Clergy Education/Clergy Graduation

I was listening to NPR this morning and a segment ran on job availablity. Of course, the news is not good in an economy of this sort. What did prick up my ears was discussion technical/trade schools.  One of the scenario that cropped up was people going to technical school to gain marketable skills either before or during doing to college for a regular 4 year degree. I find this both fascinating and quite sound.

I’ve always had to work. My entire graduate school career has been self-supporting. I never undertook technical training but have coasted on an accident of history; my dad built our first computer in the basement when I was 5. I grew up with computers ahead of the curve of the Information Age and, as a result, have always been able to get decent computer work. Thus, I’ve had the skills.

I’ve also had the willingness to work even if it meant outside my training and below my skill set. In some of our rough patches when my day-to-day job wasn’t making ends meet I’ve done everything from tutoring Latin to working as a night-cashier in a grocery store. No job is “below me” if it’s going to keep food on our table and a roof over our heads.

At a meet-up over the weekened with some of our GTS-educated clergy friends, one had just returned from graduation in New York. She informed us that only half of the graduating students had jobs.


Will news like this become the new “normal” in our ever-emerging post-Constantinian state? How about if the economy stays the way it is—or gets worse? (btw, how’s the price of oil and gasoline been trending recently? yeah…) Will bivocational clergy like our colleague Fr. Bob become more common and more necessary especially as tanked/depressed stocks take their effect upon endowments?

It’s easy to say that this indicates that Commissions on Ministry are simply sending too many people to seminary. But that doesn’t quite work either. Seminaries need the influx of a certain critical mass who pays a certain rate of tuition or they go all Seabury-Western on us.

When that happens, we get deeper into a trend already on the rise:  less than half of Episcopal seminarians are attending Episcopal institutions. What does this mean for the maintenance of an “Anglican ethos” or “Episcopal formation”?

As an institution, the Episcopal Church needs to do some hard thinking about education for ministry. What is looks like now; what it will look like a decade from now. This is too important, though, to leave up to a nebulous “them.” We need to be thinking about it and talking about it. I do think we will eventually move to more local options (initial thoughts, more thoughts). And that simply underscores for me the need that we have for good, clear, effective catechesis on the local level. Formation can’t start in seminary; it must start in the parishes first.

10 thoughts on “Clergy Education/Clergy Graduation

  1. Robb (LP)

    Yes, I think you will see more bivocational pastors, but I also think you will see a return to yoked/multipoint calls and appointments.

    By the time everything is said and done, clergy cost A LOT! If you make even scale, plus insurance, pension etc, it is easy to get to that $80,000+. When the entire church has a $100,000 budget, then where do you cut?

    We are in a situation where the church

  2. David Englund

    I have been a bi-vocational clergy person both before and after becoming and Episcopal priest. It is the same as you; I had some skills (carpentry, shoe repairing, etc. learned from my family. My Graduate Education was accompanied by a lot of time in th ‘salt mines.’ I jsut completed a D. Min in Congregational Development at Seabury-Western. I work now as a Social Worker (fulltime) and as a quarter-time priest. It is a pretty full plate (along with wife, children, and grandchildren.)
    Two thoughts: 1) Seabury-Western has seen the handwriting on the wall and is trying to reconfigure for the future of clergy preparation. Whether they will be successful in the long run we will see, but I am proud to be associated with an institution which is trying to think outside the box. I don’t see much of that in the Episcopal church.
    2) I don’t know how to think about your concerns for “anglican ethos’. I don’t disagree with you, but I have mixed thoughts about it. Some of the Anglican ethos that came through classical seminary education I don’t want to have anything to do with. Stuffed shirt old-boys club out of touch with reality. As a late comer into the Episcopal church (ordained in 2004) I have had to gain my introduction to the Anglican ethos through OJT, through Seabury Western, through intensive reading, and interestingly through Anglican blogs ( I read a lot of them, and blogs like yours ahve helped me tremendously.) In some ways, this bodes well for the future if we learn how to use the resources of technology to educate/form in new ways.
    I enjoyed this post. It is right where I live.

  3. Paul Goings

    I believe that a return to a wider use of “worker priests” or “mass priests” would be a substantial improvement over the current situation, at least insofar as it is believed that one of the primary missions of the Church is to offer the fullness of liturgical worship for the glory of God, and the edification of Christ’s faithful.

