Clergy Burnout with a Panel of Former Clergy | Podcast Season 02, Episode 06
Listen and Subscribe on: Apple | Spotify | Amazon Music (Audible)
In this episode of our Clergy Burnout series, we’re joined by a panel of three individuals who have recently left the pastorate. Karlene Clark, Trevor Grindle, and Martha Wood vulnerably share their experience with burnout and the pressures that ultimately led to them choosing to walk away from their leadership roles.
Co-hosted by Kate Rae Davis, MDiv, and Rose Madrid Swetman, this discussion explores themes of doubt, grief, illness, and trauma, and the incongruity that is felt when encountering very real, human experiences while trying to live up to the expectations of a church leadership role.
We hope that this is a space where pastors and clergy will feel seen and known. For those of you who are not pastors but perhaps are part of a faith community or congregation, we hope these conversations will be enlightening and give you a greater understanding and empathy for the leaders in your community, and prompt questions as to how we can support these faithful leaders.
- Download your copy of the Clergy Burnout Report
- Don’t miss an episode: Subscribe to Transforming Engagement, The Podcast on Apple, Spotify, or Amazon Music (Audible)
About our guests:
Karlene Clark is an ordained United Methodist Elder with 15 years of pastoral experience in both experimental store-front and traditional steeple church ministry with a focus on neighborhood engagement and innovation in every context. She is currently serving outside of the church as a hospice chaplain. She is mother to three kids ranging in age from 10 to 27 and happily married to partner Josh. She loves hiking, cycling, gardening, birdwatching, and being outdoors. Karlene is fueled by good coffee, meaningful conversation, and opportunities to make the world a better place. Find Karlene on Instagram @karlenemclark
Trevor Grindle was in some form of informal or formal ministry from 2010-2022. He remains passionate about thinking of new and creative ways in which the church, i.e. people, can exist and function in an increasingly complex world, all while holding fast to justice, mercy, and humility and constantly asking the question: What is good news for this particular people group and/or this particular person? He holds a BA in Worship Ministry and a minor in Media Arts & Technology and is currently the Director of Marketing & Communications at The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology. Find Trevor on Instagram @trevorgrindle
Martha Wood is always a Quaker minister at heart and is currently a winery cellar technician outside of Portland, Oregon. She holds an M.Div from The Seattle School and is still learning.
Kate: Welcome to Transforming Engagement, the podcast where we host conversations about changes that serve the common good and a higher good. Rose, would you introduce our conversation today?
Rose: Yes. We are continuing our series in Clergy Burnout on Clergy Burnout. And today we’ve invited three ex -clergy, I think we would say today, that were in a pastorate and have since left the pastorate. And so I’m going to welcome Karlene, Trevor, and Martha, and I’d like them to introduce themselves. So if the three of you would do a self introduction and just maybe give us your name, the ministry context you served in, how long did you serve ,and how long has it been since you resigned? Trevor, do you want to go first?
Trevor: Sure, I can go first. My name is Trevor Grindle. I have I most recently served at United Church in Seattle, which is a church that I helped plant, co-planted, in Seattle, in 2018, is when we planted the church, moved out to Seattle in 2017. Before that, I’m a pastor’s kid. So I grew up in the church, went to Bible college. So I’ve been basically some form of ministry since like 2010. And then we actually closed the church, in, six months ago. So January of 2022 is when we closed the church. And so I didn’t necessarily resign, but since that have then kind of, you know, left ministry but or a left, you know, formal ministry, I guess. Yeah. there are other questions too, but yeah, I’m going to leave it at that.
Rose: Thank you Trevor. Karlene?
Karlene: Hi, I’m Karlene Clark. I am ordained in the United Methodist Church, and I actually transferred my ordination from the Free Methodist Church a few years back. I have just recently left pastoral ministry. In fact, today is my last official day. July 1st is the the appointment cycle in our system, and, I have, I’ve been serving in a United Methodist church here in Eugene for the past seven years. Another couple of United Methodist Church is for a year before that. And prior to that, for about seven years, I was a nontraditional church planter co-pastoring with my husband, a storefront church of mostly spiritual refugees. So about 15 years in pastoral ministry. My last Sunday was about three weeks ago. I am loving my new life so far. Yeah.
Rose: Thank you. Karlene. Martha?
Martha: Hi. My name is Martha Wood, and I’ve been in, much like Trevor, some form of ministry for 20 or 25 years. Most recently, I was the interim pastor at a friend’s church, a Quaker meeting in Portland, and it was for about sixteen months. And about five years before that, I was also an interim pastor of a different friend’s church Quaker meeting also in Portland, for just under a year. So those were my most recent pastoral experiences. Thank you. What was the rest of the question?
Rose: Oh, how long has it been since you left the the pastor?
Martha: I left in March of 2020. So, just over two years.
Rose: Okay. Okay. So I really love for the three of you, whoever, just you guys can take your turn, to just, if you wouldn’t mind telling us about your decision to leave. What factors contributed to it?
Martha: I can go first. I knew that my situation was interim and was going to be a limited run, but what prompted me to put the mechanism of ending in place was a series of losses in my family. My grandmother and grandfather and a beloved great aunt all passed within that year. And so, by the third, I knew I could no longer, yeah, be both in a public ministry and do my own personal grief work.
Rose: Thank you, Martha. Yeah, yes. Thank you.
