The Clergy Project is getting some well-deserved attention in the press.
Barbara Bradley Hagerty tells the story of project director Teresa MacBain:
Her secret is taking a toll, eating at her conscience as she goes about her pastoral duties week after week — two sermons every Sunday, singing hymns, praying for the sick when she doesn’t believe in the God she’s praying to. She has had no one to talk to, at least not in her Christian community, so her iPhone has become her confessor, where she records her private fears and frustrations.
Moments later, in the darkened, cavernous conference room, MacBain steps onstage.
“My name is Teresa,” she begins. “I’m a pastor currently serving a Methodist church — at least up to this point” — the audience laughs — “and I am an atheist.”
Hundreds of people jump to their feet. They hoot and clap for more than a minute. MacBain then apologizes to them for being, as she put it, “a hater.”
MacBain tried to see the church’s district superintendent to explain, but he canceled the meeting. She was immediately locked out and replaced…
But MacBain did go home. People shunned her. Job interviews were canceled. The Humanists of Florida Association offered to pay her salary for a year, but there’s no guarantee. Only two of MacBain’s friends called her and took her to lunch…
Teresa has her family, but many pastors-turned-atheist don’t even have that.
Speaking in March before a cheering crowd of several hundred unbelievers at the American Atheists conference here, he described posting the picture [of himself with Richard Dawkins] as “committing identity suicide.”
The response was swift. His congregation put him out, friends cut him off and some family members will not speak to him, he said.
Today, DeWitt is the executive director of Recovering From Religion, a group that helps people — not just clergy — find their way after a loss of faith.
“Not only can you survive, but you can thrive through this process,” he said as the crowd erupted into applause.
You can see a part of Jerry’s speech from the American Atheist Convention below:
Keep in mind that neither Teresa nor Jerry have full-time jobs in the same way they used to. Their skills — as speakers, as (unlicensed) counselors, as motivators, as managers — are no longer being utilized.
One of the biggest challenges these ex-pastors face is trying to figure out what they can do with their life — to be fulfilled and to make money — now that they’ve left the ministry. The church isn’t about to help them — they prefer to take care of their own kind. And we don’t have atheist organizations flush with money that can provide job support or even loans to help the pastors get back on their feet. (Granted, in this economy, it can be hard for anyone to find work, period.)
If we want to see more members of the clergy come clean about their atheism, though, we have to give them a path out.