April 23, 2021

I See Something In You

A key ingredient for a healthy, vibrant congregation is a strong appreciation for the ministry of the laity as well as the ministry of the clergy. Shared collaborative leadership is critical for the spiritual growth of our congregations. However increasingly, there in an imbalance in our optimal leadership paradigm.

Many congregations are faced with the issue of no permanent clergy leadership and are continuously being served by supply clergy or have no clergy. This situation strains the effectiveness of the lay leadership and worsens the vitality issues of these congregations.

For many search committees, having the opportunity to discern the right clergy is increasingly difficult when there are fewer options. This may lead to a mismatch of expectations and inevitable conflict.

In the Episcopal Church today, there is a decline in the number of clergy, especially African Americans. Across our Episcopal seminaries there are few students from the African Diaspora who are enrolled even though tuition grants are increasingly being offered.

There are many reasons for the shortage of clergy, these include:

1) Lack of knowledge about the priesthood – including the path and compensation. In a youth forum we asked about the priesthood and the perception was that priests worked for free! Also, parents, educators, as well as counselors were not encouraging this discernment.

2) Many clergy believe that they are no longer respected and are increasingly expected to do more, so why endure these difficult situations or ask others to follow their path.

3) Congregants oftentimes do not acknowledge or encourage those interested or with the gifts to pursue the path of priesthood. Across many congregations, there are few clergy that have been collectively endorsed. We can do better.

4) The process of becoming a priest may be optimized for those able to study full time and have enough financial assets. Fortunately, alternate paths are being developed. For others implicit bias remains a barrier.

As “co-workers in God’s service” we pray for the ministry of the laity and the clergy and especially those discerning a call to ordained ministry. We hope all will be inspired to “say something if you see something” and encourage the gifts of leadership within the church.