    In my opinion, the current system of professional clergymen is largely counterproductive to achieving these goals.

  4. Vicki McGrath

    I served on our diocesan COM for 8 years (6 of those years on the Education sub-committee) and now serve as the liason/point person for previously ordained clergy who want to have their orders received (apostolic succession) or be re-ordained (non-historic succession). This discussion about ethos is one that we have all the time. As a cradle Episcopalian with much leadership and before ordination (as well as many generations of family as Episcopalians)I benefitted tremendously from having attended a UMC seminary. But it only worked because I was always conscious of where the holes in my education might be. Therefore, I did a tremendous amount of reading on my own, as well as steering any papers or projects toward Anglican topics when possible. I was always conscious of being a “resident alien” (in the words of Stanley Hauerwas)which is not a bad way for any Christian to understand him or herself. But like Dave, I have met and dealt with my fair share of stuffed shirts amongst the Episcopal clergy and have very little patience with that approach. One friend of mine refers to such clergy as “lobsters” – all exoskeleton with little inside. That does not mean I go in for a free-wheeling approach to Scripture, Reason or Tradition, but rather look for what is alive and gives life in Christ.

    I saw one model for clergy education when I was in Honduras that seemded to be working (at least when +Leo Frade was there). The postulants would gather once a week at the Cathedral in San Pedro Sula (or, I think, in Tegucigalpa)for classes, worship and meetings with the Bishop and other advisors (usually Wednesday). Then they all went home to study, live and work in their respective parishes. It seemed to be almost an action/reflection model like CPE (in its best incarnation). I also know that in some parts of Australia doing distance learning (either on-line or in a directed course of readings with a local mentor) is often common; like the old reading for orders.

    I guess my main question in all of this is how to ensure an identification with and fidelity to the best and most life giving in the Anglican tradition (i.e. ethos) that can then be handed on (traducio) to the next generation in the pews?


  5. John-Julian, OJN

    A couple of thoughts:

    1. There should be a new emphasis and stress on celibacy! A priest without a family can manage on a lot less income and provide a lot more “access” to parishioners.

    2. There should be some thoughts given to the idea of two or more clergy families living communally. I know this is un-American, but it can save thousands of dollars.

    3. A marriage when both parties are ordained priests can serve adjacent parishes without two total stipends.

    4. Several locally-ordained priests serving a group of small parishes, under a seminary-trained mentor.

    I really think that God has something radical in mind for the Church of the future given the social/economic circumstances God has allowed to develop. I think we are being called to something quite astounding and brand-new, and best we start thinking of radical options other than those we’ve followed in the past.

  6. Paul Goings

    I think that Fr John-Julian’s fourth point is worthy of especial consideration, as it represents a “best of both worlds” scenario in many ways.

  7. Ren Aguila

    Fr. John-Julian’s fourth suggestion reminds me of the extensive work done in the Roman context, by Bishop Fritz Lobinger in his series of works on the subject. What Bishop Lobinger suggests is essentially (in terms familiar to readers of this blog) Mutual Ministry in parish cluster, mentored by teams of seminary-trained clergy. Of course, the latter are celibate.

    I must agree too with Fr. John-Julian’s first suggestion. Some of my spiritual mentors are celibate priests, both Anglican and Roman, and they have generally been wonderful, patient, and understanding people.

  8. Ren Aguila

    I should have said “parish clusters” not “parish cluster.” Oops.

  9. Derek the Ænglican

    I have some limited experience w/ Fr. John-Julian’s point 3 but from the other side; some good friends of ours are a Methodist clergy couple. Her church decided that since they were living in his church’s parsonage, they didn’t need to pay her nearly as much.

    It didn’t come across as a means of encouraging new models of ministry; it came across as “shafting the girl”…

    I too think that 4 is interesting. I’m reminded again of the medieval notion of the bishop’s household. That is, the bishop would do his bishop thing and the members of his household (which could be quite extended; we’re talking a manor/castle-plus sized establishment here) were made up not only of the usual servants and staff but also a variety of folks within the lower 8 grades of the ecclesiastical hierarchy who would be learning and working their way up the ladder.

    I don’t know much about the Mutual Ministry model, but perhaps I should take the time to learn…

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