Jeff Walton on TEC—I’ve Got 99 Problems but a Priest Shortage is not Among Them

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Unlike steep declines in membership, finances, and number of parishes that have negatively impacted the life of the Episcopal Church, the denomination has seen a more gradual decline in priests, maintaining – in some areas like Virginia and Texas — more than enough to meet its needs. While rural congregations do struggle to attract or support full-time paid clergy, an overall ample supply of priests is surprising, given that a recent report on the state of the clergy in the Episcopal denomination identified a 26 percent drop in ordinations over the past six years....

The average age at ordination is now 44 (up from the early 30s in 1970) and the average age of active Episcopal clergy is 58.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)TEC Data* Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryMinistry of the Ordained

Posted December 28, 2012 at 6:45 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. C. Wingate wrote:

And yet, Church Pension’s statistics show quite a different story. Look, Washington has always been the odd duck on this; there has been huge pressure on the ordination process ever since I can remember, and they’ve closed it to new entrants before. Yet priests are retiring faster than they are being ordained. The Roman church problem is desperate (and unfixable until they get their membership to have enough extra kids to fill all those empty rectories and convents, among other things), but it doesn’t make our problems go away.

December 28, 8:58 am | [comment link]
2. Archer_of_the_Forest wrote:

TEC doesn’t have a clergy shortage; it has a laity shortage.

December 28, 9:46 am | [comment link]
3. tjmcmahon wrote:

Given that the prevailing trend seems to be to dispense with seminary and just ordain anyone who cares to volunteer (20% of the ASA of the local TEC congregation are now ordained either priests or deacons) with a very minimal amount of training, it is hard to see how they will ever run short.  You will find this happening in rural areas throughout the country. It also “swells” these small congregations, since all the grandkids of the “priests” are obligated to show up Christmas, Easter, and at least some Sundays when grandpa or grandma is the celebrant.  It is also commonplace to use retirees as supply clergy. 

The “problem” TEC has (as Archer points out above) is that declining congregations are the norm, and a median parish no longer has the wherewithal to support a full time rector.  So while there is plenty of demand (“how can we grow our parish without a full time priest?”), the many parishes can’t actually afford it anymore.  In many cases (in particular small town and rural parishes), consolidation is not feasible because of distance- if you close the TEC parish, the congregants turn to other denominations rather than drive 60 miles roundtrip to the next TEC parish (and that is in relatively populous areas of the Midwest- distances in more remote areas are no doubt greater).  In the report done in 2002 ( 2002 report ), at that time, there were 9500 active and inactive (ie- looking for a parish) priests under 65 years of age, and an additional 2000 active retired priests (acting as assistant or supply clergy) for 7500 parishes.  The number of parishes is not dropping as fast as overall ASA decline, but it has fallen below 7000 at this point.  And while the number of clergy may have declined (although I am not sure they count all the “mutual ministry” ordained in places like N Michigan), it has not declined as much as ASA or parishes.  One would think that with an ASA of 500,000, one priest per 75 congregants would be sufficient- the local RC priest manages to put 800 people into his church in 3 Masses between late Saturday and noon Sunday.

December 28, 11:07 am | [comment link]
4. Pb wrote:

My rector did not go to seminary. He would not let his congregation have an assistant until it reached 800 members. We now have around two thousand and no third priest. Lay people perform all sorts of ministries. There are other reasons for TEC decline.

December 28, 2:03 pm | [comment link]
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