(RNS) As denominations such as The Episcopal Church decline, numbers of unpaid ministers rise
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 doesn’t 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.
“We’re the frontline,” Marmon said. “If it weren’t for us, these churches would just roll up and die.”
1. Capt. Father Warren wrote:
The nonsalaried clergy/staff is also one model for church planting. By eschewing salaries and using rented/borrowed facilities, a home church group can move to a more traditional congregational type worship environment, start laying on real mission efforts, and begin to build programs to very effectively serve those who fall within the scope of the Vision of the church plant.
In our specific case, we are using this model to build a church with a strong missional vision; our strategic plan is to build the church to the point where my successor will get a modest salary/compensation so that we can attract a middle aged seminarian [example: from Nashotah’s distance ed program] or a clergyman stepping down from a large church looking for a new missional challenge. Such a person will continue to build the church to achieve its long-term vision and strategic goals.
September 18, 9:02 am | [comment link]
2. Archer_of_the_Forest wrote:
One would think that the same would be true of Bishops. Maybe if Bishops didn’t get paid, there would be some of the missional vision as well and not an overpaid platform for loons, nutters, and liberal crackpots.
September 18, 9:46 am | [comment link]
3. Capt. Father Warren wrote:
Ouch…..not going to win a popularity contest there Mr. Archer…...
September 18, 9:48 am | [comment link]
4. Archer_of_the_Forest wrote:
Hey, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
September 18, 10:08 am | [comment link]
5. Franz wrote:
I know that in some of the smaller Orthodox jurisdictions, there are a fair number of priests who are either non-stipendiary or on a limited stipend. After all, as one Orthodox priest notes on his blog, St. Paul was a tentmaker.
With respect to Bishops (@ #2), the Orthodox require that bishops be drawn from the ranks of monastics. It doesn’t eliminate the possibility of corruption (as at least one jurisdiction has found to its sorrow), but does tend to weed out the careerists.
Now, if only ECUSA would follow that model!
September 18, 10:12 am | [comment link]
6. Capt. Father Warren wrote:
May I suggest that others beyond ECUSA could take a look at that model also…...just sayin…......
September 18, 10:16 am | [comment link]
7. Archer_of_the_Forest wrote:
I also always objected to the Dog and Pony show that candidates for Episcopal bishop had to jump through to get elected. It is such a High School Student Government popularity contest.
September 18, 10:25 am | [comment link]
8. sophy0075 wrote:
Perhaps these are reasons why there are priests willing to work for no/little pay:
September 18, 10:32 am | [comment link]
1. TEC church loses membership (I know, that hardly ever happens) and either closes or shrinks to mission status, and must discharge a priest. Surprise! There are no TEC churches growing, so hiring a priest for compensation is not possible.
2. Faithful Christian priest can no longer abide what is going on in TEC and quits TEC; finds an ACNA church with which he can associate, and at which he performs missional duties and helps to grow a new, traditional congregation elsewhere (we have several instances of this at our church)
9. Archer_of_the_Forest wrote:
Other denominations refer to these as bi-vocational clergy. I don’t know why Anglicans generally do not use this terminology because I think it fits well. And, let me be clear, I have nothing but respect for clergy who have to work secular jobs and then give up what free time they have to run a church for no or little compensation. I honestly don’t know how they can do it without complete burnout. It is indeed sacrifice.
September 18, 10:37 am | [comment link]
10. Undergroundpewster wrote:
I would be interested in seeing if there were differences in theological leanings between fully salaried and bivocational priests.
September 18, 10:58 am | [comment link]
11. Archer_of_the_Forest wrote:
Well, my experience with bivocational priests at least in TEC proper (I can’t speak to ACNA or other jurisdictions or denominations) is that they are either:
1. semi-retired and need something piddly to do before they cash in their church pension,
2. work for little or no pay because they can’t be bothered to apply to places like rural areas that actually have paid openings because they might actually have to minister to people who aren’t rich, white urban elites who don’t buy the 815 bunk lock, stock, and barrel, and might actually be a minority, poor, and/or own a gun, or
3. were generally locally ordained (I think there is a more PC term for this in TEC like “mutual ministry” now but I can’t remember what the latest trendy term is now), which means they usually don’t have seminary training or minimal training. So, lacking in formation, that poses some interesting challenges for that 3rd group. (Basically, the first two types are completely worthless clergy.)
On the one hand, that third group can actually be fairly orthodox (at least in so far as actually wanting to evangelize) in that they haven’t been indoctrinated by weird beard liberal seminary profs and the entitlement mentality that ‘seminary trained’ clergy tend to get, if for no other reason than the fact that their student loans are huge (still paying on mine by the way, even though I am not even clergy anymore).
The dark side is that they can also be very inbred theologically, having had no experience outside whatever their diocese or local (and oftentimes dying parish) thinks is critical for a locally ordained person to have in terms of training. So, in such cases, are we really just ordaining people from a dysfunctional church to be dysfunctional clergy because they have never seen a healthy parish.
In other denominations, bivocational clergy work hard and tend to be more blue collar (no pun intended) and also tend to be more evangelical in the true sense of the term. While they might not be the most overly educated clergy I have ever met, they do often “get it.” They can speak to wage earners because they are one themselves.
Basically it all boils down to this: people like to talk about servant ministry, but oftentimes they don’t like it when they get treated like a servant. If clergy are honestly bivocational so they can serve the church, they are very effective. If they are bivocational because they are bidding their time for something personally “better”-watch out.
September 18, 11:24 am | [comment link]
12. tjmcmahon wrote:
“On the one hand, that third group can actually be fairly orthodox (at least in so far as actually wanting to evangelize) in that they haven’t been indoctrinated by weird beard liberal seminary profs and the entitlement mentality that ‘seminary trained’ clergy tend to get, if for no other reason than the fact that their student loans are huge (still paying on mine by the way, even though I am not even clergy anymore). “
My observation her in N Michigan is that candidates are pretty carefully screened by the diocese nowadays to eliminate anyone who is orthodox (with a few notable exceptions, most people left in the diocese up here are VERY revisionist- so it is not like there is a big pool of orthodox Episcopalians volunteering), and they are looking for the sort who use too many exclamation points, as in “our Presiding Bishop!!!!!’ and “Mission!!!!!”. They have ordained as much as 20% of the ASA of some parishes up here (between deacons and priests- as to why a congregation of 35 needs 4 priests and 3 deacons, well, you tell me). The most “conservative” of the bunch told me he would never perform a gay marriage “unless the diocese tells me to” and he introduced me to the “real Anglo Catholic” woman priest….
I do realize that there are places, like Springfield (or so I understand) where clergy teams and mutual ministry work quite well, and great attention is paid to training. While I have a great deal of respect for the many trained clergy who work for free (and I know quite a number in ACNA), and even one or two who are reasonably well off and subsidize the costs of the mission they serve, based on what I see in N Michigan, there are a couple of real risks in the “mutual ministry” or other “free clergy” models. First, people in small congregations often get what are essentially untrained clergy- often very good, well meaning people, but who just don’t have the training in theology and ecclesiology to engage in teaching and formation (Thew Forrester literally wrote the book used to train most of them). But they also get a goodly number who are using the ministry to push their own preferred social agendas.
The second risk is that many parishes use the “free” clergy as a way to subsidize the parish. When money gets tight, instead of working to increase the congregation and promote stewardship, it is much easier to drop the clergy salary or stipend. This has led in the local TEC diocese to a position where there are 22 parishes and 5 paid clergy (most paid as “ministry developers by the diocese)- with additional dozens of volunteers, most poorly trained mutual ministers.
September 18, 12:06 pm | [comment link]