Please say hello to Kimberly Knowle-Zeller. She and her husband are both pastors in the Evangelical Lutheran church and live in the incredibly charming sounding town of Cole Camp, Missouri. They currently live in a parsonage, a home that is owned by the church where Stephen, Kimberly’s husband, currently works. It is a little like renting — except your community are essentially your landlords, and there is a lot of history in the home. Welcome, Kimberly!
Cole Camp, Missouri was never on my radar as a place to live. In fact, the state of Missouri was not on that list. But here we are in Cole Camp, population 1,000, located in Central Missouri. Surrounded by farm fields and cows, our town delights in so many ways. There are festivals celebrating German heritage (uur town is made up primarily of people of German descent), farming, music, zucchini, and holidays. There are no traffic lights and only one four-way stop in our town. On any given day you can stroll the main street with its collection of unique shops and restaurants.
My husband, Stephen, and I are both pastors in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. We both said that we never wanted to marry another pastor. But as we’ve learned, you can’t help who you fall in love with.
We met during my final year and his first year of seminary in Columbus, Ohio. Over that year, through mutual friends, a love of gathering people in community around food, and exploring the city, we became more than friends.
One December night with luminaries lighting our way in the village of Columbus, Stephen stopped on a bridge and proposed. Two months later I moved to Missouri for my first call as pastor and we embarked on a long-distance engagement and marriage.
Almost 7 years later we have a rescue dog of mixed breed somewhere between a boxer and bulldog, Lars, and two children, Charlotte, 4.5, and Isaac, 2. Charlotte loves life and brings joy to anyone she meets. She has the same squinty-eye smile as I do that takes up her whole face. She currently loves all things pink, trains, books, Paw Patrol, painting, and playing at the park.
She has a neurological speech disorder called Childhood Apraxia of Speech which means she has had to work for every sound and word she speaks. When she turned 3 years old I couldn’t count 5 words that she spoke. Thanks to months of speech therapy she finally began speaking. Today, still, we go to speech therapy regularly and cheer with every new word.
She loves being a big sister to Isaac who has the same affection for his sister as she does him. The two can be found running up and down our long hallway playing “Hide and seek” or playing catch. He loves trains, books, jumping off of things, climbing things, and anything his sister is doing.
We came to Cole Camp 6 years ago when my husband was called to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. I had been living in an apartment and working 20 miles to the north as a pastor and thanks to colleagues, the Spirit, luck, and lots of prayer, my husband was called to a church in close proximity. St. Paul’s owns a parsonage (a home for their pastor) built in the 1960’s. There was no question about where we would live. It made sense to live in the parsonage across the street from the church and make a home together in Cole Camp.
From the moment we stepped into the house, I could feel the presence of those who had lived here before us. Over the years we’ve heard the stories of the pastors and their families: the children who grew up here, played matchbox cars down the hallway, took first steps, the husband who dug a new garden, the wife who over-landscaped, and the pastor who filled the home with multiple pianos.
It’s a unique situation in which our family and the church both feel a sense of ownership to the house. My husband and I are stewards of this home for the time being. And we know that someday another family will serve this church and make a home for themselves.
Living in a parsonage also means that we don’t necessarily get to make all the decisions about the house. A few years ago the church voted to build a detached garage for the parsonage. Yes, my husband was delighted and continues to find peace in his space, but we do well to remember that it wasn’t built for us, rather for the church. (Although in the driveway leading to the garage, the church members made our daughter’s small handprint in the cement.) Another year at the annual meeting the church needed to vote on whether to put a new roof on the house or not.
Yet, if something breaks or needs a replacement, we can call a member of the church and it’ll be fixed (relatively) quickly.
For the first few years living in Cole Camp I continued to work as a pastor, but after the birth of our first child, Charlotte, I decided to take a leave from call, stepping away from full-time ministry. For the first year of her life she went to work with me, visited members, brought joy and hope, and was passed around on Sunday mornings. Yet, ultimately, I felt called to something new after 5 years as a parish pastor.
Thanks in no small part to living in a parsonage, we have financially been able to live off of one salary. A dream of mine during this leave from full-time ministry was to focus on writing. It’s been a joy and a privilege to have the time with my children but also to write. To use the margins of my day sharing my thoughts, making sense of my dreams and hopes, and capturing the extraordinary moments of this ordinary life.
Seated on our front porch we look out towards the city park, “Charlotte’s park,” as friends refer to it. Someday our children will learn that not every house has a built in park across the street. But for now the park provides hours of play and spontaneous meet-ups with friends. Lots of times the kids will hear the cheers from the park while inside our home and ask to play with their “friends.”
