Thank you so much for this publication. I am not clergy and I won’t see 35 again, but I meet people in all five mainline churches. Because of what I read in CONGREGATIONS, I am going to more proactively encourage younger persons to consider ordained ministry, and encourage congregations to lift up and nurture those persons—before and after ordination. You opened my eyes—I found Rev. Verity Jones’ article especially poignant, and Rev. Bonnie Perry’s review provocative.
Andrew D. Weeks
The Magnetic Church
Let me see if I understand Liz Trexler’s isolation. She went to a party and the other people were “…so cool. They had the right things on, their hair was different, and they were different. They were excited about life and they were inventing things and writing things, and I felt like, ‘Where have I been?’”
I am also a 36-year-old pastor and I think she needs to do some serious reflection on her own question. When did it become necessary for followers of Jesus to be concerned about “having the right things” and cool hairstyles?
What could be more exciting than having a small role in the transforming work of God in the lives of other people? Pastors have the opportunity to impact people’s eternity, beginning right now. We can be instruments of peace, hope, love, and joy. Followers of Jesus are described in Acts as people who turn the world upside down. What could be more exciting than that?
Rev. Dr. Douglas Scalise
Brewster Baptist Church (ABCUSA)
I am in the Diocese of Western North Carolina (Episcopal) and serve as a search consultant and as an interim priest. In the past few years, I have heard the following comments and questions from search committees and vestries:
- If we can’t get a younger clergyperson to work with the youth, we would at least like an older person who is experienced in working with youth.
- Older, experienced clergy mentoring young clergy worked in the past. Why did our Bishops change that process?
- We are willing to upgrade our position (rector) financially, but not for an older person who is already on a pension or who has independent income.
Our diocese consists mostly of pastoral-size parishes. When I tell search committees that there are 2.5 parishes looking for every one clergy interested in making a move, they get scared and ask what they can do. I tell them to market themselves in every way possible—attractive profiles, Web sites, and active solicitation and challenging of clergy who are supposedly happy where they are.
Ultimately clergy and laity need to do what my old pastor did more than 40 years ago. One evening he put his arm around my shoulder after youth group and said, “You know, Barry, you would make a good preacher some day!” We need to plant the seeds and let them grow.
Rev. J. Barry Kramer
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
Lincolnton, North Carolina
I read the entire March/April issue of CONGREGATIONS with great interest. Aging clergy—or more accurately, the absence of young clergy—is the focus of a five-year recruitment project we have undertaken with the assistance of the Lilly Endowment. It is part of a larger project to improve the quality of congregational leadership.
Entitled “Generation X: Good Ground for Ministry,” our project is based on research that confirms the absence of clergy and ministry students under the age of 30. Our research also indicates that young people in the Catholic tradition don’t know what “ministry” means. They know about priests and nuns, but see lay ministry as something volunteer that does not require advanced education.
We have set up a network of partnering colleges to help us raise awareness of ministry as vocation or career, and we are offering 10 full scholarships for M.Div. study over four years. So far, results have been encouraging, but it is a tough sell. I hope what we learn will help us design more effective strategies for the future.
Charles E. Bouchard, O.P.
President, Aquinas Institute of Theology
St. Louis, Missouri
Wow! What an issue of CONGREGATIONS. As administrative vice president of the Academy of Parish Clergy (we started in 1968) I, along with members of the board of directors, have been very concerned about this issue from the perspective of collegial sharing and encouragement of clergy of all ages.
This subject is close to our hearts and existence as the church. Our board is considering several resolutions and strategies that will change the focus and mission of our organization. The article “On the Front Lines” is just what we have been discussing, especially the area of mentoring (p. 12, column 3 ff.). In fact, we hope to take definite action in this direction at our annual conference on April 24-26.
Dr. Thor E. Bogren Jr., APC
Academy of Parish Clergy
First, let me thank you for the complimentary copy of CONGREGATIONS magazine. I have always appreciated the insightful nature of the Alban Institute’s publications. However, something in this issue concerned me.
One author asked why there are so few young clergy in mainline churches, even though there are many in evangelical denominations. The author supposed that perhaps it was related to the “dynamics internal to mainline Protestantism.” I’d say that hit the nail on the head. To put it more bluntly, why should someone give her/his life to leading people to the Truth, if all truths are the same? Why would we dedicate ourselves to teaching people about God, if all perceptions of God were equal? And why bother introducing people to spiritual disciplines, if there is no such thing as sin (and therefore, no such thing as holiness that needs to be sought)?
I am a young minister in a Bible-believing church movement. At age 25 I became senior minister of a 400-member church, and have served in that position for nearly two years. I make the sacrifices inherent to ministry because I believe that, by the grace of God, I can make a difference. But that “difference” implies that I am calling people out of their current lifestyles into something else. Many mainline churches increasingly muddy that distinction between the Church and the world.
Later in the same issue, we see an example of the problem, and this example is my reason for writing today. You include an article by a practicing homosexual—who is also a minister! I can conceive that there might be homosexual clergy in another religion where homosexuality is condoned. But since Scripture and Christian tradition have consistently rejected homosexual practice as abhorrent to God, how can any Christian denomination ordain homosexuals? How can your magazine, which serves a wide range of Christians, publish an article by such an individual? While we all sin, a lifestyle that is consistently outside of the will of God reveals a lack of connection to God. And therefore, such an individual would be unable to speak intelligently on biblical issues, such as community, which the author seeks to address.
