April 2, 2018—I have had many restless nights and feel the Lord is nudging me to tell my side of what actually happened to my husband and me. Many people have been hurt by the termination of my husband from the church he pastored. I need to tell my story for two reasons. I want to offer some insight so people who serve on the church staff committee will “step up to the plate” and claim ownership of what is happening in their church. And, I need catharsis in order to move on.
Imagine with me that Monday afternoon in a late September. My husband received a call from the head of church staff relations telling him the committee wishes to meet with him that same night. Imagine with me that night when my husband comes home and tells me that he was literally “chewed up and spit out” by the committee members. They told him how awful he was at most everything he did, and they strongly suggested he update his profile. Updating his profile meant that he should begin looking for a new job.
My husband was also told not to say anything to anyone about this meeting. Looking back, I wondered for whose benefit the silence was intended, the people who initiated this crisis, the church, or for my husband and me. During the days following, my husband sought to bring in a mediator to help with this conflict, but these same people said a mediator was not needed and that it was time for my husband to move on. They were very clear that they wanted a change of leadership. My husband reluctantly agreed to update his profile but told the committee he was not going to take the first thing that came along. He also told them he did not wish to relocate if at all possible. He remained hopeful that the conflict might be resolved.
We were very upset by all that had taken place so quickly. For many nights we cried and could not sleep. I went to the staff relations committee in January to let them know how hurt I was over the way they had handled my husband. I later received a note from one of the members expressing some empathy for our feelings.
For six months my husband sent his profile out to a number of churches. Almost every month someone from the staff relations committee wanted an update on his progress in finding another church. We were under enormous pressure. In July, after returning from a much-needed vacation, the staff relations committee met with my husband and told him they wanted him gone by the end of August. This decision had been made while we were away.
I could barely attend church because I felt everyone was talking behind our backs. I wondered if I had any friends in the church. I would become physically sick on Sunday mornings and slip into the sanctuary just before worship began, and hurriedly depart once it was over. I found it almost impossible to talk with anyone in the church because I was so hurt. I placed myself at the back of the church or in the balcony near a small group of people that I felt reasonably comfortable with. They would at least smile at me. I was there only to support my husband. I hurt for him because he was basically alone when he was at church. He had no one to go to and felt no support for his ministry. t struck me that he was like “Daniel in the lion’s den.” It is sad when the church is unwilling to comfort its own.
My husband read his letter of resignation on the Sunday after the terrorist attack on September 11. Two weeks later he had to leave after twenty-five years of ministry. Imagine what it must have been like for my husband. He experienced the death of that which he had done for so long. I have watched him grieve his loss. And while he still cares for the people he served for twenty-five years, I, on the other hand, have distanced myself from them. It hurts too much to face them.
I am deeply grateful that my husband attended a wellness retreat sponsored by the Ministering to Ministers Foundation. He was with other ministers who had been forced from their position. My husband is very gifted. A church could not ask for a kinder, gentler, caring, forgiving and loving pastor. In spite of all he endured he still maintains a strong faith. He remained quiet through it all and did not speak out because he did not want to divide the church.
Why are some ministers identified as the problem and become a scapegoat for some churches? I don’t know what will happen to the church we left after twenty-five years. I hope only for wonderful results for the sake of Christ.
Editors Note: The Author’s name is omitted to maintain confidentiality for the persons involved. Reprinted by permission.
The Center for Lifelong Learning has partnered with the Ministering to Ministers Foundation to help address the crises of clergy forced termination. If you have experienced a forced termination from your ministry consider attending the Healthy Transitions Wellness Retreats for Ministers and Spouses retreat during October 8-11, 2018 for clergy and their spouses at the Center for Lifelong Learning. Below, a participant in a previous retreat shares her story.
Healthy Transitions Wellness Retreats for Ministers and Spouses is part of the Pastoral Excellence Program of the Center for Lifelong Learning. If you have experienced a forced termination, or are in the midst of conflict that may lead to a decision to leave your church, this event is for you and your spouse. If you know of a ministry colleague who may benefit from this experience, please recommend the retreat. Space is limited, please register early.