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As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been scouring published Episcopal Church statistics to quantify the impact of church decline on clergy job prospects.  I am trying to answer a fairly simple question: “What is the ratio of active clergy holding or seeking a church job to the total number of church jobs for clergy?”  In other words, “Is there a surplus of clergy, and if so, what size is it?”  If there were a clear answer to this question, we might then ask follow-up questions, like, “How will the ratio change over the next decade, given church closures, clergy retirements and clergy ordinations?” and “How many clergy in part-time positions would prefer to work full-time?”

A clear answer to these questions is of great import to clergy as we discern our future vocational journey.  A clear answer could help shape the church’s human resource policy (I know, HRP is a secular concept – if you prefer, think nurture of clergy vocations.)  Alas, there is no clear answer to these questions, nor for that matter, is there a clear human resource policy for the nurture of clergy vocations.  The only attempts to answer these questions, the Church Pension Group’s (CPG)’s 2002 “Will There Be a Clergy Shortage?” report, and the CPG 2003 and 2006 “State of the Clergy Reports”, need to be updated.

Several different offices of the church publish statistics related to clergy employment, including the Church Pension Group, the Office of Transition Ministry, and the Blue Book of General Convention.  These more recent reports include lots of numbers and charts, but little clarity.  Most of the statistics are in the same ballpark, but none precisely agree with each other.  Moreover, several sets of statistics are presented in incomplete or inconsistent forms.  Why the sloppiness?

For example, the Fast Facts 2010 report includes this list:

Congregations without a priest (uses supply or worship leader)          11.4%            Congregations with one priest (full-time)                                            36.4%            Congregations with multiple priests (at least one full-time)                 20%

Did anybody notice that 33% of congregations are missing from this table?  “Served by part-time priests” is a good guess for the missing congregations, but maybe they are served by ordained alligators.  Who knows?

The 2012 Blue Book reports:

At the beginning of 2011, the Episcopal Church had 18,006 clergy:

  • 9,520 priests and bishops
  •  6,113 priests and bishops employed in the Church
  •  2,534 deacons
  • 5,982 retired clergy

Can anyone tell me how the four sub categories add up to 18,006? Who is being double counted?

Given that our church’s mathematical deficiencies seem to extend beyond budgeting to statistical analysis, what can be safely said about clergy job prospects, and what more careful analysis needs to be done to give us a clearer picture going forward?  The best I can do to answer this question is to use the 2006 CPG State of the Clergy Report and apply a few statistics from the 2012 Blue Book State of the Church Report.  An updated CPG State of the Clergy Report that focused on the size and trajectory of the clergy job market with the size and trajectory of active and available clergy would be very helpful.

The relevant paragraph from the 2006 CPG report is:

The 2002 Church Pension Group report, “Will There Be a Clergy Shortage?” focused on two main areas of concern for the Church. The first was the overall supply of clergy indicated by the number of ordinations and the second was the age structure of the ordinands. With ordinations to the priesthood now at the same level they were in the 1980′s, the rebound in the number of ordinands has been significant. Clergy ordinations now come fairly close to matching clergy retirements in overall numbers, as can be seen in Exhibit Three. If we look at other factors affecting the supply of clergy during the same three-year period, such as receptions from other denominations, receptions into the Episcopal Church from other parts of the Anglican Communion and restorations from deposed status, there are 149 entrants into the priesthood through these three mechanisms. If we look at “exits,” namely depositions, renunciations, and transfers out of ECUSA, the number is 186. Of these, 20 also retired during the 2003-2005 period; hence the total number of “entrants” is 1,225 (1,076 + 149) versus exits of 1,281(1,115 +166), for a net difference of (-56).

According to the 2012 Blue Book, the number of ordinations to the priesthood began to drop dramatically in 2007 and the number of retirements began to accelerate.  Hence the pool of active priests is shrinking.  Here are the numbers:

Ordinations to the Priesthood

2007 2008 2009 2010

 366

309

277

247

Retirements of Priests

2007 2008 2009 2010

417

378

396

417

As the average age of active priests is 56, and the number of ordinands does not appear to be increasing, we can expect the pool of active priests to continue to shrink.  The question is, is the pool of available jobs shrinking faster or slower?

The 2012 Blue Book measures the decline in the total number of parishes in the same period as:

Domestic parishes and missions: 2007 – 7,055, 2008 – 6,964, 2009 – 6,895, 2010 – 6,794.

This is a very rough measure in the decline in jobs, as some of the closed parishes may not have had a clergy person on staff at the time of closure.  Nor does this measure the number of full-time jobs that are being reduced to part-time as parishes shrink.  Nor does it measure the number of clergy positions on multi-staff parishes or diocesan staff that are being eliminated or reduced.

Given those caveats, the statistical trends seem to indicate that the number of clergy available to work is shrinking faster than the number of clergy jobs.  The job market, in terms of the raw number of positions available as a ratio to the number of priests seeking employment, does not seem to be getting worse as the church shrinks.  What cannot be determined from published statistics is whether the terms of available employment, i.e. full vs. part-time and the compensation and benefit levels, are keeping pace with the expectations of active clergy seeking to work in the church.

Much more professional analysis needs to be done.  The current published material is either out of date or of dubious quality.  As I am an amateur, dealing with flawed statistics from multiple sources, this analysis needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt.

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