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Clergy is the generic term used to describe the formal religious leadership within a given religion. The term comes from Greek κληρος (a lot, that which is assigned by lot (allotment) or metaphorically, heritage). Depending on the religion, clergy usually take care of the ritual aspects of the religious life, teach or otherwise help in spreading the religion's doctrine and practices. They often deal with life-cycle events such as childbirth, baptism, circumcision, coming of age ceremonies, marriage, and death. Clergy of most faiths work both inside and outside formal houses of worship, and can be found working in hospitals, nursing homes, missions, armies, etc.

There is a significant difference between clergy and theologians; clergy have the above-mentioned duties while theologians are scholars of religion and theology, and are not necessarily clergy. A lay-person can be a theologian. The two fields, of course, often overlap. In some denominations clergy status is reserved for males. In other denominations both men and women serve as clergy.

Clergy are protected by special laws in many countries. In some cases clergy are financed (or co-financed) by the state, but usually they are financially supported by the donations of individual members of their religion.

In Christianity there is a wide range of formal and informal clergy positions, including deacons, priests, bishops, and ministers. In Islam, religious leaders are usually known as imams or ayatollahs.

Christian clergy

In general, Christian clergy are ordained; that is, they are set apart for specific ministry in religious rites. Others who have definite roles in worship but who are not ordained (e.g. laypeople acting as acolytes) are generally not considered clergy, even though they may require some sort of official approval to exercise these ministries.

Types of clerics are distinguished from offices, even when the latter are commonly or exclusively occupied by clerics. A Roman Catholic cardinal, for instance, is almost without exception a cleric, but a cardinal is not a type of cleric. An archbishop is not a distinct type of cleric, but is simply a bishop who occupies a particular position with special authority. Conversely, a youth minister at a parish may or may not be a cleric.

Different churches have different systems of clergy, though churches with similar polity have similar systems.

Catholic clergy

File:Belgische Bisschoppen.jpg

Mgr Rauber, Cardinal Danneels, Mgr Vangheluwe and Mgr De Kesel

See also: Bishop (Catholic Church), Priesthood (Catholic Church), Deacon, and Lay Ecclesial Ministry

Ordained Catholic clergymen are deacons, priests, or bishops, i.e., they belong to the diaconate, the presbyterate, or the episcopate. Among bishops, some are metropolitans, archbishops, or patriarchs, and the Pope is the Bishop of Rome. With rare exceptions, cardinals are bishops, although it was not always so; formerly, some cardinals were unordained laymen and not clergymen. The Holy See supports the activity of its clergy by the Congregation for the Clergy ([1]), a dicastery of Roman curia.

Canon Law indicates (canon 107) that "by divine institution, there are in the Church [Latin: Ecclesia] clergy [Latin: clerices] distinguished from laics". This distinction of a separate class was formed in the early times of Christianity; one early source reflecting this distinction is the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch. The original clerics were the bishops (the Twelve Apostles) and the deacons (their seventy appointed assistants); the presbyterate actually developed as a sort of semi-bishop (cf. the disused chorepiskopos, "rural bishop"). In the Catholic Church, only men can be members of the clergy.

Monks and other religious are not necessarily part of the clergy, unless they have received Holy Orders. Thus, The unordained monks, nuns, friars, and religious brothers and sisters should not be considered part of the clergy. Holy Orders is one of the Seven Sacraments considered to be of Divine institution in Catholic doctrine.

Current canon law prescribes that to be ordained a priest, an education is required of two years of scholastic philosophy study, and 4 years of theology; dogmatic and moral theology, the Holy Scriptures, and canon law have to be studied within a seminary or an ecclesiastical faculty at a university. This reflects the scholastic and intellectual traditions of the Latin Church.

Promises of celibacy and obedience are required as a condition for ordination to the diaconate and priesthood in the Latin Rite (celibacy is not required, however, for permanent deacons who are already married, but they are forbidden from marrying should their wife die); this is a disciplinary and administrative rule rather than a dogmatic and doctrinal one. Celibacy has taken many forms in different times and places. The Council in Trullo (Quinisextum Concilium) in 692 barred bishops from marrying, but did not prevent married men from becoming priests and excommunicated those deacons who divorced their spouses in order to become ordained. This rule is still followed for ordained deacons in the Latin Rite, as well as for priests in the Eastern Catholic Churches. Married men are not ordained priests in the Latin Rite, although some married priests do exist who were ordained in the Anglican church and later received into the Roman Catholic Church and re-ordained (as the Catholic Church does not recognize the validity of Holy Orders in the Anglican communion).

