The UCC blog, carducc.wordpress.com, posted a blog entry from Gail Cafferata, a researcher examining issues of closing congregations. She examines the role of emotional support on pastors closing congregations.
I asked a pastor about her experience serving a church that had closed: “So what was especially trying or hard for you?” She said, “I did pretty much feel all alone out there and I tend to do things myself…The [lay leaders] were very much in the process, very much there and doing what they needed to do for the church but I just was being out there and not having other pastors understand what goes on in rural areas, and my not knowing how to communicate what my needs were because [closing a church] was so different, I never really got that support.”
Pastors have feelings of loneliness and isolation not only in rural congregations, but especially when they’re serving unsustainable churches. Among a 2014 national ecumenical (Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and UCC) study of pastors who had experienced the closing of a church, one-third reported feeling lonely and isolated “very often,” and one-third “fairly often,” two-thirds in all. Compare this with only one in six clergy reporting these same feelings in a survey of U.S. pastors in all kinds of churches (Jackson Carroll’s God’s Potters: Pastoral Leadership and the Shaping of Congregations, 2006). These feelings matter. Carroll shows that feeling “lonely and isolated” has significant consequences for clergy’s physical health and emotional health. It is not surprising then that nearly six in ten “last pastors” rated “caring for yourself” a “somewhat” or “great” challenge in serving their congregations—more challenging than all other tasks such as “dealing with member conflict” or the process of discerning whether the church should close. Nearly one-third of pastors who experienced a church closing reported “my health worsened” when they served their congregation.
Read more of her thoughts at the CARD blog.