The Recession and Religious Workers

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A rabbi, a priest and a pastor are all looking for a job … It sounds like the set-up to a joke we’ve all heard before. But due to shifts in our culture and economy, it turns out that this set-up has no punchline. The unemployment rate among clergy has doubled from ten years ago. And institutions ranging from churches to College chaplains have enacted hiring freezes and clergy lay-offs.

We talk with Pastor Kara Hildebrandt, who was unemployed for six months before being hired by the Bowling Green Presbyterian Church in Kentucky.

Takeaway contributor Beth Kobliner offers advice to out-of-work clergy, and some facts about how their circumstances during unemployment are different from laypeople.

Finally, Rabbi Irwin Kula, a leading thinker in the field of religious pluralism, shares his insights about the effects and causes of unemployment in religious institutions and communities. We're looking at how the recession is hitting churches, mosques and synagogues. We want to know from you: What role has a place of worship played in your community during the recession?


Pastor Kara Hildebrandt and Rabbi Irwin Kula

Produced by:

Kristen Meinzer


Beth Kobliner

Comments [5]

Beth Kobliner

@Alan: Thanks for your feedback! It’s true that the Mormon church has unpaid clergy, but that doesn’t mean that the whole organization runs on volunteers. The church has enacted a hiring freeze. According to the church’s statement, given to me by Scott Trotter, senior media relations manager: “In response to the recent economic downturn, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is currently not hiring new employees. This temporary action, which has been taken before during previous periods of economic uncertainty, is consistent with the principles of thrift and fiscal responsibility that the Church has long encouraged its members to practice.”

Jul. 15 2010 10:42 AM

I actually think we need to begin to see the increasing unemployment of religious workers and clergy as part of the larger cultural changes. All meaning making professions - all professions/all authorities who interpret reality for people be it religious workers, journalists, musicians etc. are being disintermediated because of the new ways people are both organizing themselves and getting wisdom/information. 80% of Americans under 30 claim to have no problem with intermarriage be it ethnic, racial, or religious. This means a very different way for organizing religion. One might say we we are moving, at least fro many people, from the cathedral to the bazaar. From a closed to open source the bazaar the authority structure, the way on which people relate, the ways in which people get what they need, the barriers of entry are all very different than in the cathedral. Being a religious worker/clergy in the bazaar is a very different job than in the cathedral.

Jul. 13 2010 11:00 AM
Ed from Larchmont

You can't consider the jobs of the clergy as you do jobs in other fields.

Jul. 13 2010 08:17 AM
David from Worcester MA

Maybe the recession will push churches that are built on capitalistic models to service models. It seems from my information; the philosophies of all religious organizations are based principally on service to others, which doesn’t seem to agree with a paid clergy model.

Jul. 13 2010 07:11 AM

Uh, I don't know where they got their info, but the Mormon church has a lay clergy, so there would be no layoffs. They are already doing it for free.

Jul. 12 2010 11:52 PM

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