Maybe I just need a vacation, but I’ve been wondering and thinking a lot about the sense I have that my profession, as a clergyperson, is not long for this world. Not in Maine, anyway. A long time ago, I thought that I would likely be able to do this kind of work—parish ministry—until I was ready to retire. But now, though I’m not quite fifty, and I am increasingly certain that I will not be able to continue to be a parish minister, and get paid for it, well into the future.
I’m a dinosaur. At least in Central Maine, I’m a dinosaur, just teetering on the edge of extinction. Perhaps I would be less morose about the whole thing if I had a way of moving away, to a place where I would feel less like I was dancing on the precipice. But, I can’t easily move away. My husband has a great job as a college professor. My teenage children are not eager to move. And, truth be told, except for my shaky future job prospects, I’m reasonably happy living where I live. We have lots of friends. We have a house on a lovely Maine lake. And, more than that, we’ve put down roots here. As a family, we are active and involved in the community—on local boards and committees, and sports teams, etc.
When I get together with other clergy in central Maine, I am astonished that they don’t seem to appreciate my point of view. They don’t seem to understand that their profession, in terms of being able to work for compensation after a lengthy time of professional education and preparation, and ordination, is heading for extinction. To the extent that they do, they also recognize that it won’t have much of an impact on their lives, as retirement is much closer for them—or has actually already arrived (I must admit that it’s a mystery to me why anyone would choose ministry as something to take up in retirement, but that’s a different topic).
I recently attended a local clergy meeting where one of my clergy friends talked about a visit with a funeral director who talked about the training that he and other funeral directors are going through to learn how to lead memorial services. Another clergyperson at the table was outraged at the idea. “Why don’t they just call me,” she asked and then continued, “I’m just down the street.”
“Families don’t want you,” I replied. They don’t want us. If a family has never attended church, they very likely don’t want a clergyperson leading the memorial service. Years ago, even when someone never attended church, the family might still feel compelled to enlist a clergyperson to lead the memorial. No longer.
For me, it’s yet another clear sign that my profession is doomed, at least in this little corner of the world.
But, the clergy gathered around that table just looked at me as though I had five heads.
In central Maine, where church attendance is low and religious self-identification is increasingly “none of the above,” clergy are on the edge of extinction. Yet, they don’t seem to recognize their predicament.
The dinosaurs probably didn’t see it either. But, at least they had an excuse. Their brains were a lot smaller than ours.