Trevor: I think for me, the end kind of started in June of 2021, when the my co-pastor ended up taking a leave of absence because of stress. So he was, like his doctor told him to take a leave of absence, which then that means I had to take on some of his responsibilities. And there was a moment –because we were in a pandemic and were recording everything– I actually have the sermon that I gave that I can point to, that I was like, that was the moment I broke. And that was the moment when things started going down to where burnout was, you know, inevitable. Or I was already in the middle of it at that point. I just hadn’t recognized it yet. And I think it was both that the stress of the pandemic, which was, the stress was primarily coming from supporters, and like when speaking out against a variety of topics, you know, everything from systemic racism to, you know, political whatnots, I had to defend myself to the supporters because most of my income came from more conservative Midwest people, because that’s where I’m from, the Midwest. And so that was kind of the end of it was in June of ‘21. And that on top of just a general story of deconstruction over the last, I don’t know, five years, five, six years, something like that, that kind of came to a head in December of 2021 or November, somewhere in that timeline, where it felt dishonoring for me to continue to be a pastor of that community while I was wrestling with so much stuff and felt like I was living a dual life, which kind of was a thing for a really long time where you’re like putting out one face, but then also like trying to present something else. And then it just came to a point where like, I don’t even know what I believe right now, and I can’t really lead in that way anymore. It’s just dishonoring to people and to myself and to my family. And it was all kinds of different stuff. So I think it was a combination for me of stress and just deconstruction and not feeling the freedom and the flexibility to explore whatever it is that you know, is next, whatever that may be. Yeah, that’s kind of what led to me needing that off-ramp and then also came to a head with a bunch of other things, which is why we ended up closing the church–was that on top of, you know, a whole bunch of other stuff? But so that’s where like my exiting of the pastorate coincides directly with the closing of our church. And because of all those things kind of came to a head at the same time. So umm.
Rose: Thanks, Trevor. And we’re going to revisit some of this once we just hear a little more from the three of you, because I think you’re you just hit on some things that many clergy could identify with. And even with Martha, like so much grief work that I had to step out in order to do this work. So with both of you, I hear so much integrity towards your congregation and towards your own selves. So thank you, Karlene, what about you?
Karlene: So I identify with both of Martha and Trevor stories. In September of 2018, my husband had a medical crisis, just a bizarre experience where he just woke up one morning and couldn’t walk and ended up having an extremely rare neurological condition that attacked his spinal cord. And that was very traumatic and stressful and disruptive for a very long time. It took about a year and a half before he was able to walk again unassisted. And he will always have some level of disability. It completely changed our lives. And so I was pastoring, you know, full-time. My husband is bi-vocational and was quarter- time at the same church in addition to his his other tech job with two kids at home and one out of the house. So two kids, a good sized church to pastor and then this medical crisis and I, I experienced what I understand a lot of people do is when you go through a significant trauma, some of the people around you who have their own sort of unresolved traumas, especially if you’re a pastor, get very triggered and aren’t able to function well. And that happened with some of my staff. And so, you know, about six months into this journey with my husband, my staff just kind of fell apart as well. And it was very disruptive. And it took you know, it took a while. All but one of my staff turned over, and there was a lot of work with the remaining one to to rebuild our, you know, to rebuild our our relationship and working in ministry together. We did – got my staff all straightened out. My husband was starting to walk again with, you know, unassisted. And I took a deep breath and said, oh my God, it’s been a rough year and a half. I need therapy. I’m on the edge of burnout. I’m going to take some time for me. And that was February of 2020. So March hit, and then of course, the pandemic hit and all of that, you know, two kids home full-time from school for the next year or more, learning to preach into a microphone, an empty room, trying to lead a church through this crisis, trying to lead a church through the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, through the forest fires burning down to the contentious election, through the insurrection, through every news cycle. And I just really I just became so burned out and it had always been a stressful job, you know, in a system that’s pretty anxious. And when it came time to return back into in-person worship, our first Sunday back, I just – my body refused. I almost couldn’t go. I was physically ill, and it was everything I could do to make my body show up in my church physically again. And I ended up recognizing PTSD, ministry PTSD. And I realize it’s not normal to throw up before I go to work. So I knew I had to make some changes. So last summer I took some time off. I took a short leave, really re-evaluated some things, came back with a reset and an open question Can I live the way I want to live in a really broken world and still do this ministry? And I, I realized I couldn’t.
Trevor: That– you mind if I just say some real quick? Because what’s what I find fascinating about that is that it made me realize in this very moment that I was experiencing something very similar on Sundays and Sunday mornings. I, my behavior completely changed where– and that was another fact that it was leading into it –where I became short with my with my wife and my son. I was just like an awful human being on Sundays. And I was like, what in the world is going on? And then Monday would come around, and it was like nothing, like it was all totally fine. So I hadn’t put that together that that was a part of this whole, you know, whole thing.
Karlene: Oh, yeah.
Trevor: And I just find that fascinating.
Karlene: I appreciate you saying that. It has become even more clear how much trauma has been associated with just showing up. As I’ve been getting ready to leave, I’m so excited about life. Things are going well. I’m happier than I’ve been in years. And then Sunday hits and I and I’m I’m ready by Sunday morning. And like you just said, I’m cranky with my family. Everything has got to go just right. Like all of my energy is in just showing up physically in a place where my body doesn’t feel safe, even though, even though all the things that that made that traumatic are mostly removed, it’s still a place of trauma. And now that I’m out of there, and I’m, you know, interacting in other spaces in the world, it’s like, wow, I can do job interviews. I’m not even nervous. I’m a functional human being, when what do you take that that trauma away? So I and I and, Trevor, I don’t think it’s unusual. I think a lot of pastors, especially from this pandemic and all the associated stuff, are walking around with a lot of trauma. Yeah.
Kate: It’s not surprising, but just is such a strong theme that I don’t know if I expected it to come through this strong– how each of you spoke to things in your personal life, whether that’s deconstruction and doubt, physical illness, and grief, and those are just the very human experiences of life. But what made it intolerable is a context that doesn’t allow you to be human. And I keep thinking about –I had a teacher who would talk about being put on a pedestal, always sounds so nice and, you know, exalting and respectful. But the problem with pedestals is that they’re very small and wobbly and easy to fall off from. And so in our congregational context doesn’t allow us to be human, but we are really in the midst of our very human circumstances. So what an unsafe place that is. And, you know, maybe you fall on people when you fall off the pedestal. But the person who’s most at risk of injury is the one who’s falling, and there’s no net around that pedestal. But the combination of the personal and the contextual is just so loud.
