A Pastor with Depression

The stigma around mental illness in the church, even in progressive churches, is crushing.

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TRIGGER WARNING: DEPRESSION, SUICIDE


I promised myself months ago that I wouldn’t write another post until I had written this one; and I wouldn’t write this one until I’d done something about it. Now I have. Since I haven’t posted since April, it’s taken me a long time.


The news came out a few days ago that the lead pastor of Inland Hills Church in Chino, California, completed suicide after battling depression and anxiety for years. It sparked a new round of conversation among Facebook friends about the challenges pastors face and the rising percentages of professional church leaders who report suffering from and being diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I know what they’re talking about.

I know, because I am one. I am a pastor diagnosed with depression. I see a counselor and I take medicine to help manage it. For a long time I was afraid to seek help, even though I knew I needed it. The stigma around mental illness in the church, even in progressive churches, is crushing.

As short as it is, it’s taken a long time to write this post as part of a process of overcoming the stigma associated with depression. I’ve mentioned my depression a few times in the last few months, but haven’t talked much about it openly. It’s time to.

What’s it like to be a pastor who suffers from depression?

  • It’s waking up every morning and wishing you could stay in bed rather than go to your office to work on a sermon.
  • It’s feeling your heart jump in your chest when the church door opens because in your depression you assume that the person coming in is only there to tear you down.
  • It’s being paralyzed when you try to schedule a social home visit because the idea of spending an hour or more pretending to be okay in front of someone whose attention is completely on you is an unbearable thought.
  • It’s getting to the end of worship and not being able to remember any of it.
  • It’s having holes in your memory of pastoral care conversations.
  • It’s staring at a blank screen that should be your sermon in the early morning hours on Sunday because sermon writing used to be your passion, and now, it’s sometimes impossible.
  • It’s lying through your teeth every time someone asks how you are and you say “Fine”, because you’re a pastor, and you’re not allowed to be anything else.
  • It’s having to fight through every bad day without support because to openly admit you’re struggling with depression is to invite people to question your effectiveness as a pastor.
  • It’s crying whenever you say/sing Morning or Evening Prayer and not knowing why.
  • It’s trying to provide pastoral care to others suffering from depression and leaving feeling like you need the same thing, and it’s not available.
  • It’s getting angry at the advice to “just love the people” when you can’t even love yourself. (Same thing with “love your neighbor as yourself”)
  • It’s feeling your relationships with the community, the lifeblood of your ministry, slowly fizzling out, because maintaining those relationships takes more energy than you have.
  • It’s not being able to talk to God because you feel like a failure, and you don’t want to hear God confirm it.

I feel most of these every day. Learning to get through them is an ongoing process. Some days, I take steps forward. Some days, I take steps back. Counseling and medication help. They really do. It’s a long road ahead, but every step counts; every step matters.


If you think you might be suffering from depression, please seek help. Check if your employer participates in an Employee Assistance Program that can help you find a counselor. Ask your doctor about different options, including counseling and/or medication. There is help.


Featured Image: “winter.depression” by Gerald Gabernig is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

I’m Not Ready

I couldn’t sleep the night after. I rarely cry, and I didn’t that night, but I felt like I wanted to. When I woke up the following morning, my fears had found form.

The election for the United States electoral college has come and gone. In a month and a week, the new President of the United States will be elected (if this sounds confusing, please watch this helpful explanation on how the electoral college works).

My preferred candidate didn’t win the electoral college election. My second-preferred candidate didn’t win, either.

Am I disappointed? Yes. I would have preferred someone else as the 45th President of the United States. I’m as disappointed as I was in 2000 and 2004. I’m as disappointed as many of my family were in 2008 and 2012. I worry about what the next four years might bring.

But I’m also afraid. I couldn’t sleep the night after the election. I rarely cry, and I didn’t that night, but I felt like I wanted to. When I woke up the following morning, my fears had found form. The night after, the days after the election, there was a spike in homophobic, xenophobic, and racist threats and physical attacks. People I know, who are the targets of such aggression, poured out their hearts and expressed their terror at the thought of leaving their homes, wondering if they would be the next victims. Calls to suicide prevention hotlines have spiked dramatically.

In the midst of these voices another call was heard: Get over it. Your candidate lost. So what? Stop whining. Move on.

Let me be clear. There are people who are dramatically upset that Hillary Clinton, Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, and Evan McMullin lost the election for no other reason than they lost.

But the people I know who are truly frightened today aren’t afraid because they lost the election. They are afraid because in the wake of the election they are being threatened and physically attacked.

Let me repeat that: They aren’t afraid because they lost the election. They are afraid because in the wake of the election they are being threatened and physically attacked.

They aren’t afraid because they lost the election. They are afraid because in the wake of the election, they are being threatened and physically attacked.

Get over it. Your candidate lost. So what? Stop whining. Move on.

Maybe I’m not ready to simply move on.

Maybe I remember when even after the constitutionality of same-sex marriage was declared, elected officials still refused to grant people that hard-earned right, making my friends wonder if their marriages were in jeopardy, too.

Maybe I remember when I asked my transgender friend which pronouns she preferred, and she nearly cried; no one had ever asked her that before, and people had only used pronouns to mock or attack her.

Maybe I remember how many times I heard my own family refer to our current President as “that nigger”, and even when others chastised it, they accepted it. “That’s just they way they are,” they said.

Maybe I remember my classmate telling me how often he was stopped by cops while walking down the street of the city our seminary was in, because he was black.

Maybe I remember the first time one of my friends told me that they were victims of sexual assault, and when they tried to stand up for themselves, they were immediately shunned by their friends, who made every excuse possible for her attacker’s actions.

Maybe I remember a bishop in the ELCA (my church) being told by one of our congregation’s call committees that he had better send them “No blacks, no gays, no women,” and people thinking that was perfectly okay.

I want our country to come together once again, to work together, to work towards unity. But maybe, because people consistently refuse to acknowledge the horror and torture that people I love have been subjected to for years, maybe I’m not ready to simply forget it all and move on.

I’m not ready to move on. Not while the people telling me to move on won’t listen to the voices begging them to listen to their stories and what’s happening to them. Not while victims continue to go unheard or are dismissed with a flippant “get over it”. I’m not ready to move on.

I stand with them.

Featured Image: “Student Voices” by Phil Roeder is licensed under CC BY 2.0.


To those experiencing violence and intimidation from people who feel empowered to put their hate into action:

I stand with you. If you need someone to listen and support you, I’ll be there. If you need help finding safety, I’ll do what I can. If you feel alone, there are others willing to hear, listen, and talk. Email. Call. Get in touch with someone. You are not alone.

Courtesy of ReconcilingWorks.
Courtesy of ReconcilingWorks.