There’s something I’ve kept hidden from many on social media over the last few months. Something that I’ve not wanted to share. The church where I served for three-and-a-half years closed. It no longer is. And that’s hard. It’s hard for the parishioners who lost a church home which they loved and now must go hither and yon to find a new place, a place where they can call home, a place where they once again find their part in the family of God. But what about the pastor? What happens to them?
It's been a sorted journey to be honest. It’s been one filled with angst, anger, depression, and tears. On our church’s last Sunday worship, a parishioner, with tears in her eyes, told me over and over it wasn’t my fault that the church closed. The church was gone. As one friend told me it’s like if a spouse has died. In CS Lewis’ A Grief Observed, he mentions that he never knew that grief could feel so much like fear. That grief-fear is what I’ve been feeling over the last number of months. It’s always around, like an itch on the middle of your back that you just can’t reach. It’s there and won’t leave sometimes. Some days are fine, others are a struggle.
Many times I’ve been asked by well-meaning people if I’ve gotten a call yet. I’ve been asked if I have any leads. To be honest, no, I don’t. I want to say more. I want to grab them by the shirt collar in tears and tell them how we’ve had to apply for Medicaid and food stamps because I can’t find work. I want to tell them of the struggles and long list of rejections and “no’s” I’ve received over the last number of months. I want to tell them how my self-esteem has bottomed out and gone deeper than I thought it could. I want to tell them I might have to take my kids out of Christian education, out of the school they love because I can’t find another call or even a well-paying job. But I don’t. I smile. I cover my tears with a joke and move on.
It’s tough, to be honest. It’s hard to be part of the search process. I even had one search committee tell me that they had no confidence in my leadership because my congregation closed its doors. And try as I might, that still haunts me with every “no” I receive or lack of response all together.
No pastor wants to have been the one who closed a church. They want that turnaround story you read about in The Banner or in Christianity Today. They want to say that they did great things for the kingdom, to help rebirth and renewal. They don't want to tend hospice with a funeral later. No. No they don’t. But it still happens. More churches in this nation are closing. It’s a sad fact. Bless the Christian Reformed Church, they are trying and doing renewal. Many congregations are going through The Renewal Lab at Calvin Seminary and are succeeding. We tried. We did not.
So what can you do to help when a pastor closes a church?
- As a search committee, don’t look at a pastor who’s closed a church in judgment. It takes strong leadership skills to walk a congregation through such a process.
- Find ways to offer grief support to the pastor that encourages.
- It’s okay to not say anything at all. We don’t always want to talk about it.
- Encourage the pastor in seeking counseling. This has been greatly helpful for me.
- Allow time for the pastor to heal.
- Most of all, pray for the pastor in this time.
Grief is an interesting creature. It takes many forms and is found in the oddest of places. This grief is found in the closing of a church — for the parishioners and for the pastor. Allow space for grief, allow space for loss, and allow freedom to let the pastor move forward in serving God’s kingdom.