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Clergy take steps to care for each other

Clergy take steps to care for each other

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Clergy take steps to care for each other

April 20, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0661}

NOTE: Headshots of Wiatt and Hutchens are available at

An e-Review Feature
By John Michael De Marco**

Clergy are called to care for others, but who cares for them when they need help?

The Florida Conference has put a plan into place to help fill that need, and retired and active clergy across the conference’s East Central District are leading the way in ministering to those who spend countless hours ministering to others.

The plan is the Clergy Care Team concept, and it sprung from a 2004 national gathering of chairs of the orders of elders, deacons and local pastors for The United Methodist Church.

The Rev. Wayne Wiatt
The Rev. Wayne Wiatt, now superintendent of the East Central District, represented the conference at that gathering and said other conferences experiencing the kind of restructuring and movement to larger districts that occurred in the Florida Conference in 2004 felt a need to do better to care for their clergy.

Wiatt and the Revs. Vicki Walker, chair of the order of deacons, and Mike Moore, chair of the Fellowship of Local Pastors, presented a comprehensive, conference-wide plan to Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker and Cabinet after that 2004 meeting.

“We had been working on the details and structure for over a year, and I believe the East Central District was the first to get it up and running last fall,” Wiatt said.

Wiatt and Walker visited each of the conference’s districts last spring, recruiting people to serve as chairs of their district clergy care teams and setting up a model or organization.

“Our hope was to utilize mostly retired clergy to care for the ‘active’ clergy in each district,” he said. “East Central is organized around this model, and it is working extremely well. As district superintendent, I try to stay informed and augment pastoral care where needed.”

The Rev. Ann Hutchens

A key player in the East Central District’s efforts has been the Rev. Ann Hutchens, now retired.

“As I see it, the bishop and cabinet realize that the clergy face difficult challenges in their ministry settings, and that extra collegial support can make a difference, particularly during a crisis,” she said. “Having served in both the local church and specialized ministry settings I view this as a significant ministry.

“Some settings were very isolated and there was little support available. Sometimes people may experience crises within their family settings; sometimes the stressor is the work setting and its related systems.”

Whitaker said he is grateful to everyone who is helping develop the teams.

“For a long time we have lacked an intentional effort to provide primary pastoral care to the clergy and their families,” he said. “While some have expected that the district superintendent would be the primary caregiver, it is not always possible for the superintendent to fulfill this role because of his or her responsibility as a supervisor. Since the districts are now larger, it is even more important to provide primary pastoral care to our clergy and their families.”

Hutchens said each of the East Central District’s 15 care team members is supporting nine to 12 clergy, and in addition to the team’s retired and active clergy members, one team member is a layperson.

Initially, members were asked to send a note or card to offer support, to be followed up by casual get-togethers a few times each year.

“Ministry is a very unique kind of profession, I think. You’re not a member of the parish where you serve,” Hutchens said. “The extra support can really make a difference. There are some churches that are very supportive, and there are some that don’t know how to care for their pastors. Clergy also have to allow people to care for them.”

Beyond the pastoral care skills and experiences most team members bring to the table, they also receive ongoing training that utilizes resources from Stephen’s Ministry, particularly in the area of listening skills, assessment and referral.

Care team members are also encouraged to refer clergy to the conference’s Shade and Fresh Water ministry when appropriate. Shade and Fresh Water provides opportunities for rest and healing for members of clergy families experiencing any of a number of circumstances that cause upheaval or stress in the family. The ministry offers healing retreats, relocation workshops, Clergy Kids camp, divorce recovery programs for all members of the clergy family, and Extreme Shade, a North Carolina-based retreat for children of divorcing conference couples.

“The point is the members developing a relationship with the clergy,” Hutchens said. “This will vary, based upon availability. One member has visited the churches of all the pastors on Sunday mornings. Some members have responsibilities on Sundays. It took some time to match people up. It’s a large area geographically, as well.”

The ministry is already bearing fruit, according to Hutchens. Some pastors in the district have experienced crises and called their team members for support. One pastor said a visit from his team member marked the first time another clergy person had ever been to his home. Other pastors have expressed appreciation for the new season of support.

“We hope this will build community,” Hutchens said. “We’re pretty transient. There’s a lot of moves, and whenever you go to a new district it takes time to build relationships with the clergy in the community.”

Added Wiatt: “Not only are the clergy being served very appreciative of this, but the retired clergy who are enlisted to serve our active clergy feel honored to be asked to serve in this role of pastoral caring.”


This article relates to Clergy Family Health and Wellness.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a commissioned minister of the Florida Conference and a freelance writer, speaker and consultant.