My class of ’74 at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon was a portrait of homogeneity: young, male, married and invincible. Many of us were PKs (preacher’s kids), steeped in denominational traditions and practices, secure and convinced in our career choice, confident that our professional goals would be attained within the confines of parish ministry. At that point, the societal issues of multi-culturalism, racism, ageism, health-care and human sexuality had not penetrated our theology, much less our consciousness.
But that was then, and this is now, three decades later and a new millennium to boot. The average Lutheran seminary student today is considerably older, a second career candidate, a woman, predominately ethnic and a minority individual. First placements are also very dissimilar—diverse parishes whose memberships are in continued decline and whose cultural context includes the very communal issues not transparent in the 70s.
Those on the active clergy roster of the ELCIC today are 51 years old on average and half of them will reach retirement in the next 15 years. The typical age of today’s ordinand has also increased steadily from 29 years for those ordained in the 1970s, to 39 years in the 2000s, while the average age of women on the roster is younger than their male counterparts.
Meanwhile, the baptized membership in the ELCIC has decreased 13.5 per cent from 210,390 in 1986 to 182,077 in 2002. Not only has the number of congregations declined from 648 to 627 during the same period, a drop of 3.2 per cent, the average parish size has also dwindled from 325 baptized in 1986 to 290 in 2002.
If this pattern persists, the number of ELCIC parishes will be reduced from 627 at present to 605 in 2025. In this period, 398 pastors currently active will reach retirement age, and another 175 will leave the roster, for an approximate combined loss of 573 clergy.
These and other facts and figures are all part of the two-year Millennium Study on the Leadership Needs of the ELCIC by Rev. Dr. Kenneth C. Kuhn, a Lutheran pastor and sociologist. His conclusion is that “there will be a substantial shortage of pastors to meet future needs.”
Between the years 2002 and 2025, Mr. Kuhn estimates that a 62 per cent increase in recruitment (translation: 550-600 new pastors) will be required in the ELCIC to keep pace with its ministry needs. It’s a crisis which will escalate exponentially, states Mr. Kuhn, unless action is taken now.
While his recommendations are wide-ranging, the more significant ones include: a national vocational ministry Web site which describes and challenges readers to consider the Lutheran priesthood; a religious and secular ad campaign to attract new pastors; a national “It’s Your Call” program (described in the April 2004 issue of Anglican Journal) to attract potential candidates; a $1 million endowment fund for seminary students; the compulsory retirement age for pastors be raised from 65 to 69; Mission Development and Rural Ministry courses and that workshops be mandatory for all seminary students to help reverse the pattern of ELCIC losses.
Rev. Dr. Peter Mikelic pastors Epiphany Lutheran church, Toronto, and writes for various church and secular publications.