Forty years ago, I found myself distracted. I was living 20 miles northeast of Baltimore in a small town that was fast becoming a suburb. Assigned there by my denomination to start a new congregation, I started out with a fair amount of confidence and energy, and with strong personal, organizational and financial support.
When denominational officials look at the number of empty pulpits in their churches, they worry about a shortage of pastors. Some have strategized about new ways to recruit candidates for ministry. “The clergy shortage is impacting me at every turn,” says Bishop Ted Gulick of the Episcopal Diocese in Kentucky.
The most common reason Protestant pastors leave parish ministry is an experience of stressful conflict, usually arising from differences with laity or staff but sometimes with denominational officials. Compounding these stresses, ex-pastors say, is a lack of support from church officials and fellow clergy.
Eighteen Presbyterian laypersons were recently authorized by the West Virginia Presbytery to conduct services and deliver sermons. They had completed a two-year course of study to become authorized lay preachers. Earlier, a smaller group of women and men were commissioned by the same body as lay pastors, having received an additional half-year of preparation and invitations to serve churches.
In a country where the absurd and surreal routinely intersect with everyday life, it was hardly a surprise to find the staff of the Liberia Council of Churches meeting in a room shorn of everything from pencils to wall hangings. Only days earlier, a council employee had found bills and memos from the office being used to wrap fish in the markets of Monrovia.