Perhaps you consider yourself “cutting edge” and are proud of your role in “pushing the envelope.” This young minister agrees with you that cutting edge can be a good thing. But sin is sin, and many even in the mainline denominations you serve still recognize that. I would hope that you take greater care in the authors you choose in the future. If not, you run the risk of alienating a large segment of your intended audience.
As for that minister, I hope he takes
to heart the many rejection notices he received from churches. I would like to believe that such rejection letters were sent not out of hate or bigotry, or even discomfort with that which they didn’t understand. I would like to believe that they came because those search committees recognized that Christian leaders are called to holiness. Certainly we are all sinners saved by grace; but ministers should live with at least a measure of purity in their lives. This is not possible for someone who continually and unapologetically engages in sexual immorality (be that homosexual practice or a heterosexual affair).
God uses even difficult situations such as rejection letters to get our attention. While I hate to read of anyone feeling emotional pain, the time of questioning that ensues could prove beneficial. What if all of those congregations (and, by the way, the Bible) are right, and homosexuality is a sin? The hurt that author feels now would be worth it if it resulted in a new commitment to living under the Lordship of Christ.
Rev. David Chapman
East Tenth Street Church of Christ
Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina
Just a note of thanks for the complimentary copy of CONGREGATIONS. I was particularly interested in the subject matter—young clergy. Having served as a Disciples of Christ minister for the past 32 years—20 years in my present pastorate—I obviously don’t fit into the “young clergy” category, although I certainly can identify with many of the shared assessments.
In 1960 I graduated from high school and entered college. As soon as I completed my undergraduate studies I entered seminary and graduated in 1970. In 1982 I received my D.Min.
Every once in awhile I get into that “if I had it to do over again” mode, which usually raises some interesting observations. If I did have it to do over again I would do some things differently. Quite frankly, I’m not so sure that one needs to be engaged in continuous pastoral ministry for some 30 to 35 years. I think the wear and tear, stress, burnout factor, and so forth take a heavy toll. My son, who is 28, graduated from Candler two years ago and his wife graduated last year. They are now living in England, where she serves several small Methodist parishes. They probably will return to the States next year. They both have a deep interest in social issues and mission work. My son probably will do much better than I with an extended ministry since in all likelihood he will serve in various settings. In my last conversation with him the other day he shared with me that he has been hired to teach religion studies at a Catholic boys’ boarding school. How neat!
When my son decided to prepare for the ministry and attend the same undergraduate school that I attended some 30 years prior I was elated. We shared in his ordination service two years ago, which was one of the most moving and powerful worship experiences in my long ministry. He is well grounded and has a genuine sense of his calling.
I do applaud your special issue and appreciate the various perspectives on ministry. Obviously a lot of things have changed over the past 35 years. I still have passion for the work I am doing, although I’m sure there is a little less “fire in the belly.”
Rev. James D. Johnson
First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Fayetteville, Arkansas 72701
I am an interim pastor in my fourth term following six pastorates. I have several comments.
First, clergy have low salaries and less respect because there was an overabundance of clergy. Churches have not had to pay high salaries over most of my professional life. We spent considerable time in my committees of ministry meetings figuring out how to “encourage” or “coerce” congregations to pay more. Our skills seemed less significant because there were many clergy who could do the work and we in the ministry do not set our own fees.
I struggle to know how to market my skills. I have to confront seething discontent that a loved former pastor adroitly shoved under the rug for years. It is uncomfortable for many people. The one skill I seemed to have learned is to dodge anger and not be the target. Yet, all an interim does is half fill the pulpit until the real pastor comes, right? It is only after I’ve been there a while that a congregation begins to appreciate my skill at relationship building, resolving old conflicts, preaching, organization, and pastoral work. But then it’s time to go. Paying a pastor a competitive wage is one way to show respect for the ability the pastor has.
Secondly, is ministry social suicide? In my last interim position in a small town of 4,000 people, I became part of a Friday night group. They were not church people. They had the reputation of closing every bar in town. And they were half my age. But we connected. I avoided theology and church talk, but that was all they wanted to talk about! We became fast friends, and loved to party. Only one came to my church. All of them asked theological questions they probably couldn’t ask without a piña colada in their hand—meaning without seeing the pastor as human. Socializing with secular people takes a person who is comfortable in self. I am extremely uncomfortable in some groups outside the church. But I also find other groups that I enjoy.
Third, I do not feel it is moral to send young ministers into a church that refuses to minister in the idiom of the day to GenX folks, with music, contemporary worship, and openness to all issues, including sexuality. We Presbyterians need a denomination-wide approach to contemporary worship that will aid us in moving smoothly into GenX ministry. Enough churches have succeeded that there are examples. Verity Jones’ article redeems for me the need to support young pastors who are called into ministry in any size congregation. For what it’s worth, I am in a program church and find it far less stressful than the pastoral churches I have served.
Rev. Roger A. Waid, Sr.
Interim Pastor for Glen Avon Presbyterian Church