Walking With instead of Walking Away: Fourth essay in the Care for Clergy Series.This is the fourth essay in the Care for Clergy in Difficult Calls writing project. The Rev. Dennis Fotinos writes:
One model for ministering to clergy in distress that I find worthy of emulation is one I came to know about while serving in the Diocese of Texas. The ELCA Synod that was reasonably contiguous with the Episcopal Diocese of Texas had a policy which I felt is worthy of consideration by the Episcopal Church. It may be that the Lutheran Synod’s policy is simply the national policy for the ELCA. This policy has to do with clergy who are in distress or conflict and whose situation comes to the attention of the judicatory leadership. In those cases, the judicatory, (Lutheran bishop) assigns the pastor who is in a conflicted or crisis situation a chaplain who does not report to the bishop, and who is charged to maintain total confidentiality in relationship to their “charge”. This chaplain provides spiritual guidance and support throughout whatever subsequent process may ensue. This ministry is provided to all clergy in conflict or crisis no matter how heinous the actions/behavior of the clergy involved. I am aware of a much beloved senior Lutheran pastor who was charged and convicted of numerous counts of pedophilia and who has been sentenced to life in prison. From the time the allegations first emerged a chaplain was assigned who has walked with him throughout this journey through the courts and appeals, and final verdict, and sentencing, and who continues to minister to him in jail. Another chaplain was assigned to the pastor’s wife to provide her and their adult children with support and ministry. The family has also received psychological counseling to help them process this painful experience.
Most of us (clergy) would do this for our parishioners. It seems to me that we would/should do at least this much for our clergy colleagues who are experiencing a crisis…whether of their own doing or the result of other complex factors that are part of parish life.
In another situation, a Lutheran pastor was being attacked by some members of the congregation who were seeking to get rid of the pastor. Again, the Bishop assigned a chaplain to the pastor, and offered to assist with expenses related to professional training in addition to counseling for the pastor. In this case, the pastor availed themselves of the support, counseling, and training, and was able to engage support from lay members who were not aligned with those creating the conflict, and the pastor and parish worked through the conflict. Several of those who led the attack on the pastor ended up leaving the congregation, but, according to a consultant I know, the parish is much healthier as a result. In this case both the clergy and the congregation learned incredibly valuable lessons through the experience and came out much stronger and more effective in their ministries.
Find link to all the essays here.