Recently, Waterville Junior High held “Career Day.” As co-chair of the PTO, I was asked to help get some parents to speak on various careers. I was even given a list—Health Care, Veterinary services, Finance, Human Resources, Arts & Communications, Agriculture/Natural Resources.
I wasn’t surprised that they weren’t looking for people in the “religion” field, and I was relieved when they didn’t feel that they needed to invite me to participate anyway. About a decade ago and for several years in a row, there was an area “Career Day” that was organized by the local AAUW. This Career Day was focused on 8th grade girls. A former parishioner was one of the organizers and she always insisted that I be a participant.
The first year I served on a career panel, I was pleased to be there. But, as I began to talk about my career, I realized very soon that I was in deep trouble. There was almost nothing that I could say that offered any kind of connection to the girls in that room (and to some extent, the other panelists as well—a state trooper and an executive director of an area nonprofit). None of them went to church. They didn’t seem to know what the Bible was, even if they had heard the word before. How about weddings and funerals? If they had attended one of these, it was probably not in a church.
Every year after that, I attended Career Day with a great deal of trepidation and doom. One year, I basically found myself describing my career so that it sounded an awful like I was a social worker. That, the girls understood—at least somewhat.
And, now I don’t feel like I would be doing the responsible thing by sharing my career with 8th graders. What if, by some miracle, I was able to spark some interest and inspired an 8th grader to think about a career as a minister? Will such a career exist when they are old enough to embark on that career?
It’s not exactly that I think that the future will not have any ministers, but my suspicion is that many ministers of the future will probably not see their vocation as a career. They will likely have another job that actually pays the bills, or they will have a spouse or partner who has a well-paying career that allows them to minister without much of a paycheck.
The future of the ministry is indeed in peril. Seminaries have closed, or are engaged in dramatic re-visioning of who they are and what they do. Alban Institute, a long-time leader in providing resources to mostly mainline churches and clergy, is closing its doors.
While I try to cling to hope, that churches and church leaders will experience a transformation into something new and wonderful, I can’t help but wonder about my career and vocation. I may very well need to worry less about presenting my career at a future “Career Day,” and worry more about finding one to attend.