CPG report on ordinations and clergy statistics

The Church Pension Group released its statistical report on clergy of the Episcopal Church. Key findings:


• Ordinations overall have fallen by 26 percent in the past six years. Ordinations to the priesthood have fallen by 31 percent and permanent deacons now make up 30 percent of all ordinations.

•Retirements are outpacing ordinations by 43 percent.

•The age distribution of clergy has changed drastically over time, with fewer clergy being ordained at younger ages and more clergy with older ages at ordination.

•Southern provinces—also the provinces that ordain the most clergy—ordain 33 percent more male clergy than female clergy.

•Male clergy make up 62 percent of recently ordained employed clergy and 66 percent of all employed clergy. In addition to gender differences, age also influences clergy employability in that the older a cleric’s age at ordination, the less likely he or she is to have current employment.

•Over the past 100 years in The Episcopal Church, the geographical distribution of clergy has changed from being predominantly Northeastern to much more Southern and Western.
• Within the past decade, both the absolute and relative numbers of curate, assistant, and associate positions have declined precipitously in several provinces.

•Females travel shorter distances than males from their previous parish when assuming a new parochial position; additionally, they experience smaller financial benefits from making these moves.
• Older clergy move shorter distances when changing cures; further, clergy experience greater financial benefits from moving when they move earlier in their careers.

•While Provinces VII and VIII have experienced a net gain of long-distance clergy movers over the past decade, Provinces II, III, and V have sustained net losses.

The Rev. Lee Crawford notes:

'Recently ordained female clergy consistently make between $1,000 to $7,000 less than male clergy of the same age. Also, as female clergy age at ordination increases, compensation steadily decreases.... Male clergy make up 62 percent of recently ordained employed clergy and 66 percent of all employed clergy. In addition to gender differences, age also influences clergy employability in that the older a cleric’s age at ordination, the less likely he or she is to have current employment... younger male clergy (ages 25 to 35) have the highest levels of employment, with 89 percent of younger males currently employed [same age group with women is 79%]. With employment declining in each successively older age category, the oldest recently ordained clergy (55 years of age or older, both male and female) currently experience the lowest levels of employment, with only 39 percent of men and 43 percent of women currently employed.' [State of the Clergy, downloadable PDF]

Other notes: Province VIII and Province VI ordain more women than men. Province VI has ordained the oldest clergy. Province III and VII the youngest. A growing percentage of ordinations are deacons. 28% of newly ordained clergy are in their 20s and 30s.

What are your conclusions upon reading this report? Any surprises?

Province map is here

Comments (6)

I'd be interested to know if the number of churches able to pay full time clergy is declining at the same rate ordinations. For instance, in my current diocese, in the past 15 years, the number of congregations able to afford two full time clergy has fallen from 5 to 1. During the time I've been in this diocese, 3 congregations have closed, 4 congregations have gone from having full time clergy to part time clergy. Another 3 congregations presently vacant are discussing calling part time as opposed to full time clergy with their next calls.

I don't need to rehearse the demographic challenges in front of us. The struggle for equality of pay and position for women remains. And, even though, younger male clergy tend to have a higher employment rate, one of the most common complaints I hear from them is that they are not received with much seriousness on the part of parishioners who are two and a half times their age (and comprise three quarters of the congregations they often serve).

We will have to change our model of educating clergy and we will have to change the expectation that clergy work is a full time (with bennies) opportunity. At 53, and with 10 years of ordained ministry, I count myself fortunate to have been employed full time for all of my time so far. On the other hand, I have concluded that by the time I can move on from my present location, there will be more people competing for fewer jobs and my age will work against me. I've already begun to put in place a plan to earn a living apart from the church. Hopefully, when the time comes, I'll be able to serve a church for free and be a decent enough pledger to help parishioners keep their parish open for a few more years.

On one hand, I agree with part of what Gary says. And I too have been carefully cultivating the ability to work outside the church (by obtaining and maintaining my board certification with the Association of Professional Chaplains, for example). I expect that bi-vocational clergy will have greater flexibility in our future. I am not upset about that, and I think that the fact that our church model is changing makes for exciting times as we live into the birth pangs of what our church can be for the next century.

But I am very hesitant to go ALL the way to "able to serve the church for free". I am not convinced that free clergy is going to be the way of the future or the way for us to solve the woes we face. Perhaps we will cultivate many more bi-vocational clergy, but I believe that investing in, and paying, clergy gives us a higher quality of theology in the pulpit.

