Caring for Pastors through Difficult Transitions
Derek Van Dalen is currently a student at Providence Theological Seminary, Manitoba
Helping people to recognize and experience the presence of God is what pastors are called to do. This holy work is often rewarding to the churches as well as the pastors and their families. These fruitful experiences can involve complex interactions between the pastor, their family, and the faith community they serve.
The unique working relationship that clergy and their spouses have with the faith communities they serve has received increasing scholarly attention over the past ten years. Dr. Marcus Tanner (2015) has noted that clergy and their spouses are particularly vulnerable to difficulties when they experience a forced termination from the church where the clergy is employed. Tanner indicates that clergy have a uniquely complex relationship with their congregations, where, in addition to being the place of employment and source of livelihood, the congregations are also the central spiritual and relational communities for clergy and their spouses. Unlike many other occupations or careers, the family of clergy often volunteer in the same community where they derive their livelihood. With these varied and significant connections, forced termination of clergy can result in the clergy and family members experiencing spiritual and emotional distress.
Terms and definitions are important. Tanner (2015) suggests that a forced termination is an involuntary removal from a paid or un-paid clergy position that is psychologically, emotionally, socially and/or spiritually distressing. A forced termination is not for cause and could include a formal separation as well as resigning or leaving a congregation under duress. The experience of clergy and their families leading up to and after the forced termination can be very difficult.
You might know of the experience of a person who has been dismissed from their job without cause. Understandably they might have experienced humiliation, self-doubt, stigmatization, and exhaustion. When parishioners had these difficult experiences, as a pastor, I was glad that the church was available to provide relational, spiritual, and at times financial support to the person and their family. While clergy and their families experiencing a forced termination can also struggle with the loss of employment, they can face the additional loss of their relational and faith communities. As a result, clergy and their family can experience additional distress, including possibly navigating their healing journey alone.
I have found the work of Dr. Tanner helpful in understanding the experiences of some of my clergy colleagues as well as some of my own experiences as a pastor in the wake of forced termination. As a way of supporting clergy and the churches they serve, I have designed a small research project following the design of the qualitative study described in Tanner (2015). Whereas Tanner examined the experiences of American clergy, I am hopeful that focusing more closely on Canadian clergy will help raise awareness about the experiences of forced termination of clergy in Canada.
I am starting to recruit participants for my study and hope to interview at least five Canadian clergy and their partners. To participate, clergy members would need to have experienced a forced termination between one and five years ago and be available for a virtual interview (over Zoom) lasting approximately one hour. Please share this opportunity as you are able, so that potential participants would consider volunteering to support this project by confidentially sharing their stories with me. I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Derek Van Dalen is currently a student at Providence Theological Seminary, Manitoba, where he is completing a Master of Arts degree in Counselling Psychology. Previously Derek has served as a pastor in local churches in North America for 20 years. Derek is ordained in the Christian Reformed Church of North America.
What We Are Reading
Exiting COVID: Post-Pandemic Guidepost
Although we are in the midst of the COVID-19 fourth wave, this white paper report by Cardus might be a moment to pause and reflect on what we have learned so far, how we are faring, what went better or worse than expected, and lastly, where we might go from here.
The white paper report is broken down into two sections. The first part of the report covers a broad perspective of expert opinions on questions around COVID-19:
Is the pandemic a reset of society or an acceleration of current trends?
What are values?
Whom can we trust?
What is science?
Do we understand risk?
Is Justice technocratic?
What do we mean by government?
The author(s) of the white paper draw on a number of resources to describe, assess, and give a hi-level picture of the issues around the pandemic.
In the second part, the white paper drills down into a number of sectors showing stress points. These sectors include education, family, work and labour, social solidarity and charity, trade and geopolitics, and rights, freedoms, and democracy. This second section might be the most helpful for pastoral and congregational leaders helping understand what the broader society in these sectors are thinking about and the ways that they are responding to the pandemic. More importantly, this report gives the opportunity for pastoral leaders and congregations to respond pastorally and theologically to our common life together as a society and to move forward in an informed, thoughtful, and hopefully engaging way.
Dr. Arch Wong is Professor of Practical Theology at Ambrose University and Associate Director of the Flourishing Congregations Institute.
Resources for Church Leaders
Love Without Limits - September 30th, 2021
Session 2 5:00pm EDT | 6pm Halifax | 2pm Vancouver
Jesus taught us to both love our neighbour and to go make disciples. Join Cardinal Tagle, Nicky Gumbel and friends on September 30th for an honest conversation around how we can live out this calling in the modern world. Register Here.
From The Trenches: From Classroom to Conversion: Integrating RCIA in the Life of the Parish
October 5th, 2021 - 10am Central, 11am Eastern
RCIA is understood by many as a series of Catholic classes, often offered from September to Easter, that are required to come into the Church. However, the documents of the church propose something quite different. Join us for a conversation with special guests who have helped transition to year-round conversion models of RCIA integrated into the life of the parish. Register Here.
Master Class on Canadian Indigenous Realities and the Canadian Church with Ray Aldred
Every second Wednesday, Sept 22nd – Dec 1st
3:00 – 4:30pm (MST)
The Residential School tragedy highlights the need for senior church leaders to examine the Church’s prevailing Indigenous perspectives and practices. This course aims at helping build a healthy respect for Indigenous identity as “other”, neither vilifying or idealizing, but seeking to become an ally.
Throughout this six-class course, you’ll explore the topics of Indigenous religion and spirituality (Indigenizing theology); treaties, both ancient and contemporary (Indigenous Story and Land and the role of preaching); a brief history of the interaction between the Church and Indigenous Peoples (The Indigenous Christ); finally, the history of reconciliation in Canada (Indigenous conceptions of identity and evangelism). Through this, you’ll develop a healthy respect for Indigenous Peoples to help build a climate of collaboration within your life and community. Register Here.
Resources for Safer Church Re-Opening
Want to increase confidence in your congregation and community; to increase your knowledge; and to share what you've learned over the past year?
Join Dr. Bridget Stirling (epidemiologist and former missionary), a team of public health specialists, and church leaders from around the world in the ARCC.
The Application to Reduce Communicable Diseases in Churches (ARCC) is a program that increases safety through Risk self-assessments and guidance, church-specific training and an interactive forum. Visit us at stirlingharmston.com
Researching the Impacts of Covid-19 on Congregations
Several research studies are emerging on the impacts of Covid-19 on congregations. Click Here to learn from these data-driven insights.