Out of the Clergy Closet — At Last!

Editor’s Note: The Clergy Project member we’ve known as “Stan Bennett” is free at last. He’s not only out of the clergy, he’s in a new job, a new relationship and a sunny new climate! He writes here today to tell us about his emergence.  It’s with great pleasure that I introduce him to you by his real name.

===================

By David Mercer

“Stan Bennett” has been my pseudonym for the past few years. In addition to the posts for Rational Doubt, I used it when I wrote my blog, Preacherman’s Secrets, to tell of my quest to get out of the ministry after becoming an atheist. Before then, I wrote the anonymous blog, Clergy Guy, which was a journal about my life as a minister.

I wrote to express myself, to tell the world what it was really like to be a minister, particularly when I no longer believed in God. If I hadn’t been able to write, the secrets would have eaten away my insides.

Yet I had to stay hidden in order to make a living and take care of family.

Hence the anonymity. Most readers understood, although occasionally someone would criticize me, saying that my secrecy damaged my credibility. Perhaps they were right, but I made the best choices that I could.

I daydreamed of coming out into the open. I grew weary of hiding my thoughts from my community, of living one way while being something different on the inside. At times I thought I would go crazy. I longed for true integrity where my thoughts, profession, identity, and even my body would be all in unity with myself.

More than once, I was ready to let it all out regardless of the consequences. I wanted to stand in the pulpit and scream my secrets and let the chips fall. But my friends at The Clergy Project talked me off the ledge each time I reached that point.

Things are different now and after years of waiting, it’s time to come out into the open and introduce myself.

Hi everyone. My name is David Mercer.

I lived most of my life on the plains of Texas and Oklahoma and now reside in Orlando, Florida where I am a substitute teacher and a writer.

I am still an ordained United Methodist Minister on leave of absence because the denomination wanted me to take time to think things over before I left for good. However, it has been a while since I worked in that role and I intend to respectfully relinquish my credentials this year.

My church was kind after my divorce and they encouraged me to stay on as pastor. But they also accepted that it was time for me to make a change even if they didn’t know what was going on inside me. Many of them remain my friends today.

I am now married to Sylvia, a truly extraordinary person, and together our life has begun again.

I have a new blog called Deep Calls. It begins shortly before all these changes occurred. In it I reveal some of the secrets I harbored in my final years as a minister. Sometimes it’s like a letter to my loved ones explaining how I got to where I am now. It’s also a way of saying what I should have been saying all along. Sometimes it expresses my thoughts as I continue my path. I try to speak respectfully as well as forthrightly, but there have been some fireworks, especially when I told the UMC they were wrong not to recognize the rights of the LGBTQ.

I also write a second blog called Quick Drawl where I share what amuses me and sometimes what ticks me off.

It’s good to finally meet all of you. You’re welcome to visit me on both of these blogs where you’ll see my real thoughts under my real name.

Authentically yours,

David

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David Mercer, aka “Stan Bennett,” was the “Stan” who was featured in the CNN documentaryAtheists: Inside the World of Non-believers and the Canadian documentary, Losing Our Religion.  David was a pastor for thirty-five years in Texas and Oklahoma until he quit and moved to Orlando, Florida, where he met and married his wife, Sylvia. David is now fully out of the closet as an agnostic. He is a substitute teacher, as well as a writer and storyteller. He is the author of the blogs Deep Calls and Quick Drawl. You can also find him on his Author Page on Facebook.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • DoctorDJ

    Happy to hear you’re out. Hope the social and family consequences haven’t been too severe.

    I am always concerned with the professional fallout. If folks trained for the ministry find they no longer believe and walk away, what do they do for a living? “Writing” is a common answer, but that rarely pays the bills. You state that you are now a part time teacher. Are you teaching in a school requiring credentials, and if so, did you obtain them after leaving ministry?

    Just curious.
    Best of luck to you.

    • mason

      DocDJ, “I am always concerned with the professional fallout.” You’re right on target with that concern and it was that concern that gave birth to The Clergy Project that David mentions in this article. For many Clergy Project participants TCP is the only place where they can be frank and candid as they work to transition into their new authentic self, processing the often inevitable social and family consequences, which for some can be incredibly severe.

