Fear of falling

Male clergy in economic crisis

Although ministers like to think of themselves as members of the professional middle class, they are hanging on to that status by their fingernails. Male clergy especially are pursuing their vocations despite a strong “fear of falling,” to use Barbara Ehrenreich’s phrase. They worry that they won’t be able to sustain a middle-class lifestyle or meet middle-class expectations for their children’s education or their own retirement years.

In collecting data on clergy lives, the Duke Divinity School “Pulpit and Pew” project heard repeated accounts of the clergyman’s quiet but increasingly tense struggle to keep his family within the boundaries of the professional middle class. Although the data also substantiated the particular problems that female clergy face, the magnitude of troubles faced by male clergy came as a surprise.


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