The Macon, Ga. Pastor who committed suicide in the driveway of his home Nov. 10 suffered from depression and though he had shared his diagnosis with some of his loved ones, many of the people close to him and most of his congregation did not know, according to statements made at his Nov. 16 funeral.
Services for The Rev. Teddy Parker, Jr., pastor of the Bibb Mount Zion Baptist Church, were held at Fellowship Bible Baptist Church in Warner Robins, Ga., where Parked was ordained at age 22.
Speaker after speaker told stories of Parker’s generosity and selfless service to God and his church.
In a service full of poignant moments, the most heart-wrenching may have been a tribute from his oldest daughter, Kamry, who honored her father by singing a song, “My Liberty,” with the church’s Legacy Choir backing her up.
Bibb Mount Zion’s Deacon Shawn Stafford discussed Parker’s love for his members.
“He was loving. You could feel his love,” Stafford said. “It wasn’t just an ‘I love you.’ He was a loving man. He didn’t have a selfish bone in his body…He would give you anything and everything…He would do without.”
A long-time friend, the Rev. DeRienzia Johnson, pastor of Bethesda Baptist Church in Americus, Ga., told the congregation that he knew that Parker was in pain.
“All of you can say what you want, but I knew the man. I knew his hurt. I knew his struggles. I knew his pain,” he said. “And there were times I couldn’t say anything to reach him.”
God, the speaker said, told him that there were times that “people need to be quiet and allow heaven to speak.”
In eulogizing Parker, the Rev. Dr. E. Dewey Smith, senior pastor of the House of Hope Atlanta, said Parker’s death has been a call to other pastors that they need to add themselves to the long list of people for whom they care.
He cited statistics from a 2010 New York Times article which held that 25 percent of clergy reported not knowing where to turn for help with a personal conflict; 33 percent feel burned out within the first five years; 45 percent of pastors say that they've experienced depression or burnout severe enough to make them need time away from the job; and 57 percent would do another job if they were qualified.
“That’s why you better be sure to encourage” your pastors, Smith told the audience. There are two types of church members, he said, “armor bearers who are helping their pastors to fulfill their destinies” and “pall bearers,” whose actions are slowly contributing to their deaths.
Smith, a close and longtime friend of Parker’s, said he has received dozens of calls, emails and texts from pastors since Parker committed suicide saying that they had notified their churches that they need to take sabbaticals because of stress.
While church people sometimes do not understand how men and women of faith can suffer from stress-related maladies like depression, the Bible contains several stories. For example, he said, Moses was so depressed that he struck a rock instead of speaking to it. David pleaded with God to give him “wings of a dove” so that he could fly away. Elijah hid under a juniper tree and asked the Lord to take his life. Jeremiah said he cursed the day he was born and wanted the man slapped who told his father he had a son, Smith said.
“If we are going to move from tragedy to triumph we must be transparent,” Smith said.
Among those sending condolences to the Parker family was the Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church of Lake Forest, Ca.
Warren’s son, Matthew, committed suicide in April. A letter from Warren to Parker’s family was read during the funeral service, in which he told the mourners he understood the grief they were feeling from losing a loved one to suicide.
Warren said “there is no shame in mental sickness,” taking medications for it or seeking professional counseling.
Stafford told the congregation that the church will be fine, despite the loss of Parker, because he had prepared them to go on.
“We may not have a shepherd but we have a vision,” Stafford said. “He gave it to us. He left us with a vision…He always led us to follow the Holy Spirit. People are asking ‘What are you all going to do?’ We don’t have to think about it. It was already established. We are going to follow his vision and follow the Holy Spirit.”
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