Religious beliefssuch as Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, or Moslemare significant influences in the lives of millions of Americans, and prompt many believers to participate in organizations that reinforce their faith. Even within a religion many denominations may exist, with each group having unique traditions and responsibilities assigned to its clergy. For example, Christianity has over 70 denominations, while Judaism has 4 major branches, as well as groups within each branch, with diverse customs.
Clergy are religious and spiritual leaders, and teachers and interpreters of their traditions and faith. Most members of the clergy serve in a pulpit. They organize and lead regular religious services and officiate at special ceremonies, including confirmations, weddings, and funerals. They may lead worshipers in prayer, administer the sacraments, deliver sermons, and read from sacred texts such as the Bible, Torah, or Koran. When not conducting worship services, clergy organize, supervise, and lead religious education programs for their congregations. Clergy visit the sick or bereaved to provide comfort and they counsel persons who are seeking religious or moral guidance or who are troubled by family or personal problems. They also may work to expand the membership of their congregations and solicit donations to support their activities and facilities.
Clergy who serve large congregations often share their duties with associates or more junior clergy. Senior clergy may spend considerable time on administrative duties. They oversee the management of buildings, order supplies, contract for services and repairs, and supervise the work of staff and volunteers. Associate or assistant members of the clergy sometimes specialize in an area of religious service, such as music, education, or youth counseling. Clergy also work with committees and officials, elected by the congregation, who guide the management of the congregations finances and real estate.
Some members of the clergy serve their religious communities in ways that do not call for them to hold positions in congregations. Some serve as chaplains in the Armed Forces and in hospitals, while others help to carry out the missions of religious community and social services agencies. A few members of the clergy serve in administrative or teaching posts in schools at all grade levels, including seminaries.
Members of the clergy typically work long and irregular hours. Those who do not work in congregational settings may have more routine schedules. In 1998, almost one-fifth of full-time clergy worked 60 or more hours a week, 3 times that of all workers in professional specialty occupations. Although many of their activities are sedentary and intellectual in nature, clergy frequently are called upon on short notice to visit the sick, comfort the dying and their families, and provide counseling to those in need. Involvement in community, administrative, and educational activities sometimes require clergy to work evenings, early mornings, holidays, and weekends.
Because of their roles as leaders regarding spiritual and morality issues, some members of the clergy often feel obligated to address and resolve both societal problems and the personal problems of their congregants, which can lead to stress.
Educational requirements for entry into the clergy vary greatly. Similar to other professional occupations, about 3 out of 4 members of the clergy have completed at least a bachelors degree. Many denominations require that clergy complete a bachelors degree and a graduate-level program of theological study; others will admit anyone who has been "called" to the vocation. Some faiths do not allow women to become clergy; however, those that do are experiencing increases in the numbers of women seeking ordination. Men and women considering careers in the clergy should consult their religious leaders to verify specific entrance requirements.
Individuals considering a career in the clergy should realize they are choosing not only a career but also a way of life. In fact, most members of the clergy remain in their chosen vocation throughout their lives; in 1998, 12 percent of clergy were 65 or older, compared to only 3 percent of workers in all professional specialty occupations.
Religious leaders must exude confidence and motivation, while remaining tolerant and able to listen to the needs of others. They should be capable of making difficult decisions, working under pressure, and living up to the moral standards set by their faith and community.
The following statements provide more detailed information on Protestant ministers, Rabbis, and Roman Catholic priests.