Rose: So very loud, I, I am always struck by when clergy pastors that I’ve also spoken to, realize how terrible Sunday mornings are for them, how they have panic attacks before they’re going to go. They have heart palpitations, like their blood, they get a headache. It’s in you know, Kate and I were speaking with someone the other day about clergy burnout. And one of the symptoms is when we listen to our bodies and our bodies are telling us this isn’t okay anymore, it’s not okay. Would the three of you speak a little bit more to how, as you were discerning, like Karlene, you were very articulate about what was going on for you. Martha, you realized that you were in grief. What kind of symptoms did you show? Like what? What was going on for you, symptom-wise, that you knew that you couldn’t do this anymore?
Martha: I haven’t thought of it in those terms, but hearing hearing the other two, speaking of the physical, the psychosomatic, the, that reminded me of my first interim situation in which it would kick in Saturday night, like I could gauge my mental health based on what time on Saturday it hit me– at 4 p.m.. 6 p.m., 10 p.m.. Just the dread of Sunday morning coming. And in my second position, I thought this is so much healthier. This context is a healthier community. It’s not the–it’s not the same –toxicity is a dangerous word for me to put online –but I thought that my physical symptoms were the first context’s fault. So by the time I was in my second context that I had an easier time with, and thought that community was healthier. And I had a little more bearings on how to practice self-care throughout the week. And so I had my my radar up all the time. I’m like, How am I coming back every week? And all that to say, by January of 2020, I realized that I was, it’s like I was hitting the jet fuel button, like just kick it into high gear, just go, just hit the button. And I’d been doing that for who knows how long. And, but after my grandmother and great aunt died within a week of each other, I, I would felt like I was clicking the button and it would just it would click and push the button and it would click it wouldn’t, it wouldn’t fire. I didn’t like– Coffee didn’t help. Talking to the right people. Nothing energized me anymore. I couldn’t kick it into high gear, which made me realize how much I relied on jet fuel to do the job. And so, yeah, symptoms of just maybe exhaustion, and not being able to put up a front. I don’t know what the jet fuel really was. Was it not being able to put on the show that people wanted or deliver what I thought was expected of me? Because I had a very loving– I did feel like I was allowed to be a human and have a human experience of loss in that community. But something still didn’t add up. They understood that I was a person with flaws and questions and real loss and but that still didn’t connect for me. It didn’t add up in what I was learning or trying to be or do at the time.
Rose: I think that’s super helpful, Martha, for maybe folks that are listening, whether you’re a clergy person yourself or you’re in a congregation and you’re noticing symptoms because it seems like I hear especially from you and Trevor in a little bit from Karlene, like I was having to show up and almost have to fake who I was or how I was doing in order to serve this congregation well, until I just couldn’t do it anymore. Like hitting the jet fuel button and there’s no fuel left. I mean, that’s– it’s it’s interesting to me how clergy can do that for so very long. Pastors feel so responsible and feel, I mean, this is a calling. This is you know, I’m not supposed to show this type of weakness– and going through the pandemic and all the different things in the last few years that have just, you know, the supporters having to explain to them, like truly not being able to be clearly who we are for the sake of not offending people. I feel like that is another place where we’ve had to hold so much in and show up and not be true to who we are. To your point, Trevor, I just couldn’t do it anymore. It was not fair to the congregation. It’s not fair to me, not fair to my family.
Karlene: Vulnerability is is a double-edged sword for a pastor. It’s like there is this incredibly fine line where you are authentic enough and real enough and relatable and honest and then just a hair’s breadth further and you’re perceived as falling apart, inadequate, unable to do your job, weak. You know, so that it’s just a razor’s edge of of what is the right amount of vulnerability to have as a pastor in a congregation. Too much, and all of the sudden your leadership is suspect, you know. And not enough, and you’re not a person and you’re not able to connect, and and you’re just a facade. But the sweet spot is so small.
Martha: As you’re saying, you’re not allowed to be a person. You’re expected to be a person. It’s it’s the sweet spot of being the right kind of person.
Kate: Yeah. The too much is suspect, the not enough is also suspect. Inauthentic, I think is the word I usually hear, like oh you’re not being authentic, if you don’t share enough vulnerability. But you have to be able to share your vulnerability in a way that is palatable, and in which you’re really like the strong, the strong survivor who’s gone who’s gone through it, like you can’t, you can never be in the midst of any kind of hurt situation where you might be more of a victim. You have to already be at the resurrection, on the Friday, Good Friday night, I guess just, the expectation.
Trevor: Which even– I had this conversation with my co-pastor, I don’t know, five, six months ago or something –about like about the word authenticity, in how like authenticity is often in some ways like in the eye of the beholder, because like you will you present yourself as authentic and then they’ll say, you’re not being authentic or vice versa, where they’ll say, oh, this is the most authentic I’ve ever seen you, when you know this is not who I really am, like I’m just –so like even in an attempt to provide authenticity for people, that fine line is often like not even there. Because, like, for me, I’m approaching with authenticity. This is who I am. But then that may not be perceived as authentic based on how people have perceived me for the last X number of years. So it’s just –that fine line is often like, even just difficult to find, let alone, like the balance of it. It shifts and moves based on like, who you’re talking to or what situation you’re in or what have you. So it’s such an interesting thing to try and pursue as well as like hold up as a value in a community. Yeah, a fascinating word.
Kate: In some ways as a value, authenticity is itself really inauthentic because people are actually looking for our behaviors. You know, to Karlene’s point of that razor’s edge, the value is something more along the lines of a performative vulnerability than actual vulnerability. Yeah, it’s I, I’d be really curious about how authenticity is used in like different sorts of communities because I really do think it means, how well do you perform our cultural median for how much to share and how to share?
Karlene: Yeah, I love Brené Brown, but, in navigating this vulnerability stuff as a pastor, sometimes, what you’re talking about is for people who get to be real people. Yeah.
