Pastor takes leave of absence

Stephen Shoemaker, a progressive Baptist minister who has held high-profile pulpits in three states, has entered 30 days of treatment after struggling “over the years with depression and anxiety.”

By Bob Allen

The pastor of a historic progressive Baptist church in North Carolina has taken a 30-day leave of absence for treatment of chronic depression and anxiety.

Stephen Shoemaker, senior minister at Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., since 1999, wrote church members Dec. 28 announcing plans reportedly discussed with church leaders Dec. 26.

staff steve shoemaker 2“On advice from my physicians and therapists (and with the blessing of church leadership), I am taking a medical leave of absence from the church to enter a 30-day residential treatment program beginning this weekend,” he wrote. “I am very sorry to be away from the church on such short notice, but on the advice of my team of caregivers, I must accept the need to go now. I expect to be back in early February.”

Shoemaker shared that he has “struggled over the years with depression and anxiety.”

“I take prescription medications, and of late have self-medicated with alcohol,” he said. “I am physically, psychologically and spiritually depleted, and must get help.”

Richard Pearsall, chair of the board of deacons at Myers Park Baptist, told the Charlotte Observer that he did not know about the pastor’s struggle but compared it to discovering a physical ailment like heart disease.

“Hopefully, he’ll get treatment for the depression and anxiety, and then in a month he’ll be back,” Pearsall said.

Founded in 1943, Myers Park has a long reputation for progressive theology and political activism. Former pastors include Caryle Marney, who served as senior minister from 1958 until 1967 before resigning to establish Interpreter’s House, an ecumenical study center for clergy and laity in Lake Junaluska, N.C.

Prior to coming to Myers Park, Shoemaker held other high-profile pastorates at Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, 1992 -1999, and Crescent Hill Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., 1981-1992.