What happens when the religious leader in a community loses their belief in God? For some it’s a secret they hide. For others it means the end of their vocation. For some it’s a temporary thing. And for some it’s become a reason to seek support from others in a similar state.
Talk of the Nation yesterday interviewed a former Methodist pastor who lost her faith after nine years in the ordained ministry. She now describes herself as an atheist and she’s left the church. When she went public with her news, there was a quite a controversy in her community. She ultimately found help in a group called “The Clergy Project”, an online support group for current and former pastors who’ve lost their faith.
From the show’s transcript:
“BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY, BYLINE: You know, it’s really hard to tell how big a phenomenon this is. Apparently in The Clergy Project, there are a couple – there are around 200 past or current clergy who have anonymously come forward to this Clergy Project, this group, and said, you know, I want out, or I am out, and I can help other people get out.
I think since the story aired, about another 25 have joined, as well. So it’s hard to know how big a phenomenon it is partly because who do you talk to if you’re a clergy, right? It’s not something that you talk to people openly about. I mean, everything – your whole world, your friends, your community, your career, everything depends on being a clergy. So I think this is one of those secrets that people really hold in. It’s hard to know.
I suspect, given the reaction that we’ve had to this story, that there are a lot of people out there who have the kind of questions that Teresa has talked about, and other people that I interviewed for this story have talked about, as well.
I suspect there are some people, a lot of people out there like that, but they maybe haven’t wanted to address the questions, and so it’s still fairly private.”
It’s a long transcript but worth spending the time to read. There’s been a lot of thought given to wellness financial stability for clergy with the hope that keeping experienced people working in the church will be good for the congregations they serve. But are there any major initiatives within the Episcopal Church to support clergy going through a crisis of faith? What about for the laity? It’s probably not enough to say that their clergy will provide all they need in such a moment.