and joking about being a west coast boy out of his element, that actually helped to bring out – in natural conversation - potential differences and points of adjustment.
A couple of first impressions:
1) this place is flat. On the west coast, there’s always a mountain range in view and so it is pretty easy to get your bearings. Here, you have to be a bit more aware of the sun’s position and how the streets are laid out.
2) The road surfaces are not very good. Now the reason is plain – this part of the country regularly gets freezing weather and develops pot holes and cracked concrete.
3) Drivers are more aggressive here. This is actually a welcome change. I grew up in the Los Angeles basin where, it was once quipped, “you’re either the quick, or the dead.” Washington and Oregon drivers, by comparison, drive like old ladies. I appreciate driving in a place where people actually seem to want to get somewhere.
So the first phase of our transition was just getting good information about the place.