When the person praying for a job is clergy

Here’s an unusual look at an often-unreported aspect of the recession: ministers who are unemployed.

From the Columbus Dispatch:

When ordained minister Rudy Alexeeff talks about his job search, it’s clear he’s looking for more than just a paycheck.

He and his wife, Maggie, could definitely use more money, but he wants to find exactly the right job as a pastor. He has to believe in the church and its mission, he said, and his personality must mesh with its worship style.

“You’re applying to be part of someone’s family,” he said. “It’s not just applying for an open position.”

Those conditions make a tough search even harder for Alexeeff, 30, who lives in Reynoldsburg and was ordained in the Christ Community Church denomination.

He’s hoping a pending application as a staff pastor at the Vineyard church of Columbus will work out. In the meantime, he volunteers at the Vineyard and washes dishes at an Olive Garden restaurant.

In a difficult job market, out-of-work pastors face even more challenges. In the United States, nearly 608,000 men and women are ordained clergy, according to the National Council of Churches. A little more than 372,000 serve parishes.

That doesn’t mean 236,000 pastors are unemployed, as their services are often utilized in religious schools, hospitals, prisons and many other settings. But some of them, like Alexeeff, are on the hunt.

The jobs are out there, but they’re not always the most appealing, said the Rev. Jackson W. Carroll, an emeritus professor of sociology at Duke Divinity School who has long studied the clergy job market.

“There are a lot of vacancies in very small churches and in rural churches,” Carroll said. “The small churches are having a hard time filling those pulpits.”

That’s because those churches typically offer limited salaries. And many pastors have spouses who also need to find work. That can be difficult in small towns.

The recession hasn’t helped, as churches have even less money to offer. At the same time, there’s more competition from laypeople who have lost their jobs and decided to go to seminary, Carroll said.

Up-to-date figures on pastor salaries are difficult to find. According to a Duke Divinity School report, the median salary for pastors in 2000, including housing, was $25,000 at Catholic churches and $40,000 at Protestant churches.

Those figures surely rose in the past 12 years but likely not dramatically, said Carroll, who directed the report. For example, a 2008 report from the United Methodist Church puts its average pastor salary at $55,000.

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Comments

  1. Deacon Nob says:

    There are a lot of really strange dynamics going on here:

    –A recent spot-check of several Roman Catholic seminaries across the country indicate record enrollments — in fact some are already closing admissions for Fall 2012 because of issues with capacity. If those men do graduate and are ordained, for the most part they will have a guaranteed lifetime employment.

    –The story also highlights an important distinction between “congregational polity” churches and those under an “episcopal polity.” In a church that is controlled by the local congregation — like the church mentioned in the story — that church’s Board of Elders (or whatever they call themselves) actually interviews and hires the pastor. Each church is different and each church prides itself on its jurisdictional independence. That is not the case in Roman Catholicism — and other churches that use an “episcopal polity.” There the local Bishop decides who is to be appointed pastor or pastoral leader and the local congregation has little or no “say” about it.

    –One of the things I have been seeing is that growing number of folks from clerical backgrounds are now finding work in the secular environment — sometimes full-time, sometimes part-time. And their skills are valued. A quick spot-check at my local public community college indicates that their employment base includes: (1) One Roman Catholic Permanent Deacon (at one time, there were two); (2) One Roman Catholic Religious Sister; (3) One Baptist Pastor; (4) one “Community Church” Pastor; (5) One Methodist Pastor; and (6) Two Lutheran Pastors. Add to that a recently retired faculty member who was a pastor at a traditionally African American Pentecostal Church.

  2. Deacon Norb says:

    “Deacon Nob” — nope! Me. My typing skills have seriously deteriorated!

  3. Melody says:

    I don’t know how many of you read that book “Heaven is for Real”, (about the little boy who had a near-death experience). The author is the boy’s father and an evangelical pastor. He talked about his “other” job, which was a business selling and installing overhead doors. That is pretty typical of small-town evangelical churches; the pastor has to have an outside job, because the congregation can’t afford a living wage. Sometimes there is a manse/rectory/parsonage to live in, sometimes not. Most minister’s wives work (except for the very strictly fundamentalist groups). A lot of minister’s wives I have known are teachers and nurses. Because just about every town has a school and a nursing home or clinic.
    These financial factors are why, even if the Catholic Church relaxed the celibacy requirement, we would not see married men start flooding the seminaries.

  4. savvy says:

    The article mentions ordination. Ordination is conferred in churches that have a priesthood.

  5. Fiergenholt says:

    The term “ordination” is widely used by a LOT of non-Catholic Churches. Whether it is the term used by the “Community Church” movement or it was the writer’s choice as a descriptive action is rather hard to say.

    Either way, this complaint is straining the gnat but missing the log

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