- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 26, 2002

The first results of a massive study of U.S. clergy show that seven in 10 have never considered leaving the profession.

The optimistic data from the "Pulpit and Pew" research project at Duke Divinity School is good news to church leaders who are struggling to recruit talented young people as pastors.

"We were surprised that so many clergy were satisfied with their career choice, and so few doubted their call," said the Rev. Jackson Carroll, director of the project.

The survey found that six in 10 clergy "never doubted" their call by God to be pastors.

"There's a lot of frustration about working in ministry but overall it is a very rewarding profession," Mr. Carroll said, comparing clergy satisfaction rates to teaching, social work, law and medicine.

The four-year project on pastoral leadership involves 20 areas of study, 30 researchers and a $3.5 million budget. It covers Protestant, Catholic and other clergy and will look at such topics as salaries, recruitment, firings, media portrayal and leadership.

"This first information is a major piece," Mr. Carroll said.

The findings come from in-depth interviews with 900 clergy and 2,500 other responses to mailed questionnaires. Today, roughly 350,000 active clergy work in a nation with 325,000 congregations, though many small churches lack full-time pastors.

United Methodist Bishop Kenneth Carder of Mississippi said the "level of satisfaction" must be publicized to churches and parents who provide future clergy, and used to reverse a media image of clergy that "has not been a positive."

The survey was completed by December, a month before the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church broke in Boston and began making headlines.

Still, the Rev. Edward J. Burns, who oversees the U.S. Catholic Church's recruitment of priests, said he thinks priests remain satisfied in their ministry.

"So many priests are happy with their vocation," he said. "People in the parishes have always been overwhelmingly supportive."

The Rev. Thomas Trask, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, said the new findings show that clergy feel God is their employer. "They have the best boss in all the world," Mr. Trask said.

The Rev. Marcia Myers, who oversees personnel for the Presbyterian Church (USA), welcomed the findings after "we've heard so many folks saying that ministers are miserable."

Last year, she reported to the denomination's General Assembly that a third of its congregations lacked installed clergy, amounting to 3,897 mostly small churches.

"It's very clear now that there are lots of great people out there doing ministry and feeling it is the best calling for them," she said, hoping good news will draw young people to the ministry.

The survey confirmed that the clergy population is aging as more recruits enter as a second career. For example, those in ministry less than a decade on average were ordained in their late 30s. Clergy working at least 30 years were ordained in their mid-20s.

The report wondered "why this 'graying' of the ordained ministry has happened in a profession whose members feel so strongly that it is a calling worth giving one's life to?"

Seven in 10 of the clergy surveyed said their greatest challenge is the "difficulty of reaching people with the Gospel."

The report suggested this difficulty calls for new leadership skills that go beyond the teaching and counseling abilities clergy hone in seminaries.

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