Monday, 25 March 2013

An observation about clergy and their congregations

Has anyone else noticed this about how the opinions of clergy match up with the opinions of their congregations?

Among Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, the priest usually has more conservative opinions than the majority of his congregation on religious, social, and politicial issues.

Among classical "Protestants" and among classical Anglicans, the minister/rector/vicar/pastor is usually much less conservative than the majority of her/his congregation on most religious, social, and politicial issues.

Among evangelicals, there is usually a much closer "fit" between the views of the pastor and the views of the congregation.

Has anyone else noticed this?

What are your explanations for this?


  1. Are Roman Catholic priests really more conservative than their congregations? The Catholic priest that I worked with most recently was generally on the same page as me about social and political issues - and had no problem working with me as an ordained woman - which meant that he, like me, was much more radical than most of his rural parishioners. I suspect in the UCA part of the issue might be the age difference. As we've discussed elsewhere, we have aging congregations but not necessarily aging clergy.

  2. Thanks for this, Avril.

    My comments about RC clergy being more conservative (mostly) than many of their congregations is based on my observation of Catholic laity who are more apt than clergy to take the Church's teachings on sex and bioethics with a grain of salt. (There are always exceptions.)

    Re the UCA and other "Protestant" denominations, I think there's more than age going on. In the congregations I know, the younger members tend to be more conservative in their faith stance than most older worshippers.

    Again, Avril, thanks for your contribution.

    1. Thinking more about this,

      I frequently hear Catholic (and, to a lesser extent, Orthodox) laity complain about overly conservative clergy, but rarely hear Catholic or Orthodox clergy complain about overly conservative congregations.

      I also hear "Protestant" clergy complain about overy conservative congregations, but rarely hear "Protestant" laity complain about overly conservative clergy.

      I also assume that those complaining about insufficiently conservative clergy or laity wouldn't bring their complaints to me.

  3. My observations of working in both UCA and Anglican contexts is that in the Anglican context, there appears to be more of a spirit of honouring (not always agreeing with) the Priest's religious (including theological)/political ways and way of doing things. Where as in the UCA I would suggest that the Minister concedes to (while trying to encourage new growth) the ways of the congregation. Always more fun dancing when both parties are flexible, if only one is flexible it is tedious for the other, if neither are flexible it is painful for both and obvious to the others on the dance floor. I think the same goes with clergy and congregations. (Jeff Savage)

  4. In my case - as member of congregation - Anglican - I was not a good 'fit' for the congregation but we had a young inclusive priest.
    A conservative priest has taken her place - I left.


Constructive comments, from a diversity of viewpoints, are always welcome. I reserve the right to choose which comments will be printed. I'm happy to post opinions differing from mine. Courtesy, an ecumenical attitude, and a willingness to give your name always help. A sense of humour is a definite "plus", as well.