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Churches turn to part time clergy

Churches turn to part time clergy

A rising trend of non-stipendary clergy who are called from within their congregation and educated in non-traditional seminaries is noted by Christian Century:

The 50 members of All Saints Episcopal Church in Hitchcock, Texas, are looking forward to December, when Mark Marmon will be ordained their priest. One reason for the excitement? They won’t have to pay him.

A 57-year-old fly fishing guide, Marmon, whose wife is a lawyer, says he does not want or need a church salary. He belongs to a growing breed of mainline Protestant clergy who serve congregations in exchange for little or no compensation.

The unpaid cleric model is gaining traction among Episcopalians. In the mid-1990s, for example, the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming had few if any unpaid clergy serving its 49 congregations. Now, 20 priests in Wyoming—more than one-third—are unpaid. Within a few years, the number of unpaid clergy is expected to reach 35, according to Lori Modesitt, ministry developer for the Wyoming diocese. All those unpaid clergy are fully ordained.

“What we’re talking about is going back to the original church, where people took an active part and used their God-given gifts for the betterment of the community,” Modesitt said. “This is a way to enliven congregations.”

Read more at Christian Century.


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Chas Belknap

I am working 1/2 time on two small islands in BC. Soon to go to 1/4th time. We are working on a parish manual that is to guide the parish teams that will take up the “curacy” in the absence of on site clergy. These parishes have intentionally done away with the concept of wardens and disparage any model of ministry that depends on heroes or saints. If you want a draft send me a note. Would like to find others who are moving along the same lines.

Jim Pratt

The problem is that many NSOMs are treated the same, and subject to the same expectations as, seminary-trained stipendiary clergy, when in fact it needs to be an entirely different model.

I know of non-stipendiary clergy who work full-time, secular jobs and then on top of that are expected to do everything a full-time rector does: visit the sick, prepare a sermon every Sunday, be on call for funerals and pastoral emergencies, prepare teens for confirmation, etc. And people are surprised when they burn out after a few years. Far better is that they need the support of a ministry team, and a clear delineation (and healthy limitation) of their responsibilities so that they are not overwhelmed or taken advantage of. Examples include raising up a team, rather than one individual, from within a congregation (Northern Michigan), or a regional team which includes both full-time and non-stipendiary clergy (Quebec’s Deanery of St Francis)


I think that the reality is that there is a need for non-stipendiary priests or priests who make most of their income from another source. There are a growing number of parishes who cannot afford to pay full-time clergy. Recently, I have seen open positions for quarter time rectors. As a vocational deacon, I serve without pay. Yes, my formation was different but it was substantial and took 3 years. I tested with the Board of Examining Chaplains and completed field placement before ordination. Not all of my expenses are reimbursed.

By trade, I am a retired attorney. However, when I was working I practiced law in the public interest. I worked for a school division, social services, and legal aid. I have never earned anything close to a six digit income. I live on disability now. I have a JD and a MS but that does not translate into wealth. That is an assumption. One I hope we do not make about parishioners.

Emmetri Monica Beane

Diocese of Virginia

I have seen this nonsense and the damage it produces. I have also seen $$$ be the fast pass to ordination, in spite of what for anyone else would be at least a serious impediment and perhaps a ticket out of the process. And here I am twelve years out of seminary with 100k+ in defaulted loans because I was shunted out, and my life accrued more complications than most people I know could bear alone. Not proud of the debt, but I am doing what I must do, no thanks to people who think highly skilled professionals should be pro bono. And for those who think this is a good idea, let me remind them that an attorney’s billable is between 125 and 300 an hour, minimum. Of course they can afford to do some pro bono work. Clergy, who hold a terminal degree equivalent to a JD, are notoriously under-compensated and are expected to be on-call 24-7. Further, clergy who go to local schools for ministry are not being ordained for the wider church. Local option ordination devalues both those in the pew (they don’t REALLY need a thoroughly educated clergy person with a broad and deep education, do they, because they are, just, you know, rural…) and the importance of educated leadership. over the past sixteen years since I entered seminary, I have watched the Episcopal church covertly and overtly dismiss those who would pursue the scholarly priesthood. If this trend continues, who will form and teach others? Even at the most basic level, young people’s religious education, the Episcopal church is a disgrace, so I guess it is not surprising that this attitude would infect all orders of ministry. These people are devaluing the vocation, and are not to be lauded. (disclaimer: I was for many years a professional religious educator in the Unitarian Universalist Association. I worked as an editorial assistant in the adult curriculum development department in the denomination’s Boston headquarters, and traveled the country training religious educators. I am considering going back to that tradition for the benefit of my child, to whom the Episcopal church frankly offers little.)

Jacquelyn O’Sullivan


I think this is an interesting article; however, this arrangement of bivocational clergy has been more the norm than the exception for many areas across our country. In the Episcopal Church, in many dioceses, the norm really is to have clergy who make most of their $ in another position, or who are retired from full-time priestly work, and so work “part time” as a rector or priest in charge…

Not necessarily “News” but still interesting…

Peter M. Carey+

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