Bad economy hurting Protestant ministers' job prospects


From USA TODAY. By the time she graduated from Vanderbilt Divinity School in May 2009, the Rev. Kara Hildebrandt could translate a passage from the Greek New Testament with relative ease and write a sermon like a pro.

Then she hit the clergy glut.

Too many preachers, too many small churches and a bad economy make this one of the worst job markets for Protestant ministers in decades.

According to the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, there are more than 600,000 ministers in the United States but only 338,000 churches. Many of those are small churches that can't afford a full-time preacher. Among Presbyterians, there are four pastors looking for work for every one job opening. It took Hildebrandt six months to land a spot.

Even when seminary graduates find work, they're paid less than other professionals, with starting salaries in the $30,000 range, according to the Fund for Theological Education. The fund is sponsoring a conference in Boston next week for seminary students and graduates to brainstorm about their calling and their economic future.

The glut affects veteran pastors, too.

"There's lots of really good pastors out there who are having a terrible time," says Phil Leftwich, executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee.

The Rev. Mark Proctor of Columbia, Tenn., served at churches in Texas for about eight years before moving to the Nashville area in 2006 for his wife's work. He has interviewed at local churches but, so far, hasn't been offered a job.

For now, he consults with churches on building projects. But, says Proctor, "It's hard for any man who is called to preach to sit in the pew."

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