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Clergy employment in the Episcopal Church – a new landscape

Clergy employment in the Episcopal Church – a new landscape

The Church Pension Group completed a survey analysis of the state of employment of clergy in the Episcopal Church. Their survey results demonstrate a clear difference in models of employment by geography and gender, and a decline in the “old model” of full-time employment at a single Episcopal entity until retirement.

The survey produced 11 profiles of priests, ranging from those in traditional full-time employment, through various forms of part-time, bivocational, and supply, to those with no work.

A slim majority of active-age respondents (52%) were still within the traditional model:

Compared to those serving part-time at a single parish, the proportions of men to women serving full-time are almost exactly reversed: full-time male 62%, female 38%; part-time male 31%, female 69%.

Women also made up a large majority of the supply category (73%), and a significant majority of those in non-stipendiary positions (57%).

While priests reporting no employment made up only 2% of the survey sample, women were again over-represented in the results (65% female to 35% male).

Plenty of priests outside of the “norm” wish they were within it.

The CPG reports the following takeaways:

  • ‘Women perceive that they are less likely to get “traditional” positions’
  • ‘Parishes can’t afford a full-time priest, but still have expectations for full-time ministry’
  • ‘It’s not just the parishes that are financially stressed’ [but also clergy]
  • ‘Full-time rectorships are few and hard to come by’
  • ‘A single career break has long-lasting consequences’
  • ‘The “norm” is no longer the “norm”’

Read the whole report here.

This post has been edited for clarity.


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Marshall Scott

The more I think about it, I wonder if we’re not caught up in an historical aberration. I have thought that the post-WW II economic growth, allowing for so many one-income middle class households, is itself an aberration. Prior to that, most households had multiple “wage-earners,” whether in industrial factories and mills, or, more often, in agriculture, where every hand mattered.

It was also in that time that so many of our urban and suburban congregations were founded. And now, as the economy “reverts to the mean,” as it were, we’re returning to clergy who, for any one congregation, are part time. Once that meant more multi-cure circuits between county seats. Now those are rising closer to town.

Even when I was a much younger priest, when things still seemed to boom, rural congregations frequently were served by priests who made their living in some other location. I wonder if, like so many social phenomena, this seems new to us, but isn’t really new at all.


The gender break-down makes for interesting reading, in so far as that goes. But of course the real story is the overall story: an almost surely unsustainable future for TEC based upon traditional models. What percentage of parishes now has more than 100 ASA? I believe it is very low…10%? No wonder the average age is high and the number of part-time clergy on the rise. Good for the CPG studying this, but then one supposes it is also incumbent upon them for business reasons.


Is ACNA any better? Of the three ANiC parishes around here, there are 2 full time clergy and 4 part-time/bivocational/non-stipendiary (3 of whom are under age 40), and none of the three churches has its own building to maintain, so they don’t have that strain on their budgets. One of my parishioners attends an ANiC church when he visits his daughter’s family, there being no convenient ACoC church in the area, and they have a priest only every other Sunday, with lay persons leading MP the alternate Sundays.

Ann Fontaine

Actually it may be business but it is also pastoral – how can the changing life of clergy be supported by the Pension Plan and issues of future security for people who have served.

Professor Christopher Seitz

No complaint from me on that. Yet one can imagine how challenging it is for the CPG to adjust to such a tremendously different amortization reality, with clergy serving such short tenures and so many no longer full time.

Bob Solon Jr.

This report is dated September 2016. Was it only now released by CPG, or has it simply not gotten traction since it was published? Seems to me this is relevant to the reporting itself.

Jon White

We here at the Cafe just recently came across it. I don’t think it was secret or anything; it’s just a really big internet and it can be a challenge to find everything interesting or important.

Scott Bellows

Hey Bob — I think the answer is in the title of the full report (linked below): “Pension Plan Revision Survey for Priests.” This would seem to be one of the resultant documents produced as part of the background work in which CPG was engaged during the last triennium prior to its recent revision of The Plan.

Gillian Barr

The date on this is 15 months ago. Has CPG done any further analysis in that time?

Michael Mornard

I live in the “green” area.

We are looking at the death of the Episcopal Church in rural America. “Bi Vocational” in North or South Dakota, or Iowa, or any other rural area?

Outside of major cities, “bi vocational” means “half time at minimum wage.”

So half time on a diocesan minimum of $30,000 to $35,000 per year, no benefits, plus half minimum wage.

This is the future of the Episcopal Church in the Midwest; expecting priests to complete 3 years of graduate school to get $23,000 or so per year no benefits, no housing allowance.

Marshall Scott

Brother Mornard, I also live in the “green” area, and I see things a little differently. By and large, our bivocational clergy have the secular employment first, and do not leave that for orders. Some are able to adjust their time to 50/50, but most have less than 50% of their time for congregational work. Yes, we know “there are no half time positions in the church;” but with good lay leadership training and clear expectations our small congregations are serving.

With that, Brother Seitz, we are also looking at other metrics than simply ASA and/or budget. Are these congregations “ministry centers,” making important contributions in their communities that are worth figuring out how to sustain? If so, than we work on how to sustain them, if with different goals and different resources.

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