Who do we turn to after a family member is seriously injured in an auto accident or there is a death in the family? Whose guidance do we seek when there is conflict in our marriage or our children are in trouble? To whom do we take spiritual questions about our faith journey? Easy. Our pastor. But where does he or she turn when personally facing similar difficulties?
In Holston Conference, the Pastoral Counseling Center offers services to clergy, clergy family members, conference staff, district staff and other ministry professionals.
“I help clergy and their families deal with issues that arise with the marital relationship, parenting, family of origin issues, anxiety, depression, grief, vocational discernment and spiritual concerns,” said the Rev. Laura Anderson Shearer, director of the Pastoral Counseling Center. “When a district superintendent requests, I respond to crisis situations in churches such as clergy misconduct, or a threatened split in a church. I help churches begin to resolve problems and move forward.”
Shearer leads clergy groups that meet from September to May in different areas of the conference to support clergy and study Family systems theory as it relates to ministry. She also provides workshops for clergy continuing education and preparation for ministry as a support to the Board of Ordained Ministry. She is endorsed by the United Methodist Church as a pastoral counselor.
Shearer has a master’s degree in Community Counseling from Augusta State University and a master’s degree of Divinity from Candler School of Theology at Emory University. She is a licensed counselor as well as an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. She has also completed credentialing procedures required of pastoral counselors by the United Methodist Church.
Shearer said she understands that many pastors are overworked, overstressed, underpaid, and often isolated by a position that often holds superhuman expectations. She has been there herself first as a director of Christian Education and later as a pastor of a three- point charge in the Cleveland District. She understands the burdens clergy families carry
The Pastoral Counseling Center is located in Knoxville adjacent to Cokesbury UMC. Shearer also travels between the Chattanooga area and Wytheville to meet with individuals and groups seeking counseling and consultation. Vast distances and other demands sometimes make it necessary to refer to professionals in the community, she said.
The Center helps clergy, staff and their families cope with sensitive issues – issues that demand privacy.
“Confidentiality is a very important part of this service,” said Shearer. “No one knows who is here, not even spouses. Our records are confidential. There are no reports written and no information shared unless the individual requests it.” An individual can be confident their personal information will not be spread on the grapevine, she said.
A Supervisory Committee, comprised of lay, clergy, and representative district superintendents, oversees the work of the center. The Rev. Don Ferguson, who was formerly in family practice, chairs the committee.
“What I like about Laura, is she is absolutely committed to parish ministers. She really cares about pastors and families,” Ferguson said.
When asked what she liked about her job, Shearer replied, “It is wonderful to see healing in relationships as new ways of relating emerge. This job is filled with variety. It is different every day.”
Shearer said that being a counselor and therapist is a "natural expression" of her personality and life experiences.
"I always found myself being a listener to others’ troubles and joys, and I wrestled with a sense of calling to serve others in a significant way since my teenage years," she said. "God used all the experiences of my life, the hard and the smooth places, the successes and failures to get me to the place I serve today.”
For more information, visit Holston.org or call (865) 805-8929.
The Rev. Mat Merker is a Holston clergy member in the Cleveland District.