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What young clergy want you to know

What young clergy want you to know

Pastor Keith Anderson, pastor of Upper Dublin Lutheran Church in Ambler, PA and co-author of the new book Click2Save: The Digital Ministry Bible, is a young pastor and he has listened to other young clergy about their concerns, their hopes, their fears and their wishes.


Here is what he thinks young clergy want the rest of us in the church to know:

Want to know what’s on the mind of young clergy? Try hanging out at the hotel bar at 1:00am during synod assembly. Despite what you might think, it is a sobering experience.

You will hear comments and conversation that range from anger, frustration, to deep sadness. Many of my friends and colleagues, who are talented and smart ministry leaders, are really struggling.

It troubles me to see such worry and cynicism among my friends and young clergy. It is a good thing for the church when young clergy are idealistic and hopeful. It reminds us all of why we do this work. I have such compassion for them and share many of their frustrations.

If you happened to show up at the bar at 1:00am, I think they would tell you…

  • They love Jesus and they love the Church
  • They understand they are presiding over the death of American Christendom
  • They are okay with that
  • But they want the church and their leaders to be honest about where we are.
  • The sooner we can come to terms with our dyings, the sooner we can live into the new life
  • that is emerging from it. Despite their concerns, they remain hopeful.
  • They yearn for authenticity and honesty in their leadership.
  • And long to be listened to, heard, and understood.
  • They are native to a culture that the church, on the whole, does not fully – or hardly – understand or engage. That doesn’t just go for parishioners. It goes for clergy, too.
  • They are never going to act or sound like previous generations of clergy.
  • They feel the church needs honest self-assessment, but feel they can’t be critical because their next job depends on the people they may critique.
  • They feel the expectations placed on younger clergy are not enforced among older clergy
  • They are finding it really hard to get second calls.
  • Some have been hurt by the church, felt unsupported, and misunderstood.
  • They are no less theologically committed than their predecessors,
  • But their work looks different and their language sounds different.
  • Many of their initiatives do not fit into existing church structures
  • This does not make them less equipped or less effective at being pastors.
  • They are worried about job security – not just about getting paid (which is not always a given) – but whether they can do the job they feel called to do in congregations that don’t want to change. Being prophetic is an attribute we laud in seminary, but it can get you fired in the parish.
  • They are drowning in student debt.
  • They are not sure it is possible to have a full career at ministry, let alone service their student debt, cover expenses, and have a life.
  • But money isn’t the most important thing to them. No one goes into ministry for the money.
  • They are frustrated by the inability or unwillingness – or both – of congregations and denominations to change. Or at least be honest about why they can’t, won’t, or don’t.
  • You can do most anything, if you feel like we are making some progress and people are in it together. Many don’t feel that way.

If you are reading this and writing it off, saying, “These are just the same complaints made by every group of young clergy,” I believe you do so at the Church’s peril. Perhaps the difference is that this cohort of clergy is that they aren’t critiquing an institution we just assume will still be here in ten years. They are calling us out of the cloud of denial – telling us that if we don’t act, it won’t be – and that we have to talk about it.

They can and will and some already have walked away from the ministry. If they do, the church will lose some great talent. It will also lose its cultural fluency – something it already struggles with. (In the same way when the church gives up on youth, young adult, or campus ministry.)

They are not going to “wait their turn.” Because, by then, it will be too late.

Anderson continues about young clergy and leadership:

Young clergy also want to you know that they are ready and willing to support and to lead in moving the church forward.

They are already doing it by whatever means they can: sparking conversations in social media and within their professional and personal networks. Church leaders would be smart to pay attention to the conversations happening online – which are, paradoxically, offline in church circles, because we struggle to acknowledge the realities when we are together.

It is crucial for the Church to support these young clergy – and in my own tradition, beyond programs that place young clergy in the role of followers and learners, rather than supporting them as the leaders they are and we need them to be.

  • They need to be brought into formal and informal leadership roles.
  • They need to have the ears of bishops.
  • Some need to chair synod committees, in part, so that their peers can see young clergy in leadership.
  • However, much of the work they do doesn’t yet have a placed in the institutional structure of the church.
  • When that is the case, the institution needs to find ways to recognize, support, and encourage that work without necessarily institutionalizing it.
  • Identify key leaders among your young clergy.
  • Meet with them.
  • Have a gathering of young clergy (formally or informally organized), just as you might do for retired clergy.
  • Listen and understand.
  • Encourage and respond.

Are you a young clergy person? What would you say? How do you see it?

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Nicole Porter

Baby boomers need to step beside and stop destroying the church.

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Joshuaalanrodriguez

@Cynthia,

I think you'd be happy to hear that many of us young clergy agree with you. We're interested in preserving our rich Anglican heritage, and we don't want to throw the Book of Common Prayer out the window. We just want to find ways to effectively be the church that God is calling us to be, to worship God to the best of our ability in spirit and in truth, and to remind our fellow Episcopalians that (to paraphrase the great Evelyn Underhill) the interesting thing about religion is God.

