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The axe fell on my birthday. The night before, three elders had, for three hours, raked me over the coals. They made no charge of malfeasance or immorality, but the power brokers in the pews had made it clear that my theology had grown to be inconsistent with a majority of the congregation's.
I got up that morning, aching from the verbal torture of the night before, and went to work. The secretary brought in a birthday plant with a helium balloon attached. On the balloon were a number of pigs laughing hysterically under the caption, HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I felt I was the butt of a poor joke.
Carrying the thing back, I told the secretary, "I appreciate the plant, but could you get rid of the balloon?" With a short, sharp stroke, she pierced the heart-shaped balloon with a pair of scissors and glared at me. That afternoon, ignoring my apology for my paranoia, she walked off the job and didn't return until I had left for good.
Welcome to the world of the forced-out pastor.
When a pastor resigns willingly, the period between resignation and departure is a time of collecting bouquets for a job well done. But when a pastor is forced out, that time is filled with profound loneliness and stress and the anger of an entire congregation-when one is least prepared for it. This pastor is not a lame duck but a wounded one.
Here are some of the wounds found in forced pastoral exits:
Reduced social contact with fellow clergy, particularly if one is leaving a denomination, as I did. Clergy friends of past years, loyal to the hierarchy, could not identify with my failure, and I quickly was relegated to their "newsletter only" list, and where we had exchanged friendly greetings in the past, now any communication was stiff and formal.
Pressure from the church board to vacate the parsonage or stop receiving a salary. The board wanted us out of the parsonage in two weeks, new church or not. We had just begun the search process, which usually takes six to twelve months. Only the outrage ...