Jeremiah and His Brother, Wesley

I know you’re going to find this hard to believe, but in the past, whenever I have set out to “write a book,” I  have just set out to write a book, to start at the beginning and tell a story, one which ended in a way I knew not. I mistook writing for reading. I thought the pleasure would be in the discovery.

But one reason I’m glad to have A City of Ghosts under my belt and to have done some readings is that I have discovered that it’s nice to be familiar with things. So I am outlining and making notes, very slowly. Which is good, because I think I have a good idea but I haven’t yet figured out the major narrative arc, the thing that drives the action and leads to conflict.

Which is good to know and mull over.

But I was also thinking about how fewer and fewer people enter the ministry right out of college–many Methodist ministers, if not a majority, come to the ministry as a second career now–and how that means things that were very true when I was coming up are not true now.

I mean, if you meet a guy my age named Jeremiah and he has a brother, Wesley, you can be almost positive that their dad is/was a minister.

Now Jeremiah and his brother Wesley? Who knows? Steam-punk parents, maybe?


8 thoughts on “Jeremiah and His Brother, Wesley

  1. Do you think the reduced drive to enter ministry right after college has to do with the end of the draft? That was at least the interpretation I took in my work in progress.

  2. I do feel like back in our day you knew Luther was either a soul singer or a minister’s kid and now? Now they could be anyone.

    Samantha, I think that might be part of it, though my dad tried to enlist and got rejected and a lot, a whole lot of his peers fought in Vietnam and them came home and became ministers. I called my dad to get his take–if people were becoming ministers in order to cement their conscientious objector status–but he’s not answering. I think this is his time at the gym.

    But I think a bigger part of it is that, at least in the Methodist church, you don’t have a lot of control over what your income will be. You take the churches they send you to unless you have some enormous objection or they strongly object to you. And even then, not always. You hope to be moved to a church that can pay you more, but you aren’t always guaranteed that.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, if you live at the parsonage, you also don’t have the same level of monthly outgo that regular people have–you don’t have a house payment, you usually don’t have to pay for some of your utilities, etc.

    But I know many ministers who have switched from just being given a house to demanding a salary the could purchase their own house on, because they didn’t find living in the parsonage to really be that cost effective.

    And the pay is low. Very, very low. I know we qualified for food stamps and free lunches when my mom wasn’t working, though my dad refused to let us take them. But he was fairly unique among his peers in that regard. Many of the ministers’ kids I knew were getting free lunch and shopping at Goodwill (we should have been doing this, probably, but this was just not something my Dad could do).

    Later, my dad got better churches and made more money, but I know when I had to fill out my first FAFSA, my dad was making $36,000 a year, which was the most he’d ever made his whole adult life. Ten years later, that’s what I was making.

    And I’ll be frank. Almost nothing we went through growing up was as hard as it was to be still in my twenties, struggling under a mound of debt, not sure how I was going to support me and the Butcher, and embarrassed that my parents must have been keeping a WHOLE lot of financial worry from us.

    I’m sure it was very hard on them, but they sheltered us from it.

    Whew, this is a long response.

    But I think fewer and fewer young people join the ministry right out of college because there’s no money in it. And it’s a hard enough life, if it did pay okay, but it’s really unfair to ask a spouse and children to go through that.

    I think folks who might feel called when they’re 21 decide they’re going to get a good financial foundation and turn to the ministry when they have a little cushion and their children aren’t so dependent.

  3. I’m sure there’s a lot of financial concern in the decision to become a minister. But you know what you said about the Bell Witch story looking less strange in the context of early 19th century spiritualism? Well, same with joining the ministry: it’s more and more usual for USian young people to delay career decisions in any direction these days. There are more older/returning students in college and graduate programs, more career shifts, less being settled into a path than there was a generation ago. I don’t know that it’s all that different from the new norm for prospective ministers.

    Oddly enough, I was just talking with someone this morning about what looks like the delay in full adulthood, but in reference to the difference between the songs Taylor Swift is writing and the songs Bill Anderson was writing at the same age. Anderson’s songs took it for granted that the early twenties was adulthood, and Swift’s take it for granted that the early twenties is … something else.

  4. Okay, I just talked to my dad and he said that it was very, very, very common for men to go to seminary to avoid the draft, but that, whether they became ministers or stayed in the ministry is another question. A lot of them got weeded out in the ordination process. A lot of them became ministers, but only lasted a few years.

    He’s not sure how it worked for denominations that don’t have seminarys or in which you get your ordination from another pastor, but he says it was incredibly common in the mainline churches.

    So, yes, the end of the draft probably made entering the ministry a lot less pressing for some folks.

  5. nm, I’m not sure. I know most of the people entering the ministry, at least in the Methodist church, are in their 40s and 50s and some have retired from other jobs. So, I don’t think we can say that it has to do with what young people today are doing.

    I mean, it does, in part.

    But it also means that young people in their mid-twenties when I was in junior high and high school were not choosing the ministry.

    So, that seems like a generation ago.

    So… I don’t know… I’m going to have to mull this over but I think what you’re saying is absolutely right, but it only goes towards explaining why young people NOW aren’t entering the ministry.

    Trying to get at why it’s been a good twenty years since new ministers were, by and large, young people, though, I think needs your explanation and something more.

    I’m not sure just the financial difficulties are it. Young people are idealistic and being poor for Christ might not seem like a bad deal–the Lord will provide and all that.

    But something’s going on.

  6. There’s also the increasing resistance to denominational identification, of course. The number of people who don’t call themselves members of a specific denomination gets larger every decade. And, of course, you can’t go to seminary if you don’t know which seminary to go to, and you can’t go to seminary comfortably, even if you feel called to divine service, if you feel that religious institutions are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

  7. There is the option of divinity school … our pastor, a preacher’s kid himself, ended up going to divinity school (while swearing up and down, for exactly the reasons Betsy enumerated, that he was not going to end up a minister). But if you don’t have denominational backing, that can be even more expensive.

Comments are closed.