Interview with John Harkey Gibbs

Editor’s Note: Here is another profile of a Clergy Project member by Conatus News reporter Scott Douglas Jacobsen. Note that he cleverly noted and investigated an odd word that the former minister used in his Twitter profile.


Scott JacobsenBy Scott Douglas Jacobsen, Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing

Jacobsen: You published the story of your personal transition on The Clergy Project website on October 25, 2014. You described how you were in seminary, but became more involved in the Joseph Campbell orientation towards theology and mythological narratives and themes. You said you had been in ministry for 14 ½ years when you left it. What have been some notable activities in the last 2-3 years for you?

Gibbs: In the last few years, I’ve become more involved with The Clergy Project. I serve on its board and am the chair of the communications committee. I also am a screener. Screeners interview applicants who desire to become participants. Also, I’m working on a book whose working title is Recovering Humanity: Finding our hearts without losing our heads.

Those leaving a main source of communal and social activities tend to need a replacement. What have been some important initiatives for re-creating a social world for people transitioning out of pastoral duties, where you directly participate or indirectly advocate?

I agree that community involvement is often one of the main things that those who have left the church miss, and I (at least theoretically) support the idea of building secular communities. I have participated some with a local group of atheists, agnostics and freethinkers, but didn’t really click with it so much. I participate in several virtual communities, most notably The Clergy Project, where I have found much connection. I’m an introvert, so I tend to prefer intimate settings over more public venues. I have lived in the same city for over twenty years now and have friends, many of whom are atheists, who more than meet most of my social needs.

You use the term “Humanuality” in your Twitter profile, which you describe as “spirituality sans anything ghostly.” Before that reference, I never heard or read the word. What is it? Who invented it? Why is the neologism important for others, and for eventual common use?

“Humanuality” is a word I made up. It removes the root of the word spirituality, spirit-, and replaces it with human-. The word is intended to fill the void left when use of the word spirituality is abandoned. Not everything associated with spirituality is supernaturally spooky, but there are enough problems with the word to move away from it. However, humanuality is more of a shift in focus than a rejection of spirituality. It is more of an affirmation than a negation. The insertion of human- into the word is more significant than the removal of spirit-.

Any new insights into the post-ministerial life?

Yes, it is less about filling a void than it is about establishing a new equilibrium and finding a new identity. That can take a long time.

What is the single greatest professional difficulty you experienced in serving the church and then leaving the church?

Being a pastor is a role that roots itself deeply in the psyche and is thoroughly embedded in a fairly insular community. Leaving such a role can be very disorienting. And not being able to really use most of the social network I had built up made the career transition difficult. In addition, a lot of people are suspicious of former ministers. They either don’t like religion or they think something must be wrong with me for leaving.

What was your single greatest personal, emotional difficulty in this process?

I was left with a sense of failure for getting into ministry the first place (which felt like a mistake in retrospect), for how impaired I was as a minister due to a lot of inner turmoil, and for the years I spent pursuing a dead end rather than more promising avenue.

Are the sacrifices different for men pastors than for women pastors?

Women in ministry are more marginalized than men. I’m not sure what that means in terms of the sacrifices they make. I think men tend to have their identities more linked to how successful they are in their careers, so a loss of a career can be harder for men.

Thank you for your time.


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  • carolyntclark

    On question #4 re: post ministerial life. For former Clerics on TCP , beside dealing with a still-believing spouse, that can be a major issue.

    When ones identity and purpose is consumed by religious belief and occupied by bringing others to Christ, adjusting to the secular life can be a challenge.
    The godless life means you learn to appreciate the natural world without the magic of supernatural, you need rediscover yourself, taking charge of your own purpose.
    The practical problem of new employment, new career choice can be worrisome.
    As difficult as the transition can be, there is no true going back. Once you see religion as the myth that is ,you can’t unsee it.

    • John Gibbs

      You hit what I think are the main points based on my observation of myself and other TCP members. I haven’t had to deal with a believing spouse. My current wife is an atheist. The career transition was tough though. And making my way out of the preacher role was surprisingly slow. I hadn’t realized how deep it went. All in all, I am far better adjusted since I let go of all that stuff that comes with religion.

  • Scott Heller

    Enjoyed the interview. The questions were chosen well and I think the answers are common experiences for most former clergy. Thank you for putting them into words. I will be adding humanuality to my vocabulary.

  • mason

    John, we think and express ourselves with words, and now we have the birth of a new one thanks to you, baby “Humanality” is born! Welcome to planet Earth Humanality. I hope it makes its way into popular usage and soon shows up in dictionaries, Grammarly, and on spell check.

    I’m probably not a true introvert, though I enjoy a great deal of time with myself and I definitely prefer intimate settings over more public venues, and do not care for big cities or crowds.

  • ElizabetB.

    Thanks so much for the interview, and for your transition story on the TCP website. Sounds like you have been a valiant explorer, and I hate that you’ve felt senses of failure for “getting into ministry in the first place” and maybe wasting time. I’ve felt some of that “wasting time” regret, plus some anger at the tradition for asserting so much that I think is not so & is hard for people to disentangle from…. until I decided that probably I need to take the historical view: that these ideas have evolved over millennia, and TCP members are part of the process of winnowing out the good from the bad. All the poking they do is part of the overall process of improving ideas. And for you, all you’ve tried and explored has made you even more valuable for people walking that same turbulent journey: strenuous preparation for a unique ‘ministry’ in another age of great transition. Nobly done!

    • John Gibbs

      My gains throughout the journey have definitely outweighed the losses. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without both the losses and the gains. I am grateful for all of it.