THE REV. Bob Allen traveled to the edge four years ago when his
24-year-old daughter got diagnosed with breast cancer.
The pastor of Florissant Valley Christian Church in Florissant
knew he had to be the strong one for everybody, including his
congregation. But his brave front gave way late some nights, as he
drove home alone or awakened in the middle of the night.
It got worse before it got better: Allen's daughter died in
February. But the pastor found help in a support group at a private
counseling agency that specializes in treating problems of
Who ministers to the ministers? More people than ever, and not
enough, experts say. About a dozen nondenominational agencies in
the St. Louis area counsel clergy. Not long ago there were few.
One of the oldest, Care and Counseling in Creve Coeur, has
expanded to eight centers in the area. The interfaith agency treats
about 300 ministers and church professionals a year for burnout,
depression, alcoholism and improper sexual behavior.
Roman Catholic priests, nuns and brothers receive psychological
counseling at two centers operated by or affiliated with the church.
The St. Louis Rabbinical Association operates an informal
network of rabbis trained as counselors who give advice to fellow
rabbis on a crisis hot line or refer them to professionals.
The Assemblies of God, one of the largest evangelical Christian
denominations, recently established a 24-hour telephone hot line
for troubled clergy to talk about stress. The callers are assured
confidentiality, because many Assemblies of God ministers fear they
will lose their jobs if they admit they need counseling.
Sign From Minister
The pressures on ministers were underscored last summer, when
the Rev. Timothy Brewer committed suicide. The popular pastor of
Central Presbyterian Church in Clayton had just returned to the
pulpit after losing a leg in an accident. He left a note saying
there were few places that a depressed inister can go for help
without ruining his ministry.
The Rev. Dale Kuhn, a 15-year veteran on the Care and
Counseling staff and a Lutheran minister, said parishioners often
hold their pastors up to an impossible godlike standard.
The family of a busy, preoccupied pastor can easily feel
neglected and depressed and may need therapy as much as the pastor,
"The pastor feels his call is from God also and that the
congregation must come first," he said. "I say the family must come
first because the minister who cannot take care of his own family
cannot serve others well."
Clergy spouses and children often live in a fishbowl.
"Clergy families can't be normal families," Kuhn said. "The
wives must be on all sorts of church committees and submerge their
personalities. The children can't be normal kids and step out of
line every once in a while. This creates a lot of stress for all. …