Trevor: Yeah. And I found that like with my like deconstruction journey is that I’ve often found that like people love when you’re vulnerable until you ask too many questions and then all of a sudden you’re being too vulnerable now. And like, people love the idea of it until they actually experience it from their pastor, from their leader. Yeah, an interesting relationship with vulnerability.
Karlene: Related to that is just the reality. It’s become clear to me that being a pastor is a whole lot like being a projector screen. People see whatever they’re projecting onto you instead of seeing you as a person, and so they’re seeing their expectations, they’re seeing, you know, the issues that they’ve had with authority figures in the past or with parental figures in the past or other pastors, they’re projecting their image of Christianity. They’re projecting all of these things onto you as if you’re just a big giant screen. And on the other side of that screen is you as a real human being. And that’s that screen is a filter that it becomes very difficult when we talk about authenticity. It’s not just how we’re showing up, it’s what they’re going to see no matter how we show up. And that is complicated.
Rose: Do you– talking about that–did the three of you experience that often– that you knew that somehow people were playing out their script with you, projecting onto you? Like did were you aware of that as you were in a pastorate?
Karlene: When I was in the midst of, kind of the worst part of the the hard time following my husband’s medical crisis, I felt like there was a distortion field in my communications with folks. I would say something and they would respond, but it was as if they were responding to something different than what I had said. And so I would try to clarify and and correct and say again, and then they would respond back again as though it was like this communication distortion. And it was made complicated because of the, you know, the trauma, but very confusing. Very confusing. And, you know, a really honest person told me once: for a while there, every time you spoke, all I could hear was my abusive mother telling me I wasn’t good enough. And I was just dumbstruck. It had never there had never been a thought on my mind of her not being good enough and anything. I had never spoken words like that, but that’s what she was hearing.
Rose: Wow. Wow. It’s interesting, when that is happening in the pastorate. Could you –when this was happening to any of you, did you have people who were your support people? Did you have support people that you could tell the truth to? Yes. Let’s ask that question. What was going on for you?
Trevor: I think, I think of, my, my story kind of goes back across like two communities, like where the like story really kind of started and then the story of Seattle. So like the story of, you know, before deciding to come out to Seattle to start a church, I didn’t have any community –I like I was questioning, like sitting there and like, do I even believe the things that I was a worship pastor? So I was like, do I believe the things I’m singing every single Sunday? I was like, I don’t know if I do, but I had to show up because that was where my income was based on. That’s what my degree was in. I had no other skills, but this one skill and the terrifying thought of I just spent $80,000 and now all of a sudden I don’t know if I even believe what I’m doing anymore. And when I was in that moment, there wasn’t much, because my income was so closely tied to my beliefs and my doubts where if I raised that with my pastor who just hired me, who knows what would happen? And then when I moved in to the church in Seattle, we were trying very intentionally to build a community where those questions were welcome and where those refugees could be there and, you know, all the different things, which is why we probably had the many different things that we had, was because of the people that we were drawing were those people that were like, don’t know what you believe and you know, so on and so forth. And so we built a system where our we used the 3DM model from Forge, which is the like huddle type approach. I mean it’s how to build a disciple in community was the book that we were kind of like using as like a blueprint basically. And so we kind of had our main huddle, which is basically me, my wife, the co-pastor and their wife and another leader who had gone through this whole system huddle-type model before. And so in that moment I had that group. However, I think the thing that I was finding in there is even though I had a space to like wrestle with things is, as we were trying to build the thing that we so badly wanted, we could not penetrate the thing beyond the leadership, no matter how hard we tried. And we tried really hard for years and it was constantly met with like a, like a wall. Or the idea was taken. So like to the point, Karlene, you were you saying of like someone was like distorting what the words are being said– I had an experience where about three years later, I found out that I had given someone the blueprint on like how to live their life, but then I was not brought along with that blueprint. It was like, here you go, and now I’m going to go use it. And then wasn’t like invited into the space. And so I think like support looked different in those two different spaces where there wasn’t any there in the first one and then in the second one there was. But even that, as trying to like break beyond leadership, which would have been basically staff –we didn’t have an eldership at the time because early church stuff– but like we had it in leadership, but then we couldn’t break beyond that. So you’re really only being supported by people that know and understand and so on. But like, there wasn’t that humanity beyond that like threshold of leadership, which is why it was so tiring to try to get beyond that. And you just couldn’t, no matter how hard we tried for how long.
Rose: Martha, did you feel like you had support while you were in the pastorate, people you could tell the truth to?
Martha: I did. In both of my settings, I had good friends, trusted advisers who were in the denomination, but in other churches. And I kept close ties with some specific friends from seminary. And I made a friend in a theology professor who both of us understood the dynamics of being a public professional Christian. And so he and I were able to share life behind the curtain with each other. So I did feel very supported both within the denomination and in trusted friends outside.
Karlene: Mm hmm.
Rose: What was it like when you started discussions with your congregations that you were thinking of leaving? What was that like?
Kate: I’m actually going to go back to the last question. Oh, just as I’m thinking about it. Sorry.
Rose: That’s okay.
Kate: It’s –I’m hearing both in Trevor’s and Martha’s response– is that your support is coming from other people in that leadership level, um, and a sense of belonging is primarily identified within the community in which you lead. And I, I first took the “bait and switch” of professional ministry because I don’t know a better metaphor. It’s not that’s not a great metaphor. But often– this was my story– I like I was kind of a misfit in many places in my life. The church is where I found a sense of belonging. And then as a pastors started calling me: You should do what we do. I, I bought into it. I was like, yes, I would love to belong to a community full-time. Like, yes, let me, let me and then let me serve the community in this way through leading. So I went to school, did the whole MDiv everything, and served as a lay pastor in a local congregation, and the slow realization that whenever you gather a group, you cannot be a part of that group, that gathering– something inherent to it means that you’re not a part of. And feeling that with congregants. And I was a good gatherer. They started inviting each other to their birthday parties and life events. And I was not invited. I was hosting the church things. I was putting them in community with each other, but I was never included in the informal community that came up around that. And I think that’s such a hard realization for pastors because we get hooked into it precisely because the part of our story in which we feel excluded, and then we find ourselves in a professional role that replicates that exact dynamic. And that was a complete shock to me. And something that I hear –like Martha has almost the best case scenario of that, right? Like you had people in your denomination and who were connected to you and still felt support in that. But I think a lot of, it’s like it’s like a hidden dynamic of clergy that, it’s this hidden loneliness even as you’re in the center of coordinating other people’s belongingness.
