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Dr. G. & Friends  |  

Moving On: Surviving the Grief of Forced Termination

As I began reading Moving On by Deanna Harrison, it only took reading the first page of the preface to see the connection between forced termination and grief was significant. It could be a beneficial resource for those who have forced termination as part of their lives.

Deanna Harrison writes these words: 

“But when our ministry at a church we deeply loved came to an abrupt halt, it didn’t take long to realize I had plunged into the depths of grief… Over the next five years, I would work my way through grief as I tried to move on with life.”

As one who has not only worked with wounded clergy over the past eight years but who also experienced a forced termination 11 years ago, I have come to see how grief has a major impact on wounded clergy and their families.

Harrison uses the five stages of grief pioneered by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross over 50 years ago as the framework for Part I of her book with an important distinction from her experience. Rather than speaking of the “stages of grief” that can imply a linear experience, she speaks of them as the “elements of grief.” 

She writes: “My journey amounted to a muddled mess. Two steps forward, one step back. One step forward. Bog down. At times I felt like I was slogging through molasses. But the goal remained the same: moving on.”

I found this book to be a needed approach for those who are “slogging through molasses” and would benefit from some hope of “moving on.” She is very clear that her book is not a “how-to book on getting over a forced resignation.” But by sharing her story, along with input from the stories of others, it is her hope that wounded clergy and their families will learn a new way to live – “We must learn how to move on with life, even while learning to live with sorrow and grief.”

In Part II she moves into some practical areas. “Praying in Grief,” tells about her journey and the value she found in reading the Psalms. “Parenting in Grief” tells about the impact of our grief on infants, toddlers, preschoolers, 5-9-year-olds, preteens, and adolescents. 

In “The Power of Response” she talks about “While we cannot change what has happened, how we respond to what has happened will change us.” Her ”Epilogue” shares what she has learned through her journey in grief while acknowledging that she still has many unanswered questions.

Harrison also includes an appendix, “Resources for Surviving the Grief of Forced Termination”. She lists books as well as ministries (I would add Columbia Presbyterian Seminary’s Ministering to Ministers program through their Center for Lifelong Learning) to help readers along in their healing journey.

Full disclosure: I have been part of that ministry for more then eight years.

She’s also crafted “An Open Letter to Churches” that, according to my wife, “should be given to every church member!”

For me, strengths of Moving On were her conversational and practical approach (not preachy or dogmatic) around the five elements of grief; her approach of weaving appropriate scripture verses in her story; her use of the resources of medical and psychological thought; her inclusion of many practical illustrations from her journey and the journey of others, and her compassionate honesty.

I was deeply appreciative of her willingness to share her story. I believe that sharing our stories with others who are traveling a similar road is an important piece of the healing that can take place over time. Her experience resonated with mine, and her book will be a good resource for me to revisit periodically even after 11 years and recommend to others.

If you’re grieving from a forced termination or are faced with a situation that may lead to forced termination from your church or ministry, consider attending a Wounded Ministers Retreat this year

Rev. T. F. (Skip) Irby, Jr. is a facilitator in the Ministering to Ministers program at the Center for Lifelong Learning. Formerly, he was board chair of the Ministering to Ministers Foundation. To register for an MTM retreat this year, click here.

Dr. G. & Friends