Samford Retreat Will Offer Help For Dismissed Clergy

Samford University's Resource Center for Pastoral Excellence (RCPE) will host a Ministering to Ministers wellness retreat July 29-August 2.

About a dozen clergy members from Alabama and three other states are expected for the event, which is designed to assist ministers who have been dismissed from their churches.

"Ministering to Ministers offers a unique resource to clergy who are dealing with unplanned ministry transition," explains RCPE program director Michael Wilson, who coordinates the retreat that is conducted by Ministering to Ministers Foundation, Inc.

"There is a growing trend nationwide of what we call 'forced termination' of clergy," said Wilson, adding that it is seldom for reasons of personal impropriety or moral failure, but more typically is due to church conflict, lack of financial or membership growth, personality challenges or leadership style. A dismissed minister may have difficulty finding a new place of service, and often has little if any severance arrangement to provide for transition needs.

"Most ministers who have this kind of experience struggle with disillusionment, anger, grief, and anxiety as a result of their dismissal," said Wilson.

At the MTM retreat, ministers, often accompanied by their spouses, receive help to transition through these feelings and fears, and to begin to see a 'what's next' for them in ministry, said Wilson, adding that for some that may mean non-ministry vocations.

With an overall theme of "Healthy Transitions," the retreat will focus on emotional, personal, physical, professional and spiritual wellness. Sessions cover such practical matters as resolving disputes, coping with anger, leading by empowering, developing a support group, preparing resumes and enhancing interview skills.

The roster of speakers includes attorneys and experts in clinical psychology, church administration, pastoral counseling, human resources, nutrition, exercise and health, and other helpful specialties.  Dr. Charles H. Chandler, executive director of Virginia-based Ministering to Ministers Foundation, Inc., will lead several sessions, as will Wilson.

In the seven consecutive years that Samford has hosted the program, participants have attended from many southern states and various denominations, although most are from Alabama and are Southern Baptist.

Baptist ministers, in particular, because of the nature of their congregational polity, have a tough time moving through termination to find another church setting, says Wilson.  "It's like they have a 'scarlet question mark' that makes them questionable by search committees in churches."

Some other mainline denominations have a connectional approach to polity which means more support for clergy in situations that need changing, he notes.

Wilson, who has coordinated the Samford retreat since 2006, believes it has proven beneficial to many dismissed ministers and their families.

Almost all former participants went on to find new places of ministry in congregational settings. And while some chose other options in ministry, only a few pursued non-ministry vocations, he reports.

"What I think is significant about this is that these persons were able to move through a very difficult, scary time in their lives to begin again," said Wilson.

"For the ones who returned to congregational ministry, I think the retreat was probably the key factor that helped them begin to move through disillusionment to once again believe they can offer effective ministry."

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ABOUT SAMFORD UNIVERSITY -- Samford University is a premier nationally ranked private university deeply rooted in its Christian mission. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th oldest institution of higher education in the United States. U.S. News & World Report ranks Samford 3rd among regional universities in the South. Samford enrolls 5,509 students from 45 states, the District of Columbia and 29 other countries in its 10 academic units: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy, and public health. Samford also fields 17 NCAA Division I teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference.