An old idea about the status of the ministry

I’m thinking about the internal self-conception of mainline “learned ministry” or at least how I’ve seen it articulated in Unitarian Universalist circles. Without saying the pastorate is like a professorship, there are so pretty broad hints that there are — or have been — parallels between the two professions. The advanced degrees, the “life of the mind”, the independence in seeking after truth, summers “away”, the role of speaker — even the genteel or shabby (or both) social role, that even in its humble forms very often represented a gain in class standing. The fact that in many areas the Unitarian Universalist congregation is more a part of the gown than the town. But much of this is simple nostalgia for professors and clergy.

For one thing, the academy is changing. It’s almost the new conventional wisdom that colleges and universities keep their masses of untenured faculty underpaid, unsteady and overworked. How much life of the mind is there when you’re too busy keeping body and soul together. Indeed, one of my proudest achievements is not getting another degree (or following the siren song of the academy). I struggled enough to pay for my life for the ones I got, thank you.

But I can’t but think that this new reality colors how we see ministers, particularly since there are so many compared to open placements, and the cost of formation is so weighted to them and not the churches they serve. Again, not so much a likeness as a parallel…

3 Replies to “An old idea about the status of the ministry”

  1. Interesting… There is certainly a tradition of minister as religious scholar to a congregation. But it does seem that there is an economic current marginalizing the work of both. Perhaps to the point that both can only be considered supplemental income sources.

    So what to do instead (or in addition)? What else could a minister do? Especially in a weak economy, where employers can afford to be VERY picky. This is an issue I’ve puzzled over for a long time, with no simple answers to date.

  2. Perhaps Mounir Sa’adah, my first Universalist minister, was double dipping as a scholarly private school teacher and Universalist minister. But it is easy to come up with counterexamples; Harnack was not accepted by the clergy and was not one of them. Bart Ehrman would not expect employment in most (any?) Christian churches. I usually find Christian pastors embarrassingly uninformed about historical Christianity; the rabbis do much better.

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