Increasing financial stress hits clergy as well as students

It’s not always smooth financial sailing after graduation – especially for priests who are trying to provide for their families.

Before landing positions as full-time hospital chaplains in Connecticut, the Rev. Eric Jeuland and his wife, the Rev. Jane Jeuland, worked multiple jobs to piece together a ministry and an income.

At one point, Eric worked in two different parishes as a youth minster and as a campus minister 70 miles away, and Jane founded an urban after-school teen program while working as a parish assistant.

But long commutes and shrinking church budgets made it difficult for them to plan for a family and once their son arrived, the need was urgent to gain financial stability for their young family.

Because of their love of chaplaincy and their financial need, they both decided to find employment outside the church.  “We feel so blessed to be working as chaplains,” said Jane. “God really opened doors for us to carry our call to ministry in hospital settings.”

Landing full-time posts in hospitals was well timed, the couple said. “It became very difficult to piece together part-time parish work that, for budget reasons, in this down economy and shrinking church, was always too expensive for our employers to guarantee,” Eric added.

The Revs. Jeuland aren’t alone in the challenges of piecing together work while managing family financial responsibilities.

The Rev. Stephen Harding, who works as a chaplain for the New York City Fire Department and is a hospital and hospice chaplain, is afraid he may have to leave the church to find secular employment if he can’t afford to educate his 5-year-old son and save enough for retirement.

Harding, who would like to land a full-time parish job, expects more priests will need to cobble together part-time work in order to provide for their families if a full-time job isn’t available. Until the church figures out a sustainable compensation model, he fears more clergy will find themselves under similar financial stress.

“I believe the parish paradigm, overall, is a failing business model, and that the church hasn’t figured out the new model yet,” said Harding.

(Veronica Dagher is New York City-based reporter and an Education for Ministry graduate. She is a recipient of a Religion Newswriters Foundation Lilly Scholarship.)

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