With Roman Catholic clergy in short supply in the United States, Indian priests are picking up some of their work, saying Mass for special intentions, in a sacred if unusual version of outsourcing.Chris Hall of the Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) reports that the ranks of pastors and rabbis, too, are dwindling, especially when it comes to serving small congregations in small towns, among the mainline Protestant and Jewish denominations:
American, as well as Canadian and European churches, are sending Mass intentions, or requests for services like those to remember deceased relatives and thanksgiving prayers, to clergy in India.
About 2 percent of India's more than one billion people are Christians, most of them Catholics.
In Kerala, a state on the southwestern coast with one of the largest concentrations of Christians in India, churches often receive intentions from overseas. The Masses are conducted in Malayalam, the native language. The intention -- often a prayer for the repose of the soul of a deceased relative, or for a sick family member, thanksgiving for a favor received, or a prayer offering for a newborn -- is announced at Mass.
The requests are mostly routed to Kerala's churches through the Vatican, the bishops or through religious bodies. Rarely, prayer requests come directly to individual priests.
While most requests are made via mail or personally through traveling clergymen, a significant number arrive via e-mail, a sign that technology is expediting this practice.
In Kerala's churches, memorial and thanksgiving prayers conducted for local residents are said for a donation of 40 rupees (90 cents), whereas a prayer request from the United States typically comes with $5, the Indian priests say.
Bishop Sebastian Adayanthrath, the auxiliary bishop of the Ernakulam-Angamaly diocese in Cochin, a port town in Kerala, said his diocese received an average of 350 Mass intentions a month from overseas. Most were passed to needy priests.
In Kerala, where priests earn $45 a month, the money is a welcome supplement, Bishop Adayanthrath said. (Saritha Rai, "Short on Priests, U.S. Catholics Outsource Prayers to Indian Clergy," New York Times, June 13, 2004)
In several of the nation's oldest [Protestant] denominations, the ranks of pastors have been shrinking and aging. And in denominations that have enough newly ordained pastors, there is a fresh challenge: Increasingly, those called to be pastors are unwilling or unable to live on the smaller salaries paid by out-of-the-way churches —- especially in smaller towns that lack career opportunities for spouses. . . .
Denominational leaders also say many ministers simply have burned out. Church dissension, combined with low pay and long hours, is "chewing up and spitting out wonderful people of God," said a 1999 study in one denomination, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The study found one-fifth of pastors in advanced stages of burnout; other denominations acknowledge similar problems. . . .
Nor are Christian churches alone. The nation's largest Jewish denomination reports a shortage of rabbis. And related fields, such as military chaplaincies, are finding shortages across all religions. . . .
The problem primarily affects "mainline" Protestant denominations —- Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans and others —- rather than their more conservative counterparts, such as Southern Baptists and Pentecostals. . . .
Larger churches in cities and suburbs can find pastors, church leaders say. But smaller churches in out-of-the-way places have a harder time —- and nearly three quarters of the nation's religious congregations have less than 100 active adult participants, a recent survey found. . . .
Small churches pay a median salary of $36,000 in Lutheran and other denominations whose governments include regional authorities, according to a Duke Divinity School study last year. Independent churches pay a median of $22,300.
Pastors, like other middle-class professionals who used to be sole breadwinners, increasingly need spouses' incomes as well to support families, Stuck and others said. Pastors often won't take jobs in smaller communities —- where they're needed most —- that lack career opportunities for their spouses. . . .
Several Protestant denominations report that their corps of pastors is not just decreasing but aging, with less than 10 percent age 35 or younger, compared with rates as high as 24 percent a generation ago. More than 30 percent of pastors in several denominations are above 55, higher than a generation ago, according to an Alban Institute report. ("Ranks of Pastors Dwindling," April 4, 2004)