Editor’s Note: In this post, the original secret Clergy Project Forum Moderators celebrate TCP’s 1000 milestone. I asked them to address the following issues relating to their early involvement:
How you got involved; what was it like working on this new idea; how you felt then, how you feel now; what opening day of the secret blog was like; how your activity/interest changed over time; your thoughts on the group now having 1000 participants.
Here are their responses. /Linda LaScola, Editor
By “Adam Mann”, aka Carter Warden
I got involved with The Clergy Project, initially through a phone call with Dan Barker at just the right time and then being in the Dennett-LaScola Tufts Study. Also, my fervor to get out of ministry and do something meaningful played a big role in my eagerness to set up the first Clergy Project private site.
Working on this new idea was tiring and invigorating at the same time. For me, it provided hope during a time of helplessness, and was my way of proclaiming my disbelief while remaining anonymous. I felt extremely fortunate and honored to have been trusted and included in the formation of The Clergy Project. I still feel that way today.
On the day that the secret blog opened, I felt nervous excitement, considering that I was experiencing it all from my church office!
In terms of how my activity and interest changed over time, obviously it was heavy up front and for about two years until my career change required me to step away and let others work on the site and moderate the forum.
I distinctly remember being excited to beset up as “member number one” on the private forum by Mike or Andy from the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDRS), which had provided our early platform. And I wondered what that number would eventually be one day. I hope The Clergy Project has been and will continue to be a real agent of change, not only for individuals struggling to make sense of their new worldview without religious faith, but for members of society at large who need to know that it’s okay to question religion.
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“Adam” and “Chris” also developed the Public Page for The Clergy Project when it went up in October of 2011. Here is an early draft of the home page.
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I am “Chris”, one of the two original participants of The Clergy Project. I entered full time pastoral ministry in 1996, and for a time presented a progressive Evangelical message to the congregations I served. Over time, I became troubled by a number of the questions that Christianity did not seem to answer. In particular, the issues of theodicy and the problem of evil and the highly edited nature of scripture became concerns for me. For a number of years I became involved in the Emerging Church movement, which seeks to approach these questions with a sense of openness. However, I was still deeply unsatisfied with the Church’s overall sense of certainty and its closed attitude. Through a process of deep personal searching, I grew into the awareness that I no longer connected with the supernaturalist claims of modern Christianity.Around 2010 I learned that other serving pastors might have similar misgivings. I became aware of the Dennett/LaScola study concerning clergy in similar positions to mine, as well as Dan Barker’s story and podcast. I contacted Barker, who in turn informed me about the discussions he was having with Richard Dawkins. Through subsequent contact with Linda LaScola, I was connected with the first participant in the emerging Clergy Project, known then as “Adam Mann”. Working with him and others in helping to design the nascent Clergy Project forum was exciting and inspiring.
I was immediately hopeful about the prospects of The Clergy Project, for the purpose of community and connection with others of similar experience if nothing else. My primary hope was that a network of post-supernaturalist communities would emerge. These communities would be led by former ministers and designed to connect people together, and to help people ask the deeper questions of life free from the limited constraints of both dogmatic religion and hard rationalism. That is still my hope for the future of The Clergy Project.
After the launch of the private TCP forum, I was surprised that so many of the people applying for membership were former ministers. In some cases, applicants had not served in decades and were no longer experiencing the stresses of leaving the ministry. I had hoped that there would be more ministers, like me, who were actually currently serving and who were looking for guidance and support.
Thankfully, many currently serving ministers have joined TCP since then, and my hope as the group reaches the 1000 participant milestone is for more to become involved and find support.
I am thankful for my involvement in the early stages of The Clergy Project. I left ministry in 2011, transitioning to work in the nonprofit sector. While I am not involved in any aspect of the freethought movement today, I am grateful for the community I found in TCP. I have moved on to lead a life today that is free from dogma, and free to explore the questions of life with openness, curiosity, and hope.
Bio: Carter Warden is a former conservative pastor of 25 years, now openly atheist. Using the pseudonym “Adam Mann,” he was a founder of The Clergy Project, its first member and one of its first forum moderators. “Adam” was one of the original five interviewees in the 2010 Dennett-LaScola article, “Preachers who are not Believers.” While still in ministry, he was interviewed undercover by ABC World News Tonight and the Canadian Broadcasting Company. Carter made his change of beliefs public at the Freedom From Religion Foundation National Convention on October 7, 2016. Carter is now a member of the Secular Student Alliance Speakers Bureau. He hopes that his story and songs will bring encouragement to clergy who feel trapped because of changing beliefs, people who fear openly identifying themselves as non-religious, and anyone who desires to be honest and genuine about personal beliefs, identity and personal expression that may go against societal norms.
Bio: “Chris”is a former pastor, having served for over 18 years in moderate Baptist churches in the southeast US. He now holds a fully naturalistic view of reality, having come to this position partly because he “takes the Bible too seriously to take it literally.” He has had a fulfilling secular job for several years and he and his family now spend time together enjoying the natural world, free from the chains of dogma.