Worker Priests

Several weeks ago Huw had a post on his blog about Tent Maker Clergy. I was going to comment and then it got lost in all of the other posts I was working on. So here goes.

As church attendance dwindles and the cash in the coffers gets less and less is it time for the clergy to look for other employment? We do not become clergy to make money in fact most of us know that we will be faced with a life of struggle when it comes to money. I am lucky in some ways because I am single and do not have to provide for a family and my parish has a house for me to live in. Some are not as lucky as I am. Many parishes are selling their parish house, or rectory, to save money. Many clergy prefer not to live in the parish house so they can build up equity for the future. Are we coming to a time in the church when the full-time clergy is a thing of the past? Are we coming to a time when we have one priest serving many parishes. That is the case in many Roman Catholic Diocese and many Anglican churches as well.

Here in the village we have three orthodox church, in a town of around 14,000 mind you. The combined membership is somewhere around 150 people. I am the only full-time priest here in the village. One is retired and lives on the other side of the state and the other one lives and teaches in another town about 30 minutes away. We all face the same problems of lack of people and old buildings and no money. We have tried, without success, to merge the parishes but the people do not want to hear about it.

So what do clergy do? How many parishes out there are left that can support a full-time clergy and have the clergy live above the poverty rate? Is it time for us to start to look for part-time work outside of the church to make ends meet. In my diocese for example we have to pay for our own seminary education, not the same in all orthodox diocese by the way. We have no retirement benefits, and no job security. If the folks here decide they don’t like me they could turf me out tomorrow and not only to I loose my job but my home as well.

There was a tradition in the church years back of Worker Priests. Perhaps it is time for us to get out there in the workforce, not a good time to do that either. But what does it do to the church? Can we build a church if we are not here? Can the church survive with a part-time clergy? These are questions that we need to ask, and we need to find answers too as well.


  1. luckly for most priest they have an education so if they choose to or need to they are allowed to work even if they teach part time.
    although its true that single priests are only responsible for themselves and do not have the responsiblity of supporting a family, a single priest also dose not have the security of a working spouse who through her job is able to bring health insurance and retirement of some kind to their joint future retirement.
    evryone has a differnet level of feeling secure some people are able to live day by day and feel what happens in the future happens while others need 401k and homes to make them feel better about the future.
    Jesus told his apostles to go out into the world, take nothing with them not even an extra coat. to live off the charity of others and spread the word.
    security maens different things to different people and each person has to decide what they need in life to feel comfortable about their future.

  2. Fr. P.: In this town many people have worked from pay check to paycheck, with very little benefits. When their employment left, many were left without jobs. The bottom line is that they could not save, paying for cars, health care, college for their kids, and now their own health costs. They had larger families, also. Some of them do not know how they will retire. A modest city income, with public transportation, is not here. All of my past jobs offered no retirement benefits. That’s more recent. There are three churches of people, who are hardly able to maintain themselves, and wonder many of the same questions. This sets a very grim picture for some of us, but we all have the same answer, Trust in the Lord for He is good.

  3. A better question is, will Orthodoxy survive period. Will it depend on full or part-time priests, I don’t that as having anything to do with it. You can have a full-time priest in an empty church. Being there does not make people go if they chose not to. Part-time priest have served many smaller churches in many areas successfully.

  4. David,

    That has not been my experience. And it is not just missions that cannot afford a priest many parishes cannot afford one either. This is a situation that needs to be looked at.

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