Pensacola, Florida
Sunday June 17th 2018


Counseling The Counselors

By Jennie McKeon

Ministers seek to soothe heartache as part of their profession. But sometimes, demons bear down on their souls, too.

“It’s a story I hate and love to tell,” said Donald Winslett. “A pastor I know went to her house after evacuating for Hurricane Ivan and found her house 5-feet deep in water. She then went to the hospital to visit a parishioner who had just learned that her house was untouched by the hurricane. How does she summon the courage to celebrate good fortune with this lady?”

This is a situation that is all too familiar for many pastors. In the seminary, ministers are taught the proper way to conduct a funeral or wedding, but how are they trained to deal with their own human emotions?

One answer is the Center for Clergy Care and Education. Winslett is the founder and director of the center and has spent his life helping others. The ordained minister has been a licensed psychologist for the past 30 years and has worked at Baptist Hospital as the director of clinical pastoral education. Working as a minister and a psychologist, Winslett saw a link and has been striving to fill the void of pastoral support groups.

“Eight to 10 percent of the population is clinically depressed,” Winslett said. “Ten percent is chemically addicted, three percent is bipolar. That does not exclude clergy.”

With the Center for Clergy Care and Education, Winslett is trying to provide clergy members continuing education classes to better their profession and someone with whom they can discuss issues.

“Very few pastors have a pastor,” Winslett noted. “One of the things I want to provide is for us to be a network.”

Before the Center for Clergy Care and Education, Winslett was already a friend and mentor to clergy in the community. It was the beginnings of the network.

“There isn’t a student he hasn’t touched in some way,” said Allison Posell.

Posell was one of Winslett’s students almost nine years ago at Baptist Hospital. The class—which Posell described as “gut-wrenching”— was about pastoral identity. Now a counselor at the Niceville United Methodist Church, she still meets up with Winslett at least once a month.

“I thought he might be nuts the first time I met him, because of the first question he asked me,” said Bob Bailey in an e-mail interview. “It intrigued me to get to know him better. What I found in that experience and friendship was that this man was truly a pastor’s pastor.”

Bailey has known Winslett for over 20 years and has had his own “gut-wrenching” experiences with him.

“Don also has an uncanny way of keeping a person accountable, not letting you off the hook for something you ‘needed to own,’ yet allow you to come to grips with internal weaknesses that ultimately he would help to turn into strengths,” Bailey explained.

As a wife and mother, Posell has her own family problems and situations that run through her mind while counseling the community. Sometimes it’s hard for a clergy member not to think of their own family when someone is pouring their hearts out over a tremendous loss.

“A couple came to me who’s only daughter died,” Posell said. “She was the same age as my daughter and she was buried in the same month as mine was married.”

It’s these situations where it’s hard for clergy members to snap back into reality.

“Ordination is not a vaccination,” Winslett said. “Clergy are licensed without being supervised. Pastors are not equipped, for the most part, to deal with real-life issues.”

Father Bob Graves is a retired priest. He encouraged Winslett to set up Center for Clergy Care and Education. Graves retired in 2003 after serving Christ Episcopal Church for 20 years. Today’s issues may be tough and taboo for the new generation of pastors, but Graves points out he didn’t have it so easy either.

“The world and our country were in upheavals,” Graves said. “There was the Vietnam War, racial conflicts, social conflicts. It was a challenging time for the clergy and all of us.”

Like all clergy, Graves struggled with the constant need he felt from the community.

“It’s unhealthy to provide others something you don’t provide for yourself,” Graves said. “It’s even more challenging for clergy today. Because of cell phones I’m always available. It’s a growing concern for clergy. Jesus was not always available.”

Even in retirement Graves keeps in practice. He began holding weekly meetings with prisoners at the Fountain Correctional Facility in Alabama four years ago.

“The fact that I’m retired doesn’t mean I’ve hung my collar up,” Graves said.

Posell has learned when to manage her life and work. A lesson most clergy don’t learn until retirement. Two years ago, she was hit by a car while crossing the street. The near-death experience and the teachings of Winslett have taught Posell to stop and breathe once in a while.

“I often turn my cell phone off at nine and I don’t answer e-mails right away,” Posell said. “I’ve learned you have to stop and tend to yourself.”

Winslett relates crisis to cancers. They have various stages. He wants to teach clergy members to recognize when they’re Stage 1, which doesn’t always happen.

“I rarely get a phone call from a pastor that says, ‘I think I have a problem’,” Winslett said. “It’s ‘I need to see you today’.”

And then when a pastor does finally seek help, they are ashamed.

“Every pastor uses the back door,” Winslett said. “They’re uncomfortable with possibly bumping into one of their parishioners.”

The Center for Clergy Care and Education wants its clients to realize that it is okay to be human, even with the pressures that clergy and their family face. Winslett calls it “congregation expectations.” The center is also geared toward teaching clergy how to face real-life situations such as abuse, suicide and addiction—to recognize it and provide people with references where they can seek professional or clinical help.

“When you understand how he works, you can quickly understand why this endeavor with the Center for Clergy Care and Education is the perfect name for what Don Winslett has been doing for many, many years,” explained Bailey. “His heart is to be as helpful in developing better pastors and finding ways to help them in even the most stressful and lonely problems that pastors often face.  There are situations where confidentiality doesn’t allow sharing problems with anyone else. Don teaches how to handle that stress in productive ways.”

“What he has imagined and dreamed of is for clergy to be rejuvenated in what is at times a difficult profession,” Graves said of the center. “He wants the clergy to realize that we all need help. It’s not a negative thing, it’s not a weakness.”

Center for Clergy Care and Education is a non-profit organization. Winslett’s goal is to provide clergy with counseling and education for little to no cost to them. The center will have its first fundraiser on Nov. 17 at 7 p.m., with musician Beth Nielsen Chapman at the Saenger Theatre.

Chapman has written songs for Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris and Neil Diamond. She draws from her life experiences to provide lyrics that are inspirational. Chapman will be performing with the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra. The concert will benefit the Center for Clergy Care and Education.

Winslett jokes that he always has a place to hide at his private practice, but in all honesty he probably needs a place to escape. He’s married with two grown children, five grandchildren and another one on the way—not to mention his clergy community.

“There’s eleven-hundred of them and one of me,” Winslett said.

So where does Winslett escape?

“I have a pastor,” he said.

WHERE: Saenger Theatre, 118 S. Palafox Pl.
WHEN: 7 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 17
COST: $33-$53
DETAILS: 595-3880,