CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Saying he needed to focus full time on continuing his recovery, the Rev. Steve Shoemaker has resigned as senior minister at Myers Park Baptist Church.
The 64-year-old Shoemaker returned to the pulpit last Sunday after a month of treatment for what he described as struggles with anxiety, depression and “self-medicating with alcohol.”
He’ll end his nearly 14-year tenure at the high-profile liberal church with a last sermon Sunday.
“I am deeply grateful for the new health I have,” Shoemaker told the Observer Wednesday. “And I believe that in order to continue on that extraordinary path toward wholeness and health, I didn’t want to reenter the very stressful life of a senior minister of a 2,200-member church.”
Instead, Shoemaker said, he’ll eventually pursue “a different use of my gifts for the kingdom of God,” including teaching and writing.
For now, though, he plans to give his “full attention” to an intensive 90-day out-patient program that was recommended by the center where he was treated in January.
He called his time at the Maryland treatment center “the most important month of my life. …I really needed complete rest and safety to deal with all the things I was dealing with.”
His current state of mind? “I’m a happy man… But I also feel extraordinary sorrow about leaving.”
Shoemaker said he knew during his sermon last Sunday – he titled it “Journey to Daybreak” – that he planned to leave the church, where he has been a popular leader.
Monday night, he made it official during a meeting of the board of deacons.
Board chairman Richard Pearsall said he was “disappointed and saddened” by Shoemaker’s decision, “and I imagine most people were surprised.”
In a Tuesday letter to members of the congregation, Pearsall saluted Shoemaker for “his witness and ministry” to the church and to Charlotte. He said the church will host a reception at a later date to honor him. And the church will also present him with a “love offering,” or financial parting gift.
Pearsall said Myers Park Baptist is now lining up fill-in preachers for Sundays over the next month or two.
“Sometime during that period, we’ll find an interim (senior) minister,” he said. That clergyperson, to be chosen by a search committee, will serve for a year or two, Pearsall said. By then, he said, another search committee will have located a candidate to succeed Shoemaker on a more permanent basis.
Shoemaker also penned a letter to congregants, dated Monday. In it, he said he is resigning “with a wrenching sorrow of parting. One does not love much without grieving much. We have been given so much together.”
He told the Observer he plans to go ahead with plans to join members of Myers Park Baptist and Temple Beth El on an interfaith visit to Israel next month.
But before then, Shoemaker – the fifth pastor in the church’s 70-year history – will deliver a final sermon at Sunday’s 11 a.m. service.
He said it’ll be “a sermon of thanksgiving” and one about “the dawn. God gives both churches and ministers new dawns of opportunity. The congregation has been given a new dawn and I’m being given one, too.”