Young Clergy

There’s an interesting post up at the Episcopal Cafe on whether there should be age-limits/work requirements for candidates before they enter seminary. I know some diocese already have an informal rule on this but I don’t know how many…

It’s an interesting topic and one well worth discussing: what’s the trade-off between a young person with fresh ideas and a true passion for ministry who has followed it at great personal cost (like–say–massive student loan debt that a clergy salary really doesn’t help pay down…) and a second-career person with “real-world/life” experience who has deferred their calling or come to it later in life. I do think there are benefits to both…

One word on the experience note, though, some people seem surprised at the recent trend of bishops who have so little experience as priests… For second-career people, the time that they will be priests and be able to actively serve the church is shorter than the first-career folks…

I didn’t go into that over there, and I won’t go into it now because I get so fixated on one particular facet of this problem that hits painfully close to home–it’s on the conflicting messages and the reality of the church.

The church says it wants young clergy.

The church says it wants women clergy.

But what it demonstrably doesn’t want is young women clergy. I haven’t done any kind of systematic survey but I’d bet money a systematic one would confirm my suspicions currently based on anecdotal evidence. The absolute last group of people to be hired out of any group of new priests are young women of childbearing age–especially those who have small children.

It’s a disgrace. The message we get over and over again is that the church really doesn’t want to ordain women unless they promise to act like men.

If you’re going to say that you ordain women then ordain them–then hire them!

14 thoughts on “Young Clergy

  1. JTFS

    A dissonance between what the Church says and what the Church actually does? Shocking!!! ;-)
    Seriously, the discernment/ordination/clergy hiring processes in our Church are a joke. It should be simple:
    1. Have a reasonable, prayerful, and for God’s sake gracious or at least human way for discerning a call.
    2. We are a Church that claims “diversity,” but have you seen the average group of postulants in just about any given diocese? They sure seem to fit a “type.” Let’s expand our notions about just who God might call. After all, Jesus the Rabbi, picked people whom other Rabbis had obviously passed over. Pete and the gang had been before the Rabbi, shred their knowledge of God and the Scriptures, and had been sent on the “find their life’s work.” Jesus seemed to think that these folks…not the best, or the brightest, or the most wealthy, or the most influential…could “do” what he did.
    3. Make it possible for anyone who is identified as having a call to be able to reasonably afford good seminary education and priestly formation without drowning in loan debt. Right now, I would wager that we are missing out on the ministry of scores of good clergy with valid calls who just aren’t in a financial position to take three years off of work and sock tens of thousands of dollars into more schooling. (BTW…EDS is responding to this issue by offering a limited residency MDiv)
    4. Give Dioceses more control when it comes to clergy hiring/placement. Congregations play a vital role, but often can’t see their real needs or beyond their own limitations. We are not Congregationalists for gosh sakes!
    There’s a lot more, but that would be a start…

    Grace and Peace,

  2. *Christopher

    First, in my experience (so Berkeley :) ), second-career folk are their own mixed bag sometimes bringing with them the hurts of the past (when they couldn’t be ordained) manifest as want for power, models of ministry that are more corporate America than priestly, and sometimes their own sense that they’ve nothing to learn further because they have experience.

    Young folks are their own mixed bag.

    What is important is would this person be a fine priest and pastor?

    And you’re right, young women are often treated quite poorly in this regard in my observation. In fact, I will observe that across the board, except for the RC sems, that those given first order play are the young men who are married, and if they have children, all the better. But if rather a young woman is married with children, she’s a liability or so it comes across. And I won’t vetch about those who don’t fit the mould at all…I’ve done that enough.

    I think your cathedral model has some merits with regard to training clergy and those laity who are called to particular ministries because it might reduce debts.

    Unlike Joe, having seen how the bishop has all the control in imposing a pastor/priest in the UMC and RC, I would want any diocesan input carefully spelled out.

  3. Derek the Ænglican

    Wait, Joe–do you mean God might call other people than just retired corporate lawyers?!? Wow–I may have to rethink *everything*…
    Actually, *Christopher, in our specific case we’ve been passed over in preference to “those who don’t fit the mould.” I guess there wasn’t a concern about a maternity leave there…

  4. John-Julian, OJN

    Thanks, Derek and Joe.

    One of the reasons the Episcopal Church is “graying” is because the clergy themselves are graying. Further, I absolutely disavow the idea that a person should have a business background before seminary – what I have often seen is that that business background never disappears, and the clergy tend to envision themselves as middle management. The MBA tends to push the MDiv into the background! The “military” style of one or two ex-military bishops comes to mind! If we want youth in the pews, then we should put youth in the pulpit!

    And I think the “way in” for women could be the bishops taking the initiative in appointing women as vicars to mission congregations, and other diocesan posts. That helps gets them “exposure” and “accessibility”. Their continuing, subtle second-class status is shameful. (Although a friend whose rector is a woman told me that his eight-year-old son asked, “Daddy, can boys be priests, too?”)