Rose: So, yeah, I just wondered what it was like, when you started your discussions about leaving– both in your congregation and with your denomination, if you had a denomination?
Trevor: I think I think mine is a little bit different in the sense that and I could be wrong and we’ll see what happens as as you’re talking, but in that like it was a closure of the church, which is what led to my exiting of the pastorate. And what what I found, it’s even similar to Kate, your point of what you just talked about, where, you know, you build this community. People are doing the informal gathering but that you’re not invited into it. And so when we started having a conversation, I still remember like where I was sitting, who is sitting where when we had, our, like huddle, our leadership group came together and basically laid out everything that happened in 2021. So not even 2020. We were just in 2021. It was like a giant whiteboard of like, here’s all the different moments that happened. Delta happened, and that was kind of like a death knell, that like that was the thing that was like, we didn’t know it, but that’s when it ended. And we just kind of like were laying out all this different stuff. I had laid out. I was like, I need an off-ramp. And that was kind of like the beginning of like it’s dishonoring. And all the things that I mentioned earlier was like that was kind of the beginning stages of, to our leadership community. It was like, I need an off-ramp, whatever is next for our community in 2022. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know all I know is I don’t think I can be a part of it. And then that kind of tumbled into like the rest of our leadership. My co-pastor basically saying the same thing is like, I don’t know how we move on from 2021 and 2020 and so on. From everything that we just laid out, I don’t know how to move on. Like I don’t know the logistics and the puzzle pieces and so on. And so like I also think it can go on with me. It might have to be someone else, if the community continues to go on. And so I think like when we then named it in our leadership group, there was a sense of like a weight lifted, and that everyone is kind of on the same page and like, yes, this is the thing that needs to happen. However, because our experience as leadership was so drastically different to the point of view –your Kate to that, to your point, Kate– was how our community felt a sense of community and had this blueprint that we gave them and was experiencing amazing things and from from their perspective, always from our perspective of their perspective, which are all kinds of different lenses there. But things were going great. Like there was there was like the pandemic was kind of waning, which was six months ago and also in Seattle. So which is also yeah. Anyways, and so there was this, there was this almost-shock of the closure and like that, why are we closing? This doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Things seem to be going well, or at least like we’re starting to come back into person because we didn’t meet in person until October of 2021. So we met in June of 2021, started to come back in person and then Delta hit and everyone went right back into their homes. And we tried to regather in October and people were starting to come back. And so I think there was this this shock that this status from the from our perspective of leadership was so different than the status of, you know, the community. And then we, like tried to end well. And what we found is that every time there was firsts, we had a lot of people show up. So like the first time we came back in June, the first time we went to the building, there was, you know, people were, there was excitement. And then it was the first Sunday when we had announced that we were going to close, a lot of people showed up. And then over the closure of it, it dwindled to the point of nothing, until like the last Sunday, everyone showed up again. And so there was like this false sense of community when every other Sunday there wasn’t. It was like us, and, you know, a small handful of people. And so there was this. And then even after that initial shock, and then it kind of dissipated and then we had decided, so we actually moved back to Illinois in that time. So we moved back to Illinois about two months ago. I’m actually from southern Wisconsin, living in Illinois technically now. I’m not a big fan of Illinois, but I have to claim Illinois as home now. But anyways, so we moved back to Illinois about a month ago, so in the beginning of June. And right before that we met with a couple of people and like shared very frankly, like this is how we were doing. This was like our mental health status, we were not doing well and we couldn’t tell you because of everything we’ve been talking about for the last 40 minutes or whatever it’s been. Yeah, I think there was this this mix of shock, confusion, not understanding, which is basically the same word as confusion. And, but then eventually with a couple people , we were able to like talk very frankly and was like, oh yeah, if that is everything you were going through, that makes a lot of sense, like why you would not be able to keep going. So yeah, the whole, whole gamut of emotions I think for us, in both closure and leaving, which we’re still kind of in the process, of the like leaving part of it, like that is kind of the ongoing story at the moment is like, what does this even look like? What do weekends look like? What does we’re entering? Which I know is probably a question we’ll get to eventually, but that story is still unfolding. So yeah, a whole, whole gamut of things for us, for me.
Rose: But which just brings me to a question for you, Trevor, and the, the the processing of the loss, the closure, the loss, and the unfolding story. Do you have people that you are processing with?
Trevor: Yeah. So that, that leadership group that I’ve been talking about, that group continued for about four months to kind of continue that process of like closure, you know, all those kinds of different things. Yeah, we continue that process. However, what I found is now coming back to Illinois, there’s the addition of reverse culture shock, which I knew was going to happen. And I kind of trained myself. So I went, I did like two internships with a missions organization and like that, to learn that kind of stuff of, like culture shock and then the reverse culture shock and all that kind of stuff. But I’m finding now to get into like what I’m experiencing like this very week, this very day is the like reverse culture shock, and not really having anyone share that same experience to talk through of like, closing a church, not able to like figure out what church is and then also experiencing reverse culture shock, because all of the leadership community is still in Seattle and isn’t experiencing those types of things, like still experiencing some of the same things. And I would imagine that leadership groups will like get back together like via Zoom because we met on Zoom for like a year and a half. So we will probably do some of that. But yeah, it’s a very interesting space to be in where you’re experiencing closure, exit, and reverse culture shock, all in the same time window while also entering into and like, being your family again and having to like re-engage family when you had moved away for five, six years. And my wife and I moved to Seattle right after we got married. So we have not been a married couple near family now with a three-year-old and trying to navigate all of those things on top of, you know, everything. And I could go on and on, but yeah. Yeah. So it’s, it’s, the answer is yes and no. I think it’s it’s a both/and kind of situation. So.
Rose: Right. Thank you, Trevor .
Rose: Karlene, how did your congregation– when you– did you began conversations? Did you just make an announcement? Was there a process? How did it go for you?
Karlene: We’re Methodists, so we’ve got ways everything has to be done, you know. You don’t begin having a conversation with your congregation. Every year there’s a form you fill out, which is your intent form. Because we’re an appointment system. Do you wish to be reappointed or not? But you you don’t usually just put on that form. I don’t want to I don’t want to be reappointed to this church. You you go to your district superintendent and you have that conversation and then that that gets discussed at the cabinet level. And so yeah, no, I didn’t, I didn’t be like, hey, I’m thinking about leaving, you know. You don’t do that. I, I, I let my, my, DS, my superintendent know. He was completely understanding and very supportive. And then we had to time that announcement because we’re an appointment system. It’s normal that you leave June 30th, that’s the end of your appointment. And didn’t want to cause, you know, any additional disruption by taking off in the middle of the appointment year. So I knew back in October, November last year, but we didn’t tell our congregation until February. Yeah. And at first we tell our church counsel and, and then it’s, you know, announced usually in church the following Sunday, but we were having an Omicron surge and so we were virtual at the time of our announcement. And so I actually sent a letter, which is a really weird way to do it. I sent a letter to the whole congregation, and that’s how I shared it. And it was hard. You know, I, the church that I’ve pastored for the past seven years is a really lovely church. It’s got its problems, but what I what I’ve come to realize is it’s not– I wasn’t in a specific church that was just really toxic. It was actually– if I’m going to be in a church, I’d be in this one. It’s the reality of ministry no matter where you are. And it’s the systemic issues that perpetuate that, perpetuate the things that make pastoring an unhealthy occupation. So I mean, that’s probably another rabbit trail away from how I broke the news but, you know, people were kind. People understood for the most part. People got people got that. This is really, really hard. And it’s not a it’s not a super great way to live your life. And so they were supportive.
Kate: Are there any of those structural or role pieces that make ministry hard this way that you would be willing to name? No is a fair answer.
Karlene: Yes, I, I, I would it could be just another, it could be another conversation. But, you know, one of the things that we’ve we’ve done a lot of in recent years is, try to get real about our structural racism. And in that, and I, I don’t know the name off the top of my head, I can’t remember, the memory’s not great. But there’s a lot of work that’s been done on the characteristics of white supremacy culture. So in in deep diving in this in recent years I’ve just been sickened, I think, by how much our structures are just exhibit after exhibit after exhibit of the characteristics of white supremacy culture, the way that power is pushed into the hands of very specific, very few people, the way that power is hoarded, the way that the structure makes it very, very difficult to share power in collaborative ways, even when you’re trying to. Most churches are, you know, North American white churches, like they’re designed in a way that favors perfectionism, makes authenticity difficult or impossible, worships the written word, and devalues., yes, yes, and in in our system, I mean, Methodists, we got the Book of Discipline, you know, like Exhibit A, you know, a rigid structure that upholds the status quo, that is designed to uphold the status quo, that is designed to crush creativity and innovation, was created to put power in the hands of very specific people in a very specific context. And it does it, you know, to a certain degree, we we work hard and, you know, we work really, really hard to elevate and empower and raise up leaders who are not white, straight men. But what happens anyway is women people of color, queer folks come into the system– it wasn’t designed for them, it just wasn’t. And so we’re trying, you know, it’s like ,it’s like trying to always be wearing somebody else’s shoes. And the shoes are the patriarchy, you know, and they’re not even good for the people that they were made for. It’s a, it’s a whole system that is anxious, that resists change, that even, even when it’s trying hard, the structures are set up to keep it from adapting and moving and being flexible and being open to to the movement of the spirit, you know. And so really good people trying really hard are still in a system that creates rigidity and anxiety and, and authority structures and hierarchies that are healthy. And it’s just swimming upstream all the time within the system to create authentic community, to share power, to be truly collaborative, to be flexible, to be open to the experiences of new things, and to be honest and really break down the structures that uphold all of the racism and all of the sexism and all of the, all of the -isms that make it impossible for us to actually look like what Jesus described as the Kingdom of God. And I’m honestly at a place where, I mean, I love the best people I know, are church people, the worst people I know are church people. I don’t I don’t hate the church or anything. I just, I just don’t know if it can be what we’re all hoping and wishing it was because it is structurally designed to work against what it would really look like to be the beloved community, the kingdom of God.
Kate: Amen. Thank you. Naming a lot of those pieces are not the safest things to name. So thank you for your willingness to be a voice in a lot of that. I will say it’s not just the Methodist system. And yeah, thank you.
Rose: Well, yes. Martha, when you made the decision to leave, how did your, how did the congregation and the denomination, you said you were very supported. They understood your loss and your needing to go. So was that also the congregation? Were they supportive of you going?