We don't typically pay deacons, here in Oregon, for example. And one of the great challenges for people who are exploring a call is their worry that they will be sent away from their home parish. It's very difficult to find someone willing to leave their home and community for free. At a purely mercenary level, compensation for services is a reason for clergy to leave their home community.

I also feel that a benefit that paid clergy provide is the ability to lend and lead vision to a congregation, when in a regular paid position (even if it's not "full time").

Perhaps we as clergy need to do a better job of explicating what benefits we provide to a congregation? I would also question whether a church that is closed has simply lived out its life span in that particular location. I can think of a few dying churches located in what were once walkable, active suburban neighborhoods, and are now not the neighborhood they were 50 years ago. If the corner grocery store and post office have closed, perhaps the church will close too. To me, that doesn't signal a failure of the CHURCH, but a change in the function of that neighborhood space.

As far as the women/men pay disparity, I would question whether the researches controlled for women who chose less pay for more flexibility in child bearing/rearing. It's a different thing to say that women are paid less than men in general, than to say that women rectors with 9 years experience are paid less than male rectors with 9 years experience.


Just a few thoughts!

Elizabeth Tesi


Reading this in connection with the recent discussion thread about The Process, I wonder whether the trend in ordinations over the past six years reflects declining numbers of aspirants, or fewer aspirants advancing to ordination?

(I'll briefly continue my campaign for remembering the word "Discernment" in "The Discernment Process")

I suspect that it's actually more the latter than the former, Ryan. I'm given to understand that in times of economic anxiety, more folks enter seminaries and discernment processes. In my own discernment, there were over 40 people "in the pipeline" at various stages, and 16-17 folks turned in paperwork to be considered the same year I did. This, it should be noted, was the group of folks who had already completed their 6-12 months' conversation with their parish.

This was in a large diocese (it's not difficult to google me and learn it was Chicago), which has had a long tradition of training more priests than it intended to place in Chicago parishes -- unsurprising, given that there are something like 15-20 seminaries within the city. A number of folks begin/transfer their discernment while already attending seminary; I had thought I was supposed to be a teacher until I fell in love with the "mandatory" field work of my M.Div, and it made sense to begin formal discernment in Chicago. That said, the bishop and leadership of that diocese were pretty clear that they were no longer hearing a call for good, qualified people to fill vacancies in other dioceses, and some of the statistics they were perceiving suggested that each diocese might ordain 3-4 persons each year, and that would be an appropriate number to match the retirement rate. Rather different than 16-17.

The Commission on Ministry was similarly clear that they couldn't guarantee that we'd find a job that would defray the cost of our education. I was a rare case that didn't cause them anxiety on that count; my (non-Episcopal) seminary education was covered by an educational scholarship -- one thing that we may need to humbly consider as a church, and which is offered by large ecumenical universities.

In a similar way, I appreciate Elizabeth's thoughts; it has certainly occurred to me that I might need to seek other compensatory employment over the life of my ministry (though I'm sure there will certainly always be some parishes who employ full time, M.Div educated stipended parochial clergy as well). That said, my friends who are vocational chaplains find that to be an over-saturated job market, and if that's the fallback plan for a good share of professional clergy, we either need to articulate clear advocacy for spiritual care in the national health system, or else add Plan C to our speculations.

But much of this comes back to the topics that I addressed originally in my discernment. A priest told me early on, "If you can imagine yourself doing anything else and being happy, do THAT! And be part of a church, too." At the end of the day, if I was worried about money, I would have leveraged my solid undergraduate degree into professional consulting work; most of my undergrad friends who did that started near 6 figures, and didn't take much more than a year jumping into that income bracket.

The money's nice; the benefits package is frankly humbling (and we ought to continue our work of making it available to lay employees), but it's the work that called me, and not the paycheck.

Gary: Take a look at the 2011 Clergy Compensation Report (also available at www.cpg.org/research). Table 1 (page 2) shows the number of full-time clergy for each year between 2001 and 2011, and shows the percentage change year-to-year. For example, the number of FT clergy went from 5,538 in 2010 to 5,379 in 2011, which is a -2.9% change.

This thread is now stale, but I will comment anyway, in case anyone is still following it.

I will take a look at the report that Ann points to, but I was curious about the bullet point that ordinations of priests has dropped significantly and the percentage of ordinations that are of permanent deacons has gone up. What thoughts do readers have on the reasons for this trend?

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