Clergy Counseling

By: Jessa Goddard, Medical Reporter
By: Jessa Goddard, Medical Reporter

Knoxville (WVLT) - As former Knoxville resident Mary Winkler goes to trial for the murder of her pastor husband, many people continue to ask why.

Police say Winkler admitted to shooting her husband. She said it had something to do with constant criticism.

Medical Reporter Jessa Goddard takes a look at what counseling is available to those who counsel a congregation.

There are certain expectations of a pastor, and a pastor's family.

They are often held to a higher standard, as the perfect example of what a Christian family should be, and that pressure can be overwhelming.

When Reverend Bill Balch entered the United Methodist Church in 1955, pastoral therapy was more of an idea than a practice.

But the need was apparent.

"So we, in the United Methodist Church decided it was pretty unfair to put people out in the field to work, without having any support with them," says pastoral family therapist Reverend Bill Balch.

But the same pressures still exist.

Was it that pressure that helped drive Mary Winkler to admit to shooting her minister husband?

According to Alabama police, Winkler stated "it was just building up to this point. I was just tired of it. I guess I just got to a point and snapped."

"But I've had some women say, I can't be married to a clergyman because I don't play the piano and I don't feel comfortable teaching Sunday school," Rev. Balch says.

Members of the church where Matthew Winkler worked have described the Winklers as "the perfect family."

Reverend Balch says it's that idea of perfection that many clergy families strive for, but none can achieve.

"I don't know why all those things have to be expected. I figure you're expected to be a good Christian, and realize you have issues to deal with just like any member of the congregation," Rev. Balch says.

Not talking about these feelings, Balch says, can result in anger and hostility and in extreme cases a spontaneous, regrettable act.

And could explain what Mary Winkler's friends say they still can't understand how someone as sweet and quiet as Mary Winkler is now on trial for murder.

Reverend Balch points out, every denomination and each individual church is different, but most offer some type of pastoral therapy, whether on an individual basis, as a couple or an entire family.


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