Clergy Wellness Corner: Seeking Support

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By the Rev. Dr. Mary Boyd | Langley UMC

When I was appointed as pastor of a church in Seattle a few years ago, I was informed that the church faced an important task. We needed to disclose the sexual misconduct of a pastor who had served the congregation many years earlier. Aware that this would be an emotionally charged situation, we took plenty of time to prepare. I worked with the SPR and our District Superintendent, Elaine Stanovsky. Stephanie Hixon of Just Peace guided us as well. I read books about clergy sexual misconduct and how churches recover. It felt like we had done all that we could to get ready, but I still felt some anxiety about the upcoming meeting.

Rev. Dr. Mary Boyd
Rev. Dr. Mary Boyd

As the day for that event grew closer, I felt that I needed to talk with someone about all that was happening. It simply wasn’t appropriate for me to do that with other church members, or even family and friends. I needed a safe place to dump all of my thoughts and fears, a place where I could be heard. So I called Samaritan Counseling Center and made an appointment with a therapist. It was so good to talk with someone who understood. At the time I wrote, “I spoke with [the therapist] yesterday. It was good to lay out my fears.” My therapist just happened to have been an after-pastor, a clergy person who serves in the aftermath of an announcement of clergy sexual misconduct. He understood some of the dynamics of our situation, and it helped so much to have someone I could talk to about my own feelings.

It didn’t solve everything of course. Right before we had the congregational meeting I wrote:

I feel shaking and drained. I’m trying to be the non-anxious presence, but somehow it’s taking an incredible amount of energy. I want to prepare as well as I can and am afraid that I am missing something somewhere. My head knows that there is really no way to prepare for this, but my heart isn’t listening. O Lord, why did you bring me to this place, where I walk the dark paths with hurting people? “When through the deep waters I cause thee to go, the rivers of woe shall not thee overflow; for I will be with thee thy troubles to bless, and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.”

The announcement went as well as it could. Since the misconduct happened many years before, there were many who didn’t know the pastor involved, and others who were unaware of what happened. Even so, the truth telling was important so that the congregation might move into a healthier future.

I ended up continuing to work with my therapist long after the announcement of sexual misconduct. It was a good connection for me. It helped to have someone to listen as the congregation faced other challenges, other decisions. One of his professional strengths and interests was negotiating changes and transitions, and that’s what I needed most to help the church do. His wisdom and insight guided me. I learned how invaluable it was to have a safe place where I could express my fears, concerns, and doubts, as well as my dreams and hopes.

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