  5. JTFS

    Unlike Joe, having seen how the bishop has all the control in imposing a pastor/priest in the UMC and RC, I would want any diocesan input carefully spelled out.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want them to have all control, but more input…so that congregations can’t “duck” certain types of priests who might actually meet their needs, but aren’t a certain “type.”

    Grace and Peace,

  6. Derek the Ænglican

    I agree, Fr. John-Julian—bishops can and should do this.

    I do want to lift up Joe’s point too: “certain types of priests who might actually meet their needs“. Not all priests fit all parishes… I’m absolutely for women priests and I’m absolutely for parishes growing outside of their own little comfort zones. However, I wouldn’t want to see bishops impose women clergy on certain conservative parishes for political and punitive purposes (say, FiF parishes…). It doesn’t help the parish—and it sure doesn’t help the priest either.

    No, what bothers me more are the parishes who like to talk the justice/inclusive/progressive game as long as it costs them nothing but who act in the contrary fashion when the rubber hits the road…

  7. *Christopher

    Maternity leave seems to be the rub with regard to young women, and I’ve said it before, we need to be thinking what is wrong with us that we don’t think fathers should be taking some leave as well (we’re family-friendly until it might cost us something as a congregation). On the whole, I know too many young women and lg people who have never received calls after years of seminary, and sometimes passed over for quite mediocre alternatives–I didn’t realize your dioceses was one that would call lg priests, there are many that don’t and won’t no matter how qualified, hence, I probably worship in a parish other than Episcopal if we live in Oregon where frankly, there are Lutheran parishes more friendly.

  8. *Christopher

    Oh, and that doesn’t include the number of people of color I’ve known who’ve never received a call in TEC or the ELCA because of their culture and skin color. There’s another one. We want diversity, people of color, but we don’t want to call them and give them jobs.

  9. The young fogey

    Without getting into any of the controversial Catholic-vs-Protestant/liberal issues, a few words…

    My libertarian mentors have written and linked to articles that explain the whole maternity-leave issue from a purely business POV (and yes, that would include the business aspect of running a church). These writers argue there is no ‘glass ceiling’ in the form of deliberate discrimination against all women but rather owners and managers invest in people who are more likely to stay. These happen to be men. Many women 1) drop or stop out to take on the great and admirable, and yes, feminine, job of bearing and raising human beings, full time (the wonderful lady who long ago gave me my break in the newspaper biz did just that, decades ago), and 2) mothers and non, probably correctly think the ol’ rat race sucks and leave if they can afford to.

    The Episcopal ministry does seem to favour the rich, that is, those who can afford to pay for training. (Not an issue in England where if the diocese accepts you for training it pays for it.) I agree that partly explains the big second-career clergy phenom.

    Interestingly the semi-congregational polity of the Episcopal Church has enabled Anglo-Catholic parishes to exist to this day outside of AC dioceses.

  10. Anastasia

    I think you’re right, this is an issue of justice. there isn’t any in the workplace. it isn’t just the church. women continue to make less money than men do and women with children make even less money than childless women, just as they make less than men who have children.

    It really doesn’t change things much to point out that some women opt of the whole mess if they can. Women would be “more likely to stay” if employers valued them and put policies in place to protect the things women value. Self-selection explains some things, but it really only occurs because the system sucks. It sucks worse in the United States regarding things like family leave than in almost any other country in the world.

    what’s disheartening in this conversation is that we’d like to hope the church would be better about such things . Clearly, it isn’t when well-qualified, highly capable young female priests can’t get jobs.

  11. Michelle

    Well, I am currently on the search committee at my parish and none of these things have come up yet. (We are however just getting started.) There will be a parish wide debate coming up on what age we want (among other things),but it will be just a guideline for the committee.

    We are more concerned with priestly experience and track record at previous parishes. We are too large to be a ‘starter parish’. I think the assumption is that recently ordained priets should have experience as vicars or at small parishes first.

  12. lutherpunk

    Funny, the Senior that I worked with the last 5 years became a pastor at the ripe old age of 25. Did he make mistakes? Sure! But in 30+ years of full time parish ministry he managed to leave each church he pastored larger, in better financial shape, and with a greater passion for mission than when he first arrived. I think it beats the hell out of the middle-management model.

    This isn’t to say that second career folks bring no gifts, but all mainline churches need to really re-think the incoming age for candidacy at the older end of the spectrum. I think there is something as being too old to start, just like being too young.

  13. revdrmom

    I don’t think age per se is the most important variable. In my class we had people from early 20s to upper 50s, and as with any class, I guess, there were those whom everyone recognized would be fantastic priests and a few who everyone wondered how they got there….but in neither case was there a correlation with age.

    The hiring/calling process I think is the worst thing. There is so much ageism–working against both younger and older new ordinands. In too many minds the perfect priest is still the 30 something male with wife and kids.

    Ageism and sexism have no place in the discernment process or the hiring process.

  14. Mrs. M

    “The MBA tends to push the MDiv into the background!” I couldn’t agree more.

    As a young, female postulant, I am profoundly relieved to read your post, and to see that I’m not the only one experiencing this. I feel a bit like I’m being Gaslighted– “We’re dying to have younger clergy,” while at the same time discouraged because I’m not as experienced.

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