Martha: Yes, there were. Yes, I was supported. There was a series of miscommunications in my being an interim and them starting their permanent search for permanent release minister. And so a lot of people were surprised that I was leaving and not staying forever. But I remember the exact conversation in the elders meeting one Monday night, which we met monthly, and I was, I had already spoken with the clerk of the meeting about my time probably ending soon, and she was also at the meeting with all of the elders and I brought up the prospect of me leaving, and I realized in our conversation they were staying very theoretical. They thought we were having a theoretical conversation. Here is how the mechanism might work, once you need to enact it. And I was trying to have the conversation from a –this is what I’m putting in motion now. Right? And there was this moment of this pause where I kind of connected those dots and went, So this is me saying that. I’m saying that I’m submitting that email to you. Does it need to be in writing tonight? Tomorrow, you know, and they all kind of. Up. Which was ironic, being an interim knowing the time would end, and still the surprise or the disbelief or the even betrayal or why are you leaving? Because you told me I couldn’t apply to be your permanent pastor. But they didn’t tell the whole congregation that. They told me I couldn’t apply. But the congregation thought, Wait, why don’t you stay with us forever? So that’s the series of miscommunications. But yeah, I remember knowing that it was what I needed to do and feeling both supported, and like I was letting people down. But ironically, ironic that they were surprised. We knew this was a limited time run, so.
Karlene: Hmm. Hmm.
Rose: Wow. Thank you. I think maybe we could wrap it with– unless–Kate, do you have anything you wanted to bring in at this point?
Kate: I’m no, I may have, I may have a last word around, but, yeah.
Rose: So one one thing I’d really one of the questions we thought we would ask you all is like, Karlene, you’re just leaving, so it hasn’t been a long time. Trevor, it’s been a few months. Martha, it’s been a bit. I would just love to hear. What are you doing? Are you currently connected to a faith community? How do you understand ministry in your life today? And Karlene, maybe to you, what do you think you might be doing?
Karlene: Sure. I have a smorgasbord of things I’m excited to be doing. I was just hired and will start in a couple of weeks, part-time as a hospice chaplain, which I am, I’m looking forward to. That is meaningful and beautiful work that I can come home from. I’m also going back to community college this fall. I’m taking some classes. I have become fascinated with something called trauma-informed, personal training, which is approaching trauma healing, it’s, it’s in the somatic category, from from a fitness, health and movement perspective. And I don’t know what I’m going to do with that. I just I’m really compelled to learn. So I’m like reading anatomy textbooks and I’m going to be taking classes this fall and exploring that. And I’m also starting a podcast. So because everyone’s doing it right, and that’s kind of just a fun passion project on the side. And I’m also, for church, our family, this has been big for our family. Our kids really love our church. It’s been hard to leave. For the summer, we are making the forest our cathedral, Sundays, our nature church, and then we’re going to find someplace our kids love and warm a pew.
Rose: Martha, how about you?
Martha: I am connected to a couple of faith communities. My notice, my last day landed the day that Oregon shut down for COVID, so I didn’t lose my job to COVID, but our community went to Zoom, and I’ve been able to participate with the little black box. And for a while I changed my name. I didn’t use my own name as the user, but I’m gradually being more either present or myself or literally, I’m on site with that community. So and I’ve also reconnected with a meeting that I’d been a part of years ago when I first lived in Oregon. I don’t know what ministry looks like now. I was about to start a hospital chaplaincy residency program a year ago when a good friend died in an accident. And so I went and found a job at a winery, and I punch a clock now, and I, I don’t know if I’ll ever –so I don’t know.
Kate: Bless you in the not knowing. And the continuing to move anyway.
Rose: Thank you, Martha.
Trevor: Yeah, I guess for me the closure of the church just so happened to perfectly coincide with a promotion at The Seattle School. So I had been there bi-vocational and then we switched to the term co -vocational and then that was no longer a thing after that. But anyway, so I had been like bi-vocational or since I went into professional ministry. So I was my first job in ministry, was also a barista for 20 plus hours a week. So working 60 hours and have been doing that since 2014. So I’ve been working 60 hours plus. There was one season right before the pandemic where I was working about 80 hours a week in order to live in Seattle and so on. And then so all that to say is I was working full-time at The Seattle School while also working at this church. And so the closure of the church just so happen to coincide with promotion to Director of Marketing and Communications at The Seattle School. And a part of that move was– because there’s a lot of layers for me to like, why exiting? Like on top of everything we’ve also described, there’s also the economic frustration with churches in how I left college with a bachelor’s in worship ministry and $80,000 in student loan debt and my first job paid me eight and a half dollars an hour –and have been trying to climb up from then, and that has been the story since then. And so there’s just an economic frustration as well as a realization that what ministry teaches you and what ministry colleges teach you are all soft skills that is hard to translate onto a resume into jobs outside of the church and outside of pastoring. So I think for me, like my next as far as professional or professional career development is trying to acquire a resume that has harder skills that can then transfer to different things to get into what is next, what kind of thing do you want to explore, and so on. So that’s the professional angle. And then as far as the faith community, we, my family’s not currently connected to one. We also recently moved. But even then, like, to go to the, like, reverse culture shock and not necessarily not having people know the journey we’ve been on for five years, is that right off the bat in the Midwest, we have been asked by pretty much every individual: Oh, like, when are you going to go back to church? Or what church are you going to and exploring? And we’re over here like, I don’t know when I can enter a church the next time, not only from like, yeah, everything else, but even just though like, where we are on our spiritual journeys like myself and my wife and like trying to figure out the blueprint that we have been handed as parents and how to raise a child, as like pastors’ kids, or in the church community. Now we’re like, What do we even believe? What do we teach Forrest? Do we not –My son’s name is Forrest. Like, do we tell him Bible stories? Do we talk about sin? Do we just talk about love or what? What are we talking about? And like trying to go through all that. So I think for me, like where I’m at is, is we probably aren’t in a place where we will enter in a faith community because I think what I currently believe, I don’t know if I can find where we currently are, not to say that that doesn’t exist anywhere, but I think where we are, I don’t have the energy to church shop and like go through that, to try to go through all of that. But I think like as far as faith goes, like, I recently– so apparently I get tattoos for therapy. It is probably not the best route, but I have like tattooed this whole side of my arm, and this right here in like the last year, but like this one in particular is an image of Mary and it’s like from Mary’s Magnificat. And so I think for me, like it’s, I still love the story of Jesus and what the framework it provides in order to live a life, it’s everything you were talking about, Karlene, in that the structures that we have built, particularly in, you know, white evangelical American Christianity, I don’t know how to engage with that. And at the moment I’m fine not engaging with it because I have –and even to also like, it has been so freeing for me, but also complicated at the same time to not feel the pressure to address publicly various things that are happening in social circles and political circles, which is the complications of like, okay, you are, you know, you have the power to engage them. And my camera just went out of focus. But you have the power to engage them. You have like somewhat of a platform. Do you engage? But at the same time to the authenticity thing is like, by addressing them, would feel inauthentic or so on and so forth. So there’s anyways, there’s like this freedom for me to be okay in the not knowing, not feeling like I have to engage or like I’m not going to burn in hell because I decided to not go to a church or like not engage with one for a certain season or forever or whatever it may look like. I, I feel very comfortable with where I am, which is part of the, like, deconstruction, part of where I am in that process I think is like that upswing kind of like shedded everything, but then also continuing to shed because things keep popping up and you know, it just kind of a never-ending journey, but yeah, that’s kind of like kind of where things are going.
