Ministers may be considered closer to God, but the pressures of their jobs can be a living hell, experts say.
The murder-suicide this month of Denver-area ministers Martin Drew and Regina Kobak Drew may be a case of a man unable to cope with the trauma of his impending divorce. But some clerics and psychologists speculate that the stresses of his job contributed to his violent eruption.The troubles facing pastors are growing, experts say.
The number of clerics being terminated is at an all-time high. For example, in 1988, 1,392 Southern Baptist ministers were fired, compared to 1,056 in 1984.
The divorce rate is increasing faster for the clergy than for any other profession.
Many pastors work 60 to 80 hours a week, fueling burnout and isolation from their families.
One in 10 ministers has had an affair with a member of his congregation, and about 25 percent have had some kind of sexual contact with a parishioner, according to a study by a professor at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif.
Pastors are often so overwhelmed with their parishioners' problems that they have little time to deal with their own.
"Who do we talk to?" asked the Rev. Gil Horn, of the Colorado Council of Churches. "Usually not other clergymen. If the bishop calls up someone you've confided in and asks if he can recommend you for a career move, he'll say, `Gosh, he's under a lot of stress.' "
Jim Dolby, a Littleton, Colo., psychologist who counsels ministers, said congregations usually won't tolerate their pastors being human.
"They want someone to look up to, not someone floundering like they are," Dolby said.
Stresses can be even greater for husband-wife clergy teams, which account for a tiny minority of ministers.
Martin Drew, a former Catholic priest, was pastor at the Henderson Congregational Church. Regina Kobak Drew was associate pastor of the United Methodist Church in Westminster. He shot his wife, then himself on the lawn of the Methodist church.
"Stress in a clergy couple would be extremely high because a clergy person is on call 100 percent of the time," said Ed Bratcher, a board member of the Marble Retreat Center near Aspen, where hundreds of pastors have gone to mend their strained marriages.
Bratcher noted that pastors usually attend church meetings several nights a week. "And if the husband and wife are pastoring different churches, between the two of them, they could be out every night of the week and never see each other."
The divorce rate among pastors has been rising faster than other professions, Bratcher said. "It's more permissible now," he said.