Shortly before my ordination to the transitional diaconate, I had the privilege of attending the Episcopal Preaching Foundation's Preaching Excellence Program, where I was part of a small group lead by the bishop-elect of Atlanta, Rob Wright. Rob gave us all some advice that I am very grateful for as I start my ordained ministry: "If an atheist could preach your sermon, you're doing something wrong." I've heard some wonderful sermons in Episcopal parishes, but I've also heard all too many that were long on self-help and short on God. In my experience, we younger clergy feel called to help the Episcopal Church, which we love deeply, rediscover how to talk about Jesus with boldness and conviction.

Some of us are going to encourage our congregations to worship with guitars and praise bands. Some of us are going to continue to support the old standards accompanied by a choir and an organ. Some of us will seek to find a mixture of the two. But I think most of recognize that what works in one parish won't work in another and that we need to listen to our parishioners as we seek to lead them.

We love the Episcopal Church, and we're willing to listen to what older clergy and parishioners in the pews have to say. We just wish that the leadership of the church would listen to us as well. After all, we swore ordination vows to take our place in the councils of the church. We're trying to live into those vows.

Josh Rodriguez

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E B

@Cynthia: Wonderful comments, particularly about your willingness to give back to the church and the larger world.

Thank you.

Eric Bonetti

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Cynthia Katsarelis

I need to hear much more about this. I need to hear the specifics of the "change" that folks want. Since I'm always skeptically of anything being packaged as monolithic, I need to know if this desired "change" has commonalities, or are specific to peoples circumstances. I joined TEC 18 years ago for a reason. I've moved several times and have found wonderful faith communities in each location. When I have to seek a new faith community I look for excellence in liturgy, excellence meaning liturgy that is rich, nurturing, life giving, alive with spirit (for me that is ideally Anglo-Catholic). Any church that is "going through the motions" without engagement is one for which I'll take a pass. This makes me think that "the problem" is not our ancient liturgy (that has been renewed from time-to-time, and needs it now with inclusive language).

I also look for high quality music, from chant to new. But, in general, guitars and drums will send me running for the door (although I'm fine with it when I'm visiting somewhere, I'm just not willing for it to be my bread and butter).

I want the sermons to be inspiring. I want them to be strong theologically and link to the calendar and lectionary. The church calendar and lectionary "works" because over time it addresses our story in it's richness, suffering, failings, and redemption. A sermon on a movie, book, or culture, unless it is really and truly part of our story of salvation, is not likely to interest me or provide sustenance for the journey. When I'm dealing with life and death, grieving, depression, whatever, the last thing I want is someone being superficial, trivial, or trying too hard to be relevant.

If I feel fed spiritually, I'll give back and work very hard for my community and on the call to help share God's love in the world, especially to the marginalized. If I'm not being fed, I can't do that. I can't do it at all, not because I'm personally stingy, but because I am too weak to do it alone or without that spiritual sustenance.

So I would ask these young clergy to reflect on this cycle of spiritual engagement via liturgy, music, and the word, as actually being the foundation that enables the good stuff to happen. And that once the Spirit is invited and active, it might ask something different from us than expected.

So what are the specific changes that these young clergy want? My guess is that there are going to be significant differences, parish to parish.

I'm a musician. When someone asked the great cellist, Pablo Casals, what made a great musician, he said "the basics, the basics, and the basics." I would say the same to young clergy. Excellence in liturgy, music, and preaching. I believe all else follows, and with out it, there just isn't much of a context for those faith struggles.

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E B

I am fortunate to be friends with several newly ordained members of the clergy and happy to be able to have candid conversations with them about issues like these. Lots of familiar points raised here, although I need to add that I have rarely heard a sense that we are looking at the death of Christianity. Instead, the comments I have heard have been around great opportunity and rebirth.

That said, we might also expand on some of the recommendations. For instance, there are some real cultural disconnects around setting boundaries; younger clergy may be perfectly fine with maintaining a vibrant Facebook presence, while having the sophistication to know how to control what they put out there, and to whom. The corollary is that younger clergy may be less concerned about the implications of attending social events thrown by parishioners, while more acutely aware of the need to keep an eye on what shows up in the social media. And many understand that the social media can be an effective means of outreach to large numbers of people.

My sense is that there are a lot of questions around pastoral care. On the one hand, there's the endless debate about folks wanting pastoral care for issues that really aren't the great passages of life or major crises. On the other, younger clergy often recognize that much of what gets labeled as pastoral care is really formation, and that it’s important to be both approachable and transparent.

Among friends in the clergy who are doing well, I also am impressed at how many have a good sense of humor. Granted, emotional IQ is important in most settings, but it’s particularly relevant, when as in TEC, there’s great change afoot. Indeed, I find it sad when clergy who have a great sense of humor in their personal lives feel that they must hide this trait when at work. Surely we are not so uptight that we can’t laugh a little at ourselves or enjoy a moratorium on gravitas among our younger clergy.

Others?

Eric Bonetti

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