ATLANTA -- Two Southern Baptist ministers in Cartersville, Ga., have opened a three-bedroom house to fired pastors and their families.
Most fired ministers find new pulpits in three to 18 months, but sometimes they need help because churches are reluctant to interview out-of-work ministers and other employers won't hire them because they will leave when a ministerial position arises, said the Rev. Jack Lowndes, director of church-minister relations for the Georgia Baptist Convention.
A study by the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board in Nashville in 1988 found that more than 2,100 Southern Baptist pastors were fired during an 18-month period. That meant an average of 116 a month -- a 31 percent increase over a similar survey conducted in 1984. Officials of the Georgia Baptist Convention estimate that the state's Southern Baptist ministers lose their jobs at the rate of about one a week.
The plight of fired ministers came to the attention of the Rev. Jim Strickland when the Rev. Lamar Wadsworth moved to Cartersville after he was dismissed from a church in Dalton, Ga. Wadsworth worshiped with Strickland's congregation for nine months.
Wadsworth said Unity Baptist Church forced him out after seven years in 1988 when the deacons gave him an ultimatum: resign or face a congregational vote on dismissal over theological differences between the pastor and lay leaders.
"There is no such thing as job security for a Baptist minister," said Wadsworth, who is now pastor of Woolford Memorial Baptist Church in Baltimore. "Any Baptist minister can find himself thrown out on his ear for almost anything."
Wadsworth said his dismissal was devastating for himself and his family. His wife was hospitalized for clinical depression, and his three children felt betrayed. Without the support of Strickland's congregation, he said, his children might have turned bitter against the church as a whole.
Although Wadsworth's dismissal was over doctrinal differences, some ministers are fired because of sexual impropriety, financial misconduct or other ethical problems.
"We're not as interested in how a person ended up being terminated as in how we can help," Yarbrough said. "We're not going to condone sin, but we're not going to condemn sinners."
Strickland and the Rev. John O. Yarbrough said the house they opened for fired preachers is named for the late Thomas J. Holmes, who was forcibly terminated as pastor of Tattnall Square Baptist Church in Macon, Ga., in 1966 for admitting a black college student from Ghana. The Holmes House will be supported by donations from individuals and congregations, Strickland and Yarbrough said.