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Career: Clergy--Priest, Rabbi, Minister, Imam

A Day in the life of a Clergy--Priest, Rabbi, Minister, Imam

Clergy are responsible for the religious education, spiritual guidance, and moral counseling of the members of their faith. Many members of the clergy seem uncomfortable calling their jobs careers or professions; they frequently said in surveys and interviews that they became members of the clergy in response to a calling to the occupation. This sense of divine request supports the clergy member through long hours, low pay, hierarchical politics, and at times, weak congregational support for their own ministries. “You have to be very confident that you are doing the right thing, because when you’re preaching to one or two people in the whole church, there’s not a lot of positive feedback,” wrote one Protestant minister. While many mentioned the demoralizing aspect of sporadic attendance in church or synagogue, all respondents agreed with the one who said, “We are not the focus of what we do. Our community is the focus, and how they are doing is how we judge ourselves.” This is not a job for those whose only desire is to help others; clergy often run large organizations and need the willingness and skills to do so. Office and administrative responsibilities, fund-raising, and writing and delivering sermons are important parts of the job. Clergy must be able to get along with all factions of their congregation. Frequently, clergy members will specialize in one aspect of the profession, such as sermonizing or fundraising, and delegate other aspects of the job to more junior professionals. Being organized and attentive to detail helps in managing administrative tasks while keeping “doctor’s hours: We’re always on call.” In most cases, the rigorous coursework involved in becoming a member of the clergy aids in acquiring these traits. Additionally, strong communication skills, patience, intellect, and dedication are required. Perhaps the most compelling aspect our surveys noted about the field was the sense of excitement and extreme satisfaction that the clergy felt toward their occupation. The religious community is a growing, vibrant arena in which the free exchange of opinions and ideas and the chance to make real, spiritual insight become possible. “The feeling I get every day,” wrote one Presbyterian minister, “is that I’m a witness to everything wonderful about people.”Many clergy wrote about their unique opportunity to contribute positively to the human experience.

Paying Your Dues

The education of a clergy member depends on religious and denominational affiliation. Many Protestant churches require their ministers to complete a three-year graduate degree; rabbis complete a course of study lasting four to five years in a Jewish theological seminary; training for the Catholic priesthood usually entails four years of study beyond college at a Catholic seminary. Training tends to include some form of study in homiletics (preaching), history, religious laws, counseling, and the practical aspects of ministering to a congregation.

Associated Careers

People who leave the clergy do so for a variety of reasons: dissatisfaction with their advancement, a loss of the sense of calling, or the general difficulty of dealing with the downsides of the human condition. When they leave, many continue to apply their ministering skills and become social workers, vocational guidance counselors, psychologists, teachers, and substance abuse counselors. Some people return to school for advanced degrees in fields such as psychology, philosophy, comparative religion, and medicine.

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