Retreat helps battered clergy reclaim ‘sense of call'
Written by William C. Winslow
May 2000

After 29 years as pastor of a suburban church, the Rev. James F. Koob resigned just before Easter. Koob and his congregation had been in conflict for the past several years until it grew to a crisis, and he decided to leave on his own initiative.
      Clergy-church conflict. It happens in every denomination. In the UCC, it generally means the pastor must go. The often sudden and painful departure is devastating for both church and pastor. Rejection hurts, says the Rev. Lawrence M. Pray, to the point where many pastors lose their sense of call.
      "Benevolence is at the heart of a pastor's calling," says Pray, pastor of First Congregational UCC, Big Timber, Mont. How can a pastor recover from such conflict, Pray wondered. What can be done to recover the sanctity and dignity of one's call?
      Until now there have been few opportunities in the UCC for pastors to recover a call that has been nearly shattered by conflict. So last summer Pray started "When Clouds Cross the Sky," a retreat to rebuild clergy confidence. It attracted only a handful of pastors, but they liked its message: "When clouds cross the sky, many things happen. Storm clouds. Rain. Lightening. The sun is lost. But, if one can keep sane contact with the wonder of God's call, then all can be well ... again."
      Jim Koob was one of the pioneers who responded to that message.
      "I came back rejuvenated," he says.
      It was one step in a healing process to reclaim his ministry. His decision to resign was another. This month he joins a team ministry in a new church start.
      "I haven't given up leadership," he explains, but "it is different from my original concept of the ministry. I took the risk to change."
      The retreat also helped the Rev. Jean McCuster retrieve her equilibrium and sense of call. She also has resigned her pastorate at a small rural church.
      "I could have been licking my wounds," she confesses. "Now, I'm not on the defensive. It has given me an affirmation of God's love for me and my commitment to God."
      She and her engineer husband are "starting a new adventure" in a different part of the country. "God isn't done with me yet," she says.
      The Rev. John M. Schaeffer, Montana-Northern Wyoming Conference Minister, was impressed with last year's retreat.
      "We can't recover the sense of call for all," he says, "but for some, a retreat like this is an 'Ah ha!' experience. They learn that others are in the same boat."
      The eight conferences in the western region have pledged $8,000 from the Make A Difference campaign for a second retreat June 5-8 at La Foret Conference and Retreat Center, Colorado Springs, Colo. Contact: the Rev. Lawrence M. Pray: phone 406-932-5736; e-mail