Kate: So yeah, a lot of openness. As a closing, closing around. I imagine that some of our listeners are themselves ministry leaders, lay or ordained, who might be feeling some level of what you all have been describing of the conflict between showing up authentically or processing your personal pieces in a context that has different levels of capacity for that. But different different as you think about that, that that former self of you and someone who might be feeling that way. Now, what, what are words that you would want them to hear? Maybe it’s words of advice, maybe it’s a blessing. But what’s something you would, you would have liked someone to say to you in that stage that you want to get forward to, maybe that that ministry leader who’s listening today.
Trevor: The first thing that came into my mind was actually, I had referenced a sermon that I recorded and like, I have a very vivid memory and I can point to that as the moment when things ended and was like it was over from there. I would actually say the the same thing that I said there, because I think I was talking to myself in that moment, and it was –To give, like, some context, it was, right before that was the Derek Chauvin verdict. And then, about three days after that, there were a number of kids that were killed by the police. I think they were Hispanic kids, if I remember, I forget the names in the stories. But, and I was, I was so distraught by it, we were like, we had this fresh, this breath of fresh air. And then it was just the wind was sucked out of me again. And it was during that week that someone reached out, a supporter, who I really looked up to and love and kind of saw as my second dad, texted me, said I, I’m concerned that as a pastor you are losing your way. And it’s because I had been speaking up against systemic racism and all the political things and they had said that. Exactly. And I went off because I think that was just, that was the same week that my co-pastor went on medical leave for stress. And I had taken off, taking on all of that. And we were going through the lectionary. And the story for that week was Jesus as the Great Shepherd. And I remember that message, sermon, talk, whatever you want to call it, where I was telling the camera, which was really telling me, I was like, Don’t you dare let anyone tell you that Jesus does not love you and, that He will not continue holding you, or that you are losing your way. So I would tell someone who is kind of going through this, is like, don’t you dare let people interject their own story into yours, and let you do your story, have your story go on your journey, whatever it may look like, knowing full well that Jesus will hold you through that and will be the shepherd for you through that, no matter how far you may stray and lose your way. Because you may be losing your way from the straight white supremacist, homophobic, toxic theology. And if that’s the point from which you are losing your way, then keep going. Yeah, that’s what I would tell someone.
Kate: Thank you, Trevor.
Karlene: The best thing I ever did was get away completely alone by myself. Several days, work out a bunch of grief and feelings and all of that, and then sit with a blank piece of paper and rewrite my own rule of life. I decided very clearly, just starting from scratch, in this brave little short life, I get to live: what matters the most and how do I really want to live it? And and then I ask the question, you know, can I live this way and stay in this role? And then I let that sit for a couple, three months, and it was the best thing I ever did. It gave me clarity. It gave me a place from which to make a decision that there had so many implications to it. And it grounded me when I actually went to make that decision. And then, you know, things got really bumpy for a while. I have it written down in my, my, my notebook. Like I look back at it, like, am I living today the way I want to live this little short life I get to live? And this decision is very interesting, the difference between what it means to be a success, and what it means to be a failure, the difference between what it means to be weak or strong, what it means to be fragile or resilient. A lot of people have opinions about pastors who step out because they’re burnt out or whatever. And I just got to say, you know, when we are weak, then we are strong, and we can decide to stay or we can decide to go. But it isn’t a failure either way. It isn’t a weakness either way. There’s no shame in it. Either way, if we can live from a place of integrity and wholeness and what we decide to do, and I would just encourage everyone to find that place of wholeness and integrity and be able to live from it, whether that means they stay or whether that means they go.
Kate: Martha, parting words.
Martha: I kept thinking, something about the projector screen– that no matter what I could say here, someone could hear it wrong. And what I would want is to sit across from anyone with that question, and I would want to listen to what what their sticking points are and want to listen to what they want and want them to listen to what they want. I would ask them what they’re hearing in their body and what they’re feeling drawn to and what what it’s like for them to attend to the spirit. So anyway, I would love to just sit across from someone and ask them a lot of questions, so that they were good questions. [So that they’d know] Someone’s been there.
Kate: Thank you. Good questions. I am almost like as much as I would want every pastor listening to us to sit across from you and have your face in that. Just even those questions as reflection starting points I think are such a gift. When you’re feeling burnt out, it can be hard even to know where to start. So, thank you. Thank you. Thanks to all three of you for being so willing to come and talk to us, to each other, and share. And not hesitant to share so vulnerably or authentically. But at least to share this aspect of this, just a very small piece of the story of the fullness of who you are, in the hopes of connecting and helping others who might be in a similar place to not feel alone. And that’s the piece I’m taking from all of your parting words is that’s common, and it’s there’s no shame in it. And it doesn’t have to be a lonely place, even though it often can feel like a very lonely place. So thank you so much for joining us today and showing up with your full selves.