April 19, 2012

God Forgives but Churches Don't--at least their Clergy

Had an interesting conversation the other day. This came from a layperson at the church involved. It seems that a long-time pastor acquaintance confessed to having an addiction to her congregation. She did so publicly in her sermon. She explained that she was in counseling and had overcome the addiction with the help of God. It appeared to have gone well. There were sympathetic nods, but no one said anything more--at least not to her. But when appointment time came around, the church demanded that she move. Frankly, they didn't care where she went. They said that would sooner close the doors of their church than have her as a pastor. And when word spread, the church she was projected to go also declined her, using the same reasoning.

This incident raises all kinds of issues and questions. Was it unwise for the pastor to confess anything and publicly at that? Was the church's response justified? Given the rates of relapse, were the people in any danger from the pastor's addiction? How should the DS have responded? (I forgot to say that the DS acted surprised about the whole matter.)

We all know that clergy are human and, therefore, suffer from the same foibles and temptations as those in the congregation. I am sure there are people with addictions in every congregation, many to whom the pastor ministers. Might overcoming an addiction make the pastor a better counselor, a better pastor? Sadly, this pastor will not get the chance.

What is also sad is that, with this particular addiction, the congregation has a right to be concerned. But the question remains, who ministers to the pastor? If we are on this Christian journey together, what is the most loving thing to do?

Grace, Kathy


  1. What a strange situation! Did she mean she just wanted to stay there forever? That's not what Methodist pastors agree to when they take their vows. I think I would want her to move also, if she felt only SHE could pastor that church.Maybe there is a "bit" of narcissism in her addiction to wanting her church to just follow her leadership. Please, let's talk about this. Maybe someone can help me understand why a pastor would feel this way.

  2. After rereading your opening statement I seem to have misread your intent with "addiction to her congregation." You really meant an "addiction" that she confessed to her congregation. Yes, I think she does need to step down even then until she has recovered with helpful treatment. Other pastors or congregations probably could not provide for her as well as professional counseling. Sorry I misread your blog. Nona

    1. Yes, looks like I did goof. The pastor was not addicted to your congregation but she does have an addiction. In an effort to keep things confidential, I don't want to say what her addiction is.

  3. Without knowing what the 'addiction' is, it's hard to form an opinion. I've know of ministers in our conference who regularly go to AA meetings because of their addiction. Their congregations know. It's unfortunate the minister did not first talk with the DS about her desire to share the addiction news with the congregation. Perhaps she would have been advised to not share this information or to share it in a different manner.