The Alban Institute discusses the work of afterpastors, who are interim pastors specifically trained to deal with congregations who have experienced a betrayal of pastoral trust. The work is often very stressful for the afterpastors themselves as they absorb the unresolved and unnamed emotions of the congregants.
The term “betrayal of pastoral trust” refers to serious professional misconduct by the ordained leadership of a congregation. This violation could be an instance of sexual abuse or misconduct by clergy or it could be a financial misconduct such as an embezzlement or some other professional violation within their parish.
Afterpastors, or clergy who minister in the aftermath of betrayal of pastoral trust, are challenged with a complex and stressful set of circumstances as they assume the leadership of the troubled congregations their predecessors have left behind. The relationships and interactions in their ministries are frequently characterized by distrust and suspicion. Afterpastors often feel misheard or unheard by lay leaders and congregants, and they often report feeling manipulated, coerced, and sabotaged by lay leaders or seeing their decisions co-opted or corrupted by poor process or underhanded leadership. And many say they are often criticized without cause or unwarrantedly berated for incompetence.
Nearly all afterpastors describe a general reactivity to their presence or position that encumbers their work and relationships. And some describe reactivity so acute that it makes them lightning rods for every upset, conflict, and complaint—large or small—in the congregation.
More often, afterpastors are triangulated in petty, perennial conflicts or caught in webs of mixed messages. Communications are characterized by boundary challenges, power struggles, threats, and coercion. Each requires considerable perspective, diligence, objectivity, and grace from the afterpastor, lest he or she become entangled in the dynamics.
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