- (Photo: Bibb Mt Zion Baptist Church)
His family knew and were trying to help, but everyone else was in the dark about Pastor Teddy Parker's mental health struggles until he shot himself in his truck in the driveway of his home in Warner Robins, Ga., on Sunday.
"Everybody is just kind of stunned right now. I think a lot of people are just trying to understand why that happened. We're just praying to the Lord for guidance on this," Russell Rowland, one of Parker's disciples at Bibb Mount Zion Baptist Church in Macon, Ga., told The Christian Post Tuesday morning.
By Tuesday evening, however, the painful truth behind Parker's death began slowly coming to light.
"He was suffering with manic depression and he had some emotional issues that he had been dealing with. [He was] in treatment, but he just couldn't step away from ministry," Parker's longtime friend, Dr. E. Dewey Smith Jr., senior pastor at The House of Hope Atlanta (Greater Travelers Rest) in Decatur, Ga., told CP.
"He needed to take a break from Ministry and the way our culture is, the culture forbids that. How much do you share? How much grace do people allow?" he explained.
The death of his friend has come as a shock to Smith. He had known Parker for more than 20 years, since he was a teenage youth minister at Fellowship Bible Baptist Church run by Smith's godfather, the-late Willie L. Reid in Warner Robins, Ga.
"I never would have fathomed he would have gone to this extreme without having a conversation. I just didn't know," he said.
As far as Smith knew, he and Parker had "a very good relationship".
The last time they spoke was on the phone in August, while Smith was attending a conference in Dallas, Texas.
"He reached out to me. Let me know he was praying for me, encouraging me," said Smith.
- (Photo: Facebook/E. Dewey Smith)
To him, Parker showed no signs of any problems that could account for his suicide, and now he is getting ready to deliver the eulogy at his friend's funeral on Saturday.
According to local news reports, Parker was under a lot of stress. His family knew about his struggles and he did not open up his circle of trust beyond but a few people.
That circle, too, had come under pressure. His parents, retired pastors who were critical pillars in that circle, reportedly died last April and his trusted pastor Willie L. Reid had also died recently, upending his tightly guarded support system.
"Men in general don't deal with issues of health. We don't share very much so we are very guarded, very insular," said Smith.
"It's hard to be honest. It's difficult for some preachers to be honest. Every pastor needs a pastor to kind of lead and guide them. But it's hard for us to really find that relationship because often pastors are trying to compete with or cremate you. And so it's difficult to find camaraderie," he added.
Even so, Parker did seek help outside his circle. He turned to modern science.
"He was taking medication," said Smith. But that medication also resulted in "physical challenges." Parker's wife, Larrinecia, and the remainder of his family tried supporting him as best as they could but it was all too much for him.
"His brother told me that he just felt like everybody was putting on him and depending on him and basically he was giving out when he had nothing left," said Smith.
"He was seeking help, but I think he just needed to step away. It's hard for pastors, particularly in the African-American church, to step away because the church is so personality driven some people are not prepared for the pastor to step away," he explained.
Attendance would drop if Parker didn't show up and so it was no surprise that his members went searching for him on Sunday when he didn't show up as expected. There was a lot at stake, said Smith, and Parker had all of this weighing on his mind.
"How do you tell your church that you have mental and emotional disorders and they trust your leadership? It's almost like a death sentence to share that. How are they going to perceive you afterwards? You have visions, will they trust you? Will they believe it's the spirit that's leading you?" asked Smith.
And perhaps, even in his own way, Parker even tried other methods of self-help like "preaching through" his struggles in this cryptic portion of a 2010 sermon on YouTube titled, "Facing Your Storm With Confidence."
"You know a lot of times, we feel like when we are going through stuff and it's a lot that there's nobody there with us. And guess what? God intends for you to feel that way. I know y'all been saved a long time. I know you super spiritual and you know you real holy but there are times in your life, not y'all but me. There are times in my life when I'm going through some stuff where I can't feel God there," he confessed.
"I try to pray but I don't feel like God is hearing me. I try to serve but I don't feel like God is using me. And there are times in your life when God purposely withdraws from you, he doesn't withdraw for the sake of leaving you but he withdraws so you can grow and mature," he added, in a show of encouragement.
Culturally, says Smith, pastors are encouraged in some quarters to preach through their issues. But that doesn't always work.
"The reality is that preaching does not get you through every storm. Everything is not spiritual," he said.
And perhaps out of desperation at not being able to preach through his storm like he though he could, the "very caring upbeat guy that cared for people especially with the kids," sent his wife and kids to church on Sunday morning then sat down in his black $20,000 Cadillac Escalade in his driveway and shot himself.
"On 11/10/13 I was dispatched to 131 Esterine Dr, Warner Robins, Ga reference to a suicide. Once on scene I confirmed that a suicide had been committed and contacted the proper authorities. Nothing further," read the incident report from the Houston County Sheriff's Office.