      Stories like David’s are the heartbeat of the Clergy Project. http://clergyproject.org/stories/

      • David Mercer

        Mason, wouldn’t have been able to cope without the TCP. One of the things I wish people knew is how qualified clergy persons are. We’re smart, are strong leaders, fundraisers, and communicators, and contrary to the reputation we have of only working one day a week, most of us have worked very hard all our lives. We’re resource waiting to be tapped.

        • mason

          So true, and those skills and others transition into the secular world. Just seeing and hearing how much ongoing emotional and resource support TCP is for participants has been very rewarding since I joined in 2012.

          • Linda_LaScola

            Hmmm — I sense another Rational Doubt Blog series brewing — experiences of non-believing clergy who made a successful career after they left religion.

          • mason

            Yes, for some who have other marketable skills it can be a fairly smooth transition. For the others it definitely requires additional education and training to enter the job market today. That’s why I think there’s a plethora of agnostics for sure, and confirmed atheists, who stay in the clergy to be able to support their family financially. “Sales” ability has been the salvation of many a Clergy Project member.

          • DoctorDJ

            I woulda thunk that “counselor” would be a common profession after ministry. But rarely do I hear of that.
            Too much additional schooling required?

            Tired of listening to people and their BS?

          • I would have gone that direction but the education doesn’t overlap… it requires a 60 hour masters and then something like 300 hours of internship. Not feasable for me at my age.

          • Linda_LaScola

            You took the words right out of my mouth. I know clergy who have gone the counseling route, but they were younger when they left the clergy and had the financial resources needed for graduate school. I think clergy counseling is the only kind that doesn’t require professional certification and state licensing. When I was a practicing social worker, I was certified by my professional association and licensed in DC – it required a master’s degree, passing a test, proof of employment and continued clinical supervision.

          • DoctorDJ

            That would be fascinating, Linda.

        • DoctorDJ

          An abundance of raw talent, I agree.
          But trained to do something that someone else is willing to pay for?
          Not so much.

          • mason

            Aye, and therein is the rub.

    • David Mercer

      Hi DoctorDJ, Sylvia has a good job which allows me the opportunity to write and speak. I supplement our income wiht my substitute teaching which does not require a license and does not pay well–I wouldn’t be able to live on what I make without my wife.

  • ElizabetB.

    Yaaay
    Congratulations for the profoundly hard work
    and thank you for all the authentic writing during it.
    Happy to learn about the new blogs! Look forward to reading!

  • Bob Ripley

    Kudos. I was struck by the gracious response of your denomination which is closely linked to the United Church of Canada. To ask you to take your time before you relinquished your ordination feels like they wanted to keep the door open in case you changed your mind again. At least they were open to your return to the faith. In my case I was asked within a week of coming out as an atheist to give up my ordination. Boom.

    • Yes I have many good things to say about my church. And it’s a shame you were dismissed so abruptly. How shabby, petty, and short sighted .

      • Bob Ripley

        It would have been nice for someone to ask me out for coffee instead of sending a registered letter. Not that I would have changed my mind and gone back to believing but I just thought the response from your denomination was classy.

        • mason

          Yes Bob, I’ve read many bios of Clergy Project participants and the continuum of how an apostate clergy is treated ranges (from Left to Right) from very civil, gracious, and professional … to … despicable, inhumane and persecutory.

      • Linda_LaScola

        David — did you tell your denomination why you were leaving? – that you no longer believed?

        • I was vague. I said I had issues with my faith and that after the divorce I needed a change. However even after I went public on my blog they continued be gracious.

          • I offered to send in my resignation then but they still encouraged me to wait.

  • Welcome to the light of day, David! Yet another story that needs telling and I hope many will learn from your experience. I wish you well in your post-exodus life.

  • It’s difficult to get a measure on actual religiosity, because of this kind of situation. Many atheists within theist communities are unwilling to be honest about their religiosity. I think a similar thing happens with theists among “atheist” communities, especially in academia, so religiosity studies are really difficult.

    • Linda_LaScola

      Also, sometimes people don’t really know about their own religiosity — until they actively think about it.