Nineteen Sixty-four is a research blog for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University edited by Mark M. Gray. CARA is a non-profit research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church. Founded in 1964, CARA has three major dimensions to its mission: to increase the Catholic Church's self understanding; to serve the applied research needs of Church decision-makers; and to advance scholarly research on religion, particularly Catholicism. Follow CARA on Twitter at: caracatholic.

10.05.2012

Twenty Years of Change and Stability: Lay Ecclesial Ministers in the U.S. Church

In August, CARA released a report profiling the demography, background, and views of the people who work for or who are volunteers in U.S. Catholic parishes as part of the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership study. A revised version of that report is now available including breakdowns of the data specific to Lay Ecclesial Ministers (LEM). These are vowed religious and other lay people who are in parish ministry for 20 hours or more per week (most often paid and most often having had some form of professional training. Visit here for more about the background of lay ecclesial ministry).

The first national profile of LEMs was published in 1992 by Philip J. Murnion and was followed in 1997 by a study conducted by Murnion and David DeLambo. The latter author replicated these studies again in 2005 and CARA and Emerging Models released a new update for 2011 and 2012. There is a lot in the revised report linked above about how LEMs view their parish and their ministry. However, across the Emerging Models studies there is not a table that allows one easily to compare LEMs to the earlier Murnion and DeLambo data. But there is now one provided below:


The number of LEMs has grown by more than 16,000 in the last two decades (+76%) and these ministers now total nearly 38,000. The gender make-up of LEMs has been quite stable over time and most LEMs are female. However, there has been a big shift in how many are religious sisters. Two decades ago more than four in ten LEMs were vowed religious (mostly religious sisters with a small number of brothers serving in this capacity as well). Now, only 14 percent are religious sisters or brothers. 

One effect of this shift is that the percentage of LEMs with graduate or professional degrees has dipped slightly in the past decade (53% in 1992 to 46% now). The median age has dropped as well (58 in 1992 and 55 now). LEMs have also become more racially and ethnically diverse. About one in ten in 2012 self-identify as Hispanic or Latino.  

There are other interesting nuggets in the new data that cannot be compared cross-time with the earlier studies. For example, the median annual salary reported by paid LEMs is $35,000 compared to $28,000 for all others in paid ministry or service to a parish. Eight in ten LEMs (79%) say they are either "somewhat" or "very much" satisfied with their ministry wages or salary. Most LEMs are living in households with others earning incomes or they are working second jobs themselves (20% have other non-ministry employment outside the parish). Two-thirds (64%) live in households with a combined income of at least $55,000.

On average, LEMs work more than 40 hours per week in their parish and one in four (24%) agree "very much" that they often feel overworked. Half of LEMs say their overall satisfaction with their parish is "excellent" and 42% say this is "good."

Sixty-one percent of LEMs agree "somewhat" or "very much" that they wanted to be involved in parish ministry when they were growing up. Six in ten (60%) attended a Catholic primary school (K-8), 47% went to a Catholic high school, and 58% have attended a Catholic college, university, or seminary. Eight in ten (79%) entered ministry to be of service to the Church. Three in four (73%) say they did so answering God's call. Nine in ten (89%) agree "very much" that their ministry is a vocation and not just a job.

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