The pandemic spurred the Great Resignation — and evidently, that includes pastors and rabbis.
In religious groups across the country, clergy members are stepping down from the pulpit.
They say the job, always demanding, has become almost impossible during the pandemic: Relationships with and among parishioners have frayed while meeting only over video, and political divisions have deepened, fueled by fights over Covid-19 protocols.
Though no national data about clergy resignations exists, an October study from the Barna Group, which studies faith in the U.S., found that 38% of pastors were seriously considering leaving full-time ministry, up from 29% in January 2021. Among pastors under age 45, nearly half were considering quitting.
In some denominations, resignations are exacerbating clergy shortages that began long before the pandemic. As the country has grown more secular, seminaries have closed and the pipeline of faith leaders has dwindled. The labor shortage within the clergy, which parallels shortages in other industries, is reshaping worship in some parts of the country as more congregations search for ways to operate without a pastor.
Leaders of the Conservative Jewish movement sent an email to synagogues in December, warning that at least 80 of the movement’s roughly 600 synagogues would be looking for a new rabbi this year; they expected at most 60 rabbis would be looking for new jobs. In the Reform Jewish movement, the country’s largest Jewish denomination, there are 5% to 10% more congregations searching for a rabbi than in a normal year, according to leaders.
Some 3,544 Catholic parishes in the U.S. lack a parish priest, up 25% from in 2000, according to Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. The Diocese of Buffalo, N.Y., recently launched a pilot program in which as many as six parishes share one priest.
In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, at least 10% of its roughly 120 churches in Montana are looking for a pastor—and still more don’t have a pastor but can’t afford to hire one. Some are beginning to explore sharing a pastor with other mainline denominations, including Methodists and Presbyterians.
“Pastors are tired,” said Laurie Jungling, the ELCA’s bishop for Montana, who said the departure of pastors from their pulpits began accelerating in the summer of 2020. “They’re giving a lot of themselves to help folks deal with the trauma of the pandemic. They’ve had to face polarization in their own congregations, people’s anger and frustration about masks and vaccines, whether to have worship or not.”