Steve Shoemaker resigns pulpit

Returning to the pulpit Feb. 17 after 30 days in a treatment center for depression, the pastor of a prominent North Carolina Baptist church preached what will be his next-to-last sermon.

By Bob Allen

The Charlotte Observer reported Feb. 20 that Stephen Shoemaker, senior minister at Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., is resigning his pulpit in order to focus full-time on his recovery from depression.

staff steve shoemaker 2In his first sermon after 30 days in a Maryland treatment center, Shoemaker, 64, pastor of the high-profile progressive Baptist congregation for nearly 14 years, thanked church members for more than 300 cards, letters and e-mails and thousands of prayers he received since entering what he now refers to as his “salvation camp.”

“The life of a senior minister is a very lonely life, and the life of a senior minister in difficulty is a doubly lonely life,” Shoemaker said. “I no longer walk alone. I have felt that every day for 50 days with your prayers and cards and love. I am thankful.”

Shoemaker said his latest bout with severe depression began about a year ago, when he lost his appetite, endured constant anxiety and restless nights and woke up mornings exhausted and filled with dread. Finding relief only in his work as a minister, Shoemaker said things got worse in the fall, when on the advice of physicians and therapists he decided to take medical leave.

About 10 days into treatment, Shoemaker said he began feeling “relief and hope,” slept his first restful night and began to feel happiness “at a cellular level.”

“Over the past year I had wept many tears, tears of frustration and hopelessness,” he said. “Now my eyes were filled with tears of gratitude.”

Shoemaker told the newspaper he knew during his sermon Feb. 17 that he was leaving the pulpit and made it official in an announcement to deacons the next day. His final sermon will be Feb. 24.

Shoemaker said his first priority is focusing on an intensive 90-day out-patient program that could be hampered by the stress of being the pastor of a 2,200-member church. He said longer-term goals include alternative forms of ministry such as teaching and writing.

A master-of-divinity graduate of Union Theological Seminary in New York City and a Ph.D. graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Shoemaker became fifth pastor of Myers Park Baptist Church in 1999.

Founded in 1943, the church has a long reputation for progressive theology and political activism. Former pastors include Caryle Marney, who served as senior minister from 1958 until 1967.

The author of six books, Shoemaker has also been involved in community affairs. He was outspoken in opposition to an amendment to North Carolina’s constitution to ban gay marriage, which won voter approval last May by a margin of 61 percent to 39 percent.

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.

Shoemaker and his former wife, Cherrie, separated several years ago. They divorced in May 2011.

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