I have been in campus/young adult ministry for 15 years, which came to a screeching halt earlier this year, when I was laid off. While the circumstances of the layoff were personally demoralizing, it also came as a relief, as I was feeling incredibly burnt out. I was in full time ministry with a Catholic organization, and to be a Catholic woman in ministry is to be constantly underestimated. It. Is. Exhausting. First of all, the mental gymnastics required to show up within the clerical, misogynist system that is The Catholic Church. For good, or for ill, there are life-giving elements, but it requires willful ignorance/dismissal of the life-draining parts. The layoff was something of a blessing in disguise: pre-pandemic, my plans were to take some time off, create a sort of ‘sabbatical’ space to reimagine my future, and whether or not I want to continue on the path of ministry. I’m grateful to have this time away from ‘doing’ ministry, though a sabbatical in the shadow of a pandemic does not allow for much rest or creative thinking.

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So fascinating. I also found myself wondering about more Evangelical/charismatic forms for burnout since that is the denomination I grew up in. I grew up Assemblies of God which is part of Pentecostalism. While there are colleges and seminaries that cater to the denomination that really only became a thing in the last 50 years or so. I can remember my mother saying that when she decided to go to a 4 year liberal arts college some people at her church thought that was a waste of time. The reason for this has to do with the belief in the power of the Holy Spirit. These churches deeply believe that anyone can be "called" to preach the word and can even be pre-disposed to not trust higher learning institutions but instead rely on the spirit of God speaking to you and that being enough education. (which of course can lead to a whole other set of problems. Although I do appreciate the root of this idea; that God can speak through anyone no matter their education level)

So as far as burnout I would imagine debt is less of an issue for these pastors since many of them may not have gone to seminary or competed a 4 year degree. Having said that I know the pastor of my parents church has a second job as that is what enables him to have health insurance. Their church is small but the ones that are there are definitely devoted.

I went to a liberal arts Christian college but most of my friends didn't go into any kind of full or part time ministry (most of them left the church completely to be honest) Anyway I wonder how burnout is manifesting itself for those types of pastors. I would imagine aside from the debt it's the same issues compounded by the stress of pastoring congregations that are susceptible to believing Q Anon theories, not wearing masks and basically anything else this President says.

As always great to read!

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This is so important for lay leaders to read. I'd love to hear about concrete steps others are taking to help their clergy, or, for clergy, what you wish your parishioners would do; I'm on exec council for my church, and I have few answers. A few things we've done in my NYC ELCA (Lutheran) church, which has just one full-time pastor who does it all:

- Gave our pastor a "reading week" in June so he could take a step back from digital service prep and spend some time reading about racial justice etc.

- Our interim pastor helped us pick out more areas for lay leadership, from website updates to building maintenance, to relieve the burdens on the future pastor. This is an area we could use some renewed work.

- Call committee asked all of our candidates in initial interviews about how they think about work/life boundaries. Once we made an offer, we spent time talking about how we could support their boundaries.

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One of the greatest novels of the Victorian era, Anthony Trollope's The Last Chronicle of Barset, is about just this. It's a deeply sympathetic, very honest portrait of a clergyman struggling with crippling debt, untreated mental illness, and the sense of shame that comes from holding a position of social responsibility but not being able to pay his debts or support his family properly. It's been relatively overlooked, but imo it should be a classic on the level of Middlemarch or Bleak House, and I recommend it to everyone.

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Thanks for your reporting on this. I converted to Catholicism about 10 years ago after attending the Disciples of Christ church my whole life. Regardless of the dubious benefit of priestly celibacy, I would suggest that this lifestyle does prevent SOME burnout among priests (since they have fewer family obligations). That being said, the number of priests with substance abuse issues and who leave the priesthood (not to mention the sexual abuse issues) is astounding. It’s not a surprise that so few people want to become clergy.

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This really hit home for me. I'm in the ordination process right now and working full-time at a protestant seminary. Our students are exhausted and overwhelmed and my clergy colleagues are in the same boat. I maxed out federal student loans for all three years while I was in seminary (20,500*3=61,500) but since I work in higher education I hope to eventually apply for and receive Public Service Loan Forgiveness. For clergy in the local church PSLF is not an option because there are restrictions that prevent them from being eligible due to the nature of the job itself.

Luckily my denominational appointment is outside the local church so I think in some ways I have escaped the intense burnout happening right now. But prior to my current position I was working as a youth director and Marcella and Alexis's words were spot on. Even when studying at the graduate level the preparation is not adequate for today.

I'd also be curious as to when the burnout truly begins as I think most mainline protestant churches have an intense ordination processes that ask you to turn over every event in your life to make sure you are prepared for ministry. I've heard from women going through the process that it can be invasive when (mostly) older white men ask you to turn over medical records. Then there are the multiple psychological assessments, written requirements, and interviews, and uncompensated projects. Most are going through this while working full-time. I started the process in 2014 and still have another 1.5 years before I can apply to become ordained. I'm also sitting in a mainline denomination that refuses to accept LGBTQ persons and is having conversations about breaking apart over it. It was exhausting before the pandemic and it has only gotten worse since then.

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