My Rant - Mental Health and Grief Pt.1

Thursday May 05, 2022

 Recent events triggered two very disturbing memories in my life and ministry related to Mental Health and Grief.

The first event was the story of a Pastor shared in a recent Presbyter's meeting I attended. He told of his struggle with burnout and how his mental health suffered from the stress he was trying to endure in ministry. Kudos to the Pastor for sharing his story.

The second event was learning of a colleague who lost his battle with cancer. A life and ministry cut short at the age of 48. He leaves to grieve his wife, teenage son and congregation.

Both of these events amplify the need for Mental Health Support in our ranks. 

In this rant I will talk about the first memory that was triggered.

Both events resonated with me and gave cause for serious reflection. The later event leaves us with questions but not answers. There is no human explanation for it. Meaning can and will be found in different ways. In my reflection it help me find meaning for my life and ministry.

In 2002, I pastored the same church with my wife and teenage daughter. I was 49 years old. I resigned and started out on a journey into the unknown. Eight weeks later I hit a wall. There had been signs of burnout and physical problems which I ignored until it got to the point Dena insisted I see a Doctor. My losses had overtaken me and my mental and physical heath languished. 

When we left Victoria and moved to the Maritimes I hoped it would be a respite from the stress of ministry, but it was too late. I was deeply immersed in grief and it got the best of me. In addition to accumulated grief over the years, I was unknowingly grieving the loss of my church, my positions, my congregation, the fellowship, friends, family, my mother and my job. Now my health, as my body was breaking down. 

The Doctor immediately admitted me to hospital. A physical examination revealed a mass in my abdomen. He prepared me to expect the worst, the "C" word but tempered his comments with the fact I was running a high temperature which leaned toward an infection. The game of wait and see started, so did the mental anguish. If this was to be the end for me what will happen to my wife and daughter in a new city without support and without me? The worry and anxiety went into overdrive. Even if I did survive what would the future be like? Well, I did survive.

I will never forget the evening in August 2002 when the head nurse came into my room to announce the results of my tests. "Harold your results are back and you are a very lucky man, it is not cancer"! I got to celebrate with a cold roast beef sandwich retrieved from the kitchen by my Surgeon. A cold roast beef sandwich never tasted as good after not eating for several days. 

After surgery to remove eighteen inches of a damaged colon, a couple of polyps and an appendix, I was able to get on with my life. I was able to live and with the help of medication and a great Doctor and family and the prayers and encouragement of friends I got through burn out and sickness. 

Graciously God allowed me to achieve all the goals I made while lying in that hospital bed. Among them was to be a Registered Counsellor and eventually retire. Here I am, a retired Ordained Minister and Professional Counsellor. In my struggle to try and picture how this would look, thinking its time to throw in the towel and just walk away from it all and leave ministry and counselling to the younger generation, I learned it is not that simple. 

The events of the past weeks made me realize that a calling doesn't retire. It ends when the Sovereign God decides to end it. I was blessed to live and achieve my goals and see retirement age and then some. How can I lay down the torch when others like my pastor friend were unable to live to see retirement and complete their ministry. His loss has given me meaning. How can I give up when the need has never been greater to advocate for the hurting? I must and will continue to serve my Church and Community through Mental Health Ministries and Pulpit supply as long as "He lends me breath." 

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Phil 4:13

Next time I will talk about life after burn out and another journey on the river of grief. The second disturbing memory that was triggered.

Be Well, Be Safe and Be Blessed.



Friday April 29,2022

Since January I have been trying to create a picture of what retirement will look like for me as a retired Ordained Minister and Professional Counsellor.
Today I decided to begin a weekly rant.
A presbyter’s meeting and the death of a colleague this week caused me to do some serious reflection.
Since 2012, Dena and I have been self- employed with the exception of two and a half years as an Interim in a Church in NB and two and a half years in a Church in an Interim and a term working at a residential home for mentally challenged men.

In 2012 due to un foreseen circumstances we had to launch Pastor’s Inn Ministries, a ministry we envisioned for retirement. This ministry included Private Retreats, Professional Counselling and Pulpit Supply. My main stream of income during this period was from providing Clinical Counselling and as a Telecounsellor with LifeWorks by Morneau Shepell for whom I continue to do contract work. Sadly the denominations I served offered no financial support and this ministry did not qualify as “full time ministry” by my denomination therefore, although with over 30 years experience in all aspects of ministry I was not considered eligible to serve in an elected position in my denomination because my ministry outside a church was not considered as “ministry”. This is a ridiculous position still in existence today in the PAONL and the PAOC to the best of my knowledge. In my opinion there is a dire need for “reconstruction” of structure and the constitution of these organizations.

Prior to 2012 we spent two years at Family Christian Centre in Fort McMurray, Alberta and seven years 2003 - 2010 as Lead Pastor in Woodstock NB.
In 2002 we transferred from the PAONL where I served as a Senior Pastor and held a plethora of positions with the PAONL and Newfoundland and Labrador School Boards Association.
Soon after moving to the Maritimes, I hit a wall. Burn out and physical sickness left me depending on E.I. Sick benefits and E.I. for income after 26 years of ministry.

Loss and grief became my new normal. Those “paths of righteousness for His name sake” would eventually have meaning but they were painful and difficult to walk.

The uncomfortable journey became more meaningful as an opportunity came to continue studying to become a Registered Professional Counsellor.
This became a goal for me after attending a convention in Lewisporte in 1991 where Dr. Richard Dobbin was the key note speaker and talked about Mental Health. At this convention I sensed that this would become a major issue in the future and decided to follow the inner prompting and directed my professional development toward Counselling.

It wasn’t until 2009 I finally completed a Master’s Degree in Religion with a concentration in Christian Counselling. I am now a Registered Professional Counsellor with Canadian Professional Counsellor Association and hold the designation Master Practioner in Clinical Counselling.

In “Retirement”, I plan to serve the Church and Community through Mental Health Ministries and Pulpit Supply. Also I want to advocate for the Mental Health of Pastors in post pandemic times.
Mental Health is a passion of mine. Over the years I was certified as a Mental Health First Aid Instructor by the Canadian Mental Health Association.
I am also a Board certified Mental Health Coach.

Next time I will talk about how the recent death of a colleague gave me meaning.