Once a year the town hosts a three-day affair affectionately known as “The World’s Fair,” or more appropriately, the Cole Camp Fair. Children have off from school, friends and family who have moved away come back, and a state highway through the center of town is closed for the duration.
Parades are held every night with beautiful fluffled-flower floats. Tractors and cars and school clubs take part. Throughout the day you can participate in tossing hay bales and peeling an apple core while also browsing hobby collections, produce, and baked goods. For three days we immerse ourselves in community, eat pie and juicy burgers, and celebrate rural life.
One of my biggest worries prior to moving in and knowing we’d be so close to the church was wondering whether people would randomly come to our home unannounced. To be clear, we love hosting and opening our home to others, but with our kids, nap times are sacred. And with a dog that barks at the sound of any car door slamming or doorbell, I prefer no interruptions when kids are resting.
Thankfully, I’ve been pleasantly surprised when the doorbell does ring. Yes, we do get the occasional person asking if we have a key to the church or a request for assistance, but more often than not when I answer the door, I’m met by members bringing fresh produce, pies, or gifts for our children.
When you walk into our house the dog greets you first. As I yell at him to stop barking and go home, the kids generally chime in with their own versions of “home!” and “come on Lars!” Most days a few trains will be scattered on the floor alongside an overturned laundry basket filled with blocks. Books are everywhere. Blankets and pillows lay where we last read books. Our home is lived in complete with a little dust and dog’s hair.
I love the idea of a clean clutter-free home, but I’m less likely to actually do the work. With only so much time, I’d rather spend any free time on writing. Or reading. Or taking adventures with the kids. When the weather’s nice, I like to be outside blowing bubbles from the porch, throwing balls in the yard, sitting at our turquoise picnic table, playing at the water table, or checking out the garden.
So many of my favorite items in our home are from my travels. It’s my desire to share a diversity of culture and people with my children. Through pictures of my time in Africa, our globe, and mementos I’ve acquired, I hope my children will know that the world is big and beautiful and full of amazing people and places to know and love. I hope they’ll open their hearts to people they meet who are different than them and in the process of really knowing their neighbors, they’ll be a part of changing the world.
It’s my hope and prayer that my children remember that in everything they do they are deeply and unconditionally loved. I hope they remember the feeling of a stack of books and reading together on the couch. Safe and loved. I hope they remember the laughter as they tackle and jump on their dad during the after-dinner-before-bed craziness. I hope they remember afternoon painting sessions and the joy in creating. I hope they remember Friday morning waffles and afternoon snacks of O’s and grapes. I hope they remember meeting friends at the park and waving to neighbors on walks, living in a community that values being together in the flesh.
I hope they forget the times I chose to look at my phone rather than their latest art work, or the times I lost my patience for the hundredth time and yelled, signaling that we all needed a break.
Yet, even in those instances, I hope they see me, their mother, but also a woman, doing the best she can, striving to live in the moment, striving to lead a life worth living. A woman who makes mistakes, asks for forgiveness, and models grace day in and day out.
What do I love about living with my kids? The laughter and all the smiles. Even the sneaky smiles telling me that my children are jumping on the couch or sneaking snacks. I love that everyday is new and exciting. That a walk around the neighborhood introduces us to the wonder of a blooming flower or a leaf blowing across the street.
I wish someone had told me (and I had listened) that comparison can rob your soul of its joy. With my daughter’s speech delay I constantly watched other kids her age listening to their speech. I googled and read anything I could get my hands on. I worried to no end about when and if my daughter would ever talk.
In this ever-connected world with social media at our fingertips I realize that I want to model for my children the value of in-real-life connection. Greeting neighbors, bringing food to the family that is welcoming a new baby, and stopping for leisurely conversations on the sidewalk.
This time with my children is a gift, a fleeting one, that I try to treasure and savor each day.
Thank you, Kimberly! It must be so interesting to live in a Parsonage like that. It isn’t quite a rental, but it isn’t quite a home you own either. I love the idea that the congregation is voting on home improvements or repairs. It’s probably nice to let other people worry about those things on occasion. There is something really lovely about the idea that your home is a part of the community at large, and you are just a steward of that space for a time being.
Cole Camp sounds absolutely lovely too. The park across the street, the quiet downtown and the World’s Fair sounds pretty great. That sense of connection and community isn’t always easy to come by. What a privilege to get to experience it and be a central part of it.
Are there local fairs or events where you live? Do you feel connected to and a part of your larger community? Or are you a bit more closed off and reserved?
You Are My Sunshine Handpainted Sign
Home photos by Leslie Lower and family photos by Marie Photography. Kimberly can be found on Facebook or on her website.Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram too.
Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.