The Lutheran Church in America is setting up a program to help clergy leaving the ordained ministry to identify marketable skills, set personal and career objectives and practice job-search techniques.

In the first 15 years since the denomination was constituted in 1962, a total of 828, clergy have resigned from the LCA. Total LCA clefgy now number more than 8,100.

This loss of about 1 of 10 clergy in the LCA compares with a loss of about 1 to 8 U.S. Catholic priests in the years following the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) Mandatory celibacy has been a factor in the decline in Catholic priests. In contrast, many Protestant bodies in the U.S. have been facing an oversupply of clergy in recent years.

The Rev. George L. Garver, who is heading the Options Program, said the 828 clergy who have left the LCA ministry "didn't have much help getting out." He added that "although that is not an overly large percentage of people to drop out of a business or profession, it is surprising in the church where former values would seem to have kept people locked in the profession - the values in the church that said the ministry simply was a lifelong profession and you in a sense violated your convictions by leaving it."

According to the Rev. Joseph M. Wagner, director of the church's department of leadership support, it is "normal and natural for people in any occupation to test other occupations. They should be able to make that kind of a decision in a positive setting and in the open rather than thinking the person who makes that kind of decision has somehow foresaken his or her faith."

Pastor Garver commented that "inside those clerical collars, the people need help making changes in vocations, and pastors have never had such help."