Profile of Australian Christian Clergy

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) classifies ‘ministers of religion’ within the broader social and welfare professional occupation, and defines the occupation as people who perform: “spiritual functions associated with beliefs and practices of religious faiths, and provide motivation, guidance and training in religious life for the people of congregations and parishes, and the wider community” (ABS 2006, p327). This article uses ‘clergy’ to describe these people, although in many denominations, this will not correspond with official usage of the term.

Between 2006 and 2011, according to the Censuses, the number of clergy identifying with a Christian denomination increased by nine per cent, from 14,386 to 15,702. Clergy numbers in most denominations either increased or remained stable during that period, with the exception of the Catholics who decreased by around six per cent. The largest increase in clergy numbers between 2006 and 2011 was in the ‘Other Christian’ category, increasing by 41 per cent, from 1,333 to 1,878. This group includes some small denominations and independent churches. However, the largest group of ‘Other Christians’ were people who simply wrote in ‘Christian’ – a total of 1,233 people. (Interestingly, the number of Australians who simply wrote in ‘Christian’ on the Census also increased by 41 per cent during the same period). It is quite possible that many clergy who identified themselves simply as ‘Christian’ were working in non-denoninational situations such as government school chaplaincy.

A study by Edith Cowan University into government school chaplains found an increase in numbers from 653 in March 2007 to 1874 in August 2009 (Hughes and Sims 2009, p.9).

The age of clergy provides further insight into the present clergy profile within each denomination as well as giving an indication of what the future needs for the denomination may look like. Overall, the 2011 Census showed that 10.4 per cent of Christian clergy were aged 65 years and over. By comparison, in 2006, nine per cent of Christian clergy were in that age group. Not surprisingly, denominations with the oldest clergy age profile also had very low proportions of young clergy. Just five per cent of Uniting Church clergy and seven per cent of Catholic clergy were under 35 years.

While some denominations do not allow women to be ordained into church ministry roles, the reality is that more and more women are employed to serve church communities in Australia, either in a lay capacity or ordained in a denomination which does allow female ordination. The Census showed there was a considerable increase in the number of women in ministry between 2006 and 2011 in every denominational group except one (the Eastern Orthodox). Some of the women in ministry are school chaplains: the Edith Cowan university study found that in 2009, 60 per cent of school chaplains were female.

The number of Christian clergy in Australia continues to increase, and at a faster rate than the rate of Christian identification within the general population. A higher proportion of the clergy have university degrees than ever before. Much of the growth in numbers of clergy in the last decade or so has occurred as a result of women entering into ministry roles. There has also been an increase in the proportion of overseas born clergy. The challenge for churches and denominations is developing ministry roles which bridge the gap between the churches and the wider community.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 23, No. 2, Pages 1-7

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