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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.

Present and Future

Judaism has been in existence for roughly 4,000 years, and Christianity for about 2,000. While keeping a core set of beliefs intact, these two religions have been in a continuous state of revision and evolution. In general terms, Christians (including Catholics and Protestants) and Jews believe in the sanctity of the Old Testament. Christians believe that Jesus was the Messiah or the son of God and follow the teachings presented in the New Testament. Catholics and Protestants split during the Reformation when Martin Luther put up his 95 theses in protest (hence the protestants) against the abuses of the Catholic Church. Islam can be traced back to the seventh-century Arabia with the emergence of the prophet Muhammad. Muslims believe that during the year 610,Muhammad, while praying in a cave near Mecca, experienced a vision that he later described as a visit from the angel Gabriel. Gabriel informed him that he was the last of the prophets and commanded Muhammad to memorize and recite verses sent by God. These verses were later collected and form the basis of the Quar’an. The major world religions face the same challenges today that they have always faced: providing each of their believers with moral guidance and educating their adherents. Now, religions must also prove themselves relevant in a chaotic and demanding world. But religion has been around for a very long time, and the demand for new clergy members should remain steady.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

Two years into the profession, many members of the clergy continue in their studies and assist an assigned local congregation under the direct-supervision of experienced clergy members. Duties are mainly administrative- and assistant-level, and many new members are merely observers for up to one year on the job. The hours are long in study, but light in pressure.

FIVE YEARS OUT

Five-year clergy members have assumed additional responsibilities, most notably counseling members of the congregation on faith, worship, the teachings of the sect, and issues of family, marriage, and child rearing. A clergy member’s success is often based on the depth of his personal involvement. Other duties may involve teaching, sermonizing, inviting speakers, and working with members of other congregations on joint charitable projects. Satisfaction is high, but the hours can be excruciatingly long.

TEN YEARS OUT

Ten-year clergy members have established strong links to their community and are leaders in both civic and religious matters. Many senior members oversee the more junior members of the clergy and supervise religious education. Moves between congregations, which occur with relative frequency in years one through seven, drop as clergy find their professional matches. Satisfaction is high; the hours continue to be relatively long.