Author Archives: Ed

Proposed Synod/District Impaired Professionals Policy


 Recommended for Synod/District adoption by The Fellowship of Recovering Lutheran Clergy

Rationale: Impaired Professionals policies are currently in place among airline pilots, medical, dental, pharmaceutical, nursing and legal professionals. These policies have been successfully implemented for many years.

The following proposal is based on programs (or policies) that are currently in  place for impaired professionals in each of the above professions. These programs (or policies) recognize the importance of addressing addiction, mental illness and other chronic disorders in such a manner that the person(s) involved receive appropriate initial treatment and have a structured support system for the first two years following that treatment. The above professions report that  ongoing support results in significantly higher recovery and job retention than was the case prior to the initiation of the policy.

Adopting such a policy as a part of a Synod/District structure alleviates the need for direct staff oversight of therapeutic issues by transferring this oversight to professionals with employee assistance or addiction certification credentials. This Impaired Professionals Policy supports appropriate interaction between the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or treatment program and a designated Synod/District staff person. This policy provides the mechanism for informing Synod/District staff about the progress of the impaired professional insofar as that progress affects the professional’s work performance. At the same time, the policy maintains the confidentiality of all the impaired professional’s personal issues.

The goal is for the Synod/District to offer maximum support to the impaired professional in establishing a healthy personal and professional lifestyle through which all persons involved benefit.

Purpose: A Synod/District Impaired Professionals Policy

  1. provides guidelines for oversight of religious professionals whose addictive/dysfunctional behavior has created problems for themselves and others personally and professionally.
  2. offers maximum support to the impaired professional in establishing a healthy personal and professional lifestyle.
  3. is a serious and caring attempt to conserve the investment the Church makes in its professionals.

This policy supports three outcomes:

  1. The restoration of the impaired professional to appropriate work levels and functions.
  2. The assisting of that professional in personal physical, mental, emotional and spiritual healing.
  3. The reconciliation of him/her with all whom may have been affected.

Guidelines: When the Synod/District suspects that a substance abuse problem, other addiction, mental illness or other personal problem is impairing a professional workers’ ability to perform his/her function, then the Synod/District will require the professional to have an appropriate evaluation by properly credentialed professionals or agencies who meet with the approval of the District/Synod. In the case of an addiction issue a properly credentialed professional would be a person with a Master’s level degree in counseling with a clear understanding of the addiction process or a related area holding state certification as an addictions counselor.

The impaired professional may seek a second opinion but such an opinion must also be someone the District/Synod deems appropriate. The District/Synod will require that the impaired professional sign a release of information for only two purposes:

  1. so that the District/Synod will have the recommendations of the evaluation.
  2. so that the District/Synod may determine the impaired professional’s fitness for duty.

The District/Synod may determine that carrying out the recommendations of the evaluation is a condition of continued employment.

For impaired professionals who have a chronic disease such as mental illness, chemical dependency or other identifiable addictions, the District/Synod will monitor the impaired professional’s progress for two years.

For impaired professionals with chemical dependency or other addictions such progress will include carrying out the recommendations of the EAP or addictions professionals for two years. These recommendations will include:

  1. Active involvement in an appropriate Twelve-Step or other appropriate support group. Active involvement includes obtaining a sponsor and frequent attendance at group meetings (90 meetings in the first 90 days of recovery and 2/3 times per week for the remainder of the two years of supervision).
  2. Individual and/or group therapy on a regular basis with a properly credentialed professional for a period of two (2) years.

Monitoring the progress of the impaired professional will include the following:

  1. The synod/district will maintain regular contact with the counseling agency or other therapeutic professional throughout this two-year period. Such contact may be as often as once a week or as infrequent as once a quarter, depending on the particular circumstances.
  2. The Synod/District staff person will also maintain regular contact with the EAP or other therapeutic professional for the purposes of continuing to determine the impaired professional’s fitness for duty and to determine if the impaired professional is carrying out the terms of the treatment and recovery program.

If the impaired professional fails to carry out any element of the prescribed recovery program in the two-year period, then Synod/District officials will determine employment status in consultation with the EAP or other therapeutic professional.

The Synod/District will also encourage family members to become involved in an appropriate counseling process and recovery group, inasmuch as they have been affected by/contributed to the problem even though they may not be aware of the family dynamic of addiction.

It Works if You Work it!

One of the pitfalls to being in a “helping profession” is my tendency to neglect my own needs. Someone once told me people in helping professions go into those professions precisely because they need the help themselves. And rather than getting the help they so desperately need, they end up helping others, thinking this will satisfy their needs.  Perhaps ministers go into the ministry because it is they who need to hear the gospel so much.  In any case, as a recovering person and as a minister, I need to remember that unless I meet my own needs I cannot meet anyone else’s. As Jesus said, “Take the log out of your own eye first.”  My recovery has to come first before I can be of any use to anyone else. This means my meetings must be a priority, the steps need to be my daily habit.

People say it is a selfish program and there is much truth to that. By being selfish about my recovery, by addressing my issues first, I am in a better position to serve others. By putting my recovery first, I am putting others first.

Brother Lawrence, a monastic from the 17th century made this observation once: “It was lamentable to see how many people mistook the means for the end, addicting themselves to certain works, which they performed very imperfectly, by reason of their human or selfish regards.”  Brother Lawrence was talking about how in the name of feeding others we begin to imagine we are being fed by our actions – we become so preoccupied with forming committees, serving on boards and dealing with crises we start to see ourselves as principal actors instead of people who need to be acted upon (works, righteousness, idolatry).

My meetings feed me and keep me humble. Working the steps keeps me growing in communion with God.

They have a wonderful saying at the end of my regular meeting. Usually, after the Lord’s prayer you hear, “Keep coming back, it works if you work it.” At my home group they add this line: “Keep coming back, it works if you work it, and it sucks if you don’t.”

Ain’t that the truth!

Ed T., Editor