The sting of being unexpectedly stripped of doing something they felt called by God to do was not easy for Scott and Deanna Harrison to overcome.
While living in Missouri about a decade ago, Mrs. Harrison said they experienced a coup d’etat that ultimately led them to resign from their ministerial roles at a church.
The couple has since relocated to Tyler and feels blessed to now be a part of other ministries, but their journey through grief wasn’t easy.
“If you were to show up to work tomorrow and you were told, ‘We don’t need you anymore. You don’t have a job,’” Mrs. Harrison said. “Odds are, you could go to your church family. You could go to your own pastor for moral and emotional support as you figure out where (you’re) going to work.
“If you are a minister and that happens to you, you lose that entire support system,” she said. “You have no pastor to go to. You have no church family to go to. You have lost your entire community.”
After her book about the experience, “Moving On: Surviving the Grief of Forced Termination,” was published three years ago, Mrs. Harrison began to see just how common her and her husband’s experience was.
“When my book came out three years ago, I started hearing from pastors who would email me saying, “Oh my. This is the first thing I ever read that really describes what I’m going through,’” she said. “That’s what planted a seed that has grown into this passion for Pastors’ Hope Network.
Launched in January, Pastors’ Hope Network strives to provide loving and comprehensive support for displaced or terminated pastors as they seek God’s healing and direction.
“I compare us to paramedics,” Mrs. Harrison, the nonprofit’s executive director, said. “When paramedics show up to a traffic accident they don’t say, “Now who caused this? Who’s to blame?’
“Paramedics simply say, ‘How are you hurt?’ she said. “‘How do we get you stabilized, and how do we get you on the road to healing?’”
Mrs. Harrison added that personality conflicts, not a moral or ethical failing, are often the main cause of forced resignation or termination.
Through partnerships with churches, nonprofits, businesses and counseling services, Pastors’ Hope Network provides clients with job search assistance, counseling, financial guidance, ministry opportunities and contacts within the faith community.
Clients are not asked to pay the organization for any services, and pay a nominal fee for counseling services, if they elect to receive them. Foundations, donations and grants support the organization.
“Any grief expert will tell you that in a time of grief you should not make major decisions, and yet if you’ve lost your job and you have a family to support or a mortgage to pay, you have to make major decisions,” Mrs. Harrison said. “You’re forced to. What our network does is provide the professional resources to help make those decisions.”
Pastors’ Hope Network partners with Express Employment Professionals to help ministers find new careers and craft résumés that translate in the secular world.
Additionally, Pastors’ Hope Network partners with a wealth management firm that can help a pastor and his or her spouse make a budget, understand their retirement options and more.
Multiple counseling centers are also available to clients to help them and their families work through any grief, confusion or anger.
The network of churches that partner with the organization also allows Mrs. Harrison the ability to refer pastors to new churches where they can remain spiritually strong during their transition.
“There are a lot of churches that are loving and will embrace a minister and his family and just love on them while they’re healing,” she said. “I’m very committed to the idea that even if a pastor has been hurt by a church they have to keep their own spiritual life healthy, so they need to find some place to go worship to keep getting up on Sunday mornings and go get spiritually fed and keep worshiping.”
Ministers are also encouraged to volunteer, as a way to work toward healing.
So far, Pastors’ Hope Network has been able to help 12 ministers from East Texas and beyond.
Ross Strader, senior pastor at Bethel Bible Church, said he sees the nonprofit as a great value to the community.
“I think the hope is that you would see an individual or a couple move out of a church job or ministry job and at the end of the day they would find themselves, one, being able to meet their needs (and), two, having some satisfaction in what they’re doing,” Strader said.
He added that he hopes any minster who has experienced forced resignation or termination knows that even if they feel they were "kicked out of a church (they know) that does not disqualify them from the family of God in any way.”
Mrs. Harrison said she and her husband have come through their grief journey stronger than ever.
“One of the things I can bring to this organization is to say to a pastor and spouse, ‘You are going to survive. God is not through with you,’ Mrs. Harrison said. “‘I am living proof that God has greater things in store. You can go through this and you can survive, and you can thrive.’
“There’s a wonderful verse at the end of the book of Job that says, ‘And God blessed Job more in the second half of his life than in the first,’” she added. “And I thought, ‘That’s where my husband and I are. God has blessed us so richly and we can say to others who are going though it, ‘You are going to make it.’”