Seminarians Face Pulpit Shortage
Many Must Now Seek A Different Calling In Faith-Related Work

By Frank Bentayou
Religion News Service
Saturday, September 30, 2006

CLEVELAND -- After four years studying theology and earning his master of divinity degree, the Rev. Charles R. Kaliszewski's United Methodist Church hasn't yet embraced him as a permanent member of its clergy.

Still, he defied the odds and found a preaching job.

Kaliszewski, 53, launched what he calls his third career this year when he became pastor of South Euclid-Hillcrest United Methodist Church.

"I'm fortunate," he said, despite not currently being on track for ordination.

Fortunate, indeed. Many recent seminary graduates across the country, including some of Kaliszewski's classmates at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio, have a slim chance of fulfilling the calling that pulled them into ministerial training. They want to be preachers, but in many denominations, they say, the jobs aren't there.

In the mainline Protestant churches -- including Methodist, Lutheran and Presbyterian -- membership and attendance have been slipping; parishes are closing or consolidating; and older ministers don't retire as early as in the past.

The net effect is that many big, long-established religious organizations don't have enough pulpit space for new clergy. Some say it might be years before the employment market picks up.

One of Kaliszewski's professors, Lisa Withrow, said one area that is growing is among independent and, especially, evangelical churches. These generally smaller churches without denominational affiliation "often don't look to seminary graduates as their pastors, as the more established churches do," she said.

Among Catholic churches, while attendance is down in some parishes, the job market for priests is stronger than ever.

"Everybody has a job," said the Rev. Thomas W. Tifft, president-rector of St. Mary Catholic Seminary and Graduate School of Theology in Wickliffe, Ohio.

Adair Lummis, a professor at the Hartford Seminary's Institute for Religion Research in Connecticut, said studies "suggest that in mainline Protestantism, a growing proportion of seminary graduates can't find jobs."

"Many of them," Lummis said, "are women."

Only about 50 to 65 percent of the approximately 8,000 new theology school graduates with masters of divinity degrees "are finding positions in congregational ministry," said Daniel Aleshire, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools [ATS] in the United States and Canada.

ATS is the accrediting organization of 254 institutions with graduate-degree programs in theology. Almost half of those institutions' 80,000 students are in master of divinity degree programs.

Lately, 4,000 to 5,000 a year have found pastoral jobs; others have taken their degrees into different occupations.

Within Conservative Judaism, "there are more pulpits than there are rabbis," said Rabbi Joshua Skoff, senior rabbi of Park Synagogue, Northeast Ohio's largest, serving 1,800 members.

Still, the data from Jewish Theological Seminary, a major school for Conservative Jews, suggest that jobs for new rabbis are as scarce as they are for Protestant graduates. Rabbi William Lebeau, dean of the school's New York campus, said 60 percent of recent graduates work at Conservative congregations across North America.

Orthodox and Reform rabbinical schools graduate more rabbis than congregations can absorb, too. Lebeau says most find other satisfying professional roles, including positions in Jewish community centers, faith-based nonprofit organizations, chaplaincies and teaching, "all serving the Jewish community."

As Islam grows in America, Islamic leaders here are strongly in demand -- with a caveat. "It depends on the requirements of the mosque," said Jalal Abu Shaweesh, president of the Islamic Center of Cleveland, which has been searching for a permanent imam for almost a year.

Naturally, big congregations such as the Cleveland mosque want spiritual leaders well-schooled in Islam and the Koran. "But the hardest thing is to find somebody who can speak English well and is comfortable with American culture" and can fill the many roles clergy have in society, Abu Shaweesh said.

Once Kaliszewski graduated from the seminary, he hoped the United Methodists would commission him for future ordination -- which pastors might receive after three years.

Bishop John L. Hopkins, leader of the Methodists' East Ohio Conference, said, "When we ordain a minister, we're guaranteeing a job, essentially for life."

The Methodists asked Kaliszewski to "work on a few issues" before ordination, Hopkins said. He's doing that while operating as what the Methodists call a full-time "licensed local pastor," a temporary position.

Kaliszewski hopes his efforts put him on track for earning a permanent place in the denomination.

Meanwhile, he serves his 200-member church, perhaps closer to realizing his calling than many in his field.

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