Clergy have four classical rights:

  1. Right of Canon: whoever commits real violence on the person of a clergyman, commits a sacrilege. This decree was issued in a Lateran Council of 1097 (requested by Pope Urban II), then renewed in the Lateran Council II (1139).
  2. Right of Forum: by this right clergy may be judged by ecclesiastical tribunals only. Emperor Constantine I granted this right for bishops, which was subsequently extended to the rest of the clergy by Imperial Decree.
  3. Right of Immunity: clergy cannot be called for military service or for duties or charges not compatible with his role.
  4. Right of Competence: a certain part of the income of clergy, necessary for sustenance, cannot be sequestered by any action of creditors.

The extent to which these rights are recognized under civil law varies dramatically from country to country, with traditionally Catholic countries being more inclined to respect these rights.

Orthodox clergy

The clergy of the Orthodox Church are the bishops, priests, and deacons, the same offices identified in the New Testament and found in the early church. Bishops include archbishops, metropolitans, and patriarchs. Priests (also called presbyters or elders) include archpriests, protopresbyters, hieromonks (priest-monks) and archimandrites (senior hieromonks). Deacons also include hierodeacons (deacon-monks) archdeacons and protodeacons; subdeacons, however, are not deacons, and comprise a separate office that is not to be major clergy, as do readers, acolytes and others. Bishops are usually drawn from the ranks of the monks, and are required to be celibate; however, a non-monastic priest may be ordained to the episcopate if he no longer lives with his wife (following Canon XII of the Quinisext Council)[2]. In contemporary usage such a non-monastic priest is usually tonsured to the monastic state at some point prior to his consecration to the episcopacy.

Anglican clergy

Main article: Anglican ministry

In the Anglican churches clergy is comprised of deacons, priests (presbyters) and bishops, in ascending order of seniority. Canon, Archdeacon, Archbishop, and the like are specific titles within these divisions. Bishops are typically overseers, presiding over a diocese composed of many parishes, with Archbishops presiding over a province, which is a group of dioceses. A parish (generally a single church) is looked after by one or more priests, although one priest may be responsible for several small parishes. New clergy are ordained deacons. Those seeking to become priests are usually ordained priest after a year of satisfactory service. During the 1960s, some Anglican churches reinstituted the diaconate as a permanent, rather than transitional, order of ministry focused on ministry that bridges the church and the world, especially ministry to those on the margins of society.

During the 1980s, before the acceptance of women as equal members of the clergy, women could be ordained as 'deaconesses', who were technically distinct from deacons but carried approximately the same privileges and responsibilities. This title has now been abolished.

In the Anglican church all clergy are permitted to marry. In most branches women may become deacons or priests, but while fifteen out of 38 member churches allow for women bishops, only three have ordained any. Celebration of the Eucharist is reserved for priests and bishops.

Each branch of the Anglican church is presided over by one or more primates or metropolitans (archbishops or presiding bishops). The senior archbishop of the Anglican Communion is the Archbishop of Canterbury, who acts as leader of the Church of England and 'first among equals' of the primates of all Anglican churches.

The status of deacon, priest or bishop is a function of the person and not the job. A priest who retires is still a priest, even if they no longer have any role of religious leadership.

Protestant clergy

Clergy in Protestantism fill a wide variety of roles and functions. In many denominations, such as Methodism, Presbyterianism, and Lutheranism, the roles of clergy are similar to Roman Catholic or Anglican clergy, in that they hold an ordained pastoral or priestly office, administer the sacraments, proclaim the word, lead a local church or parish, and so forth. The Baptist tradition only recognizes only two ordained positions in the church as being the Elders (Pastors) and Deacons as outlined in the third chapter of I Timothy in the Bible.

The process of being designated as a member of the Protestant clergy, as well as that of being assigned to a particular office, varies with the denomination or faith group. Some Protestant denominations, such as Methodism, Presbyterianism, and Lutheranism, are hierarchical in nature; and ordination and assignment to individual pastorates or other ministries are made by the parent denominations. In other traditions, such as the Baptist and other Congregational groups, local churches are free to hire (and often ordain) their own clergy, although the parent denominations typically maintain lists of suitable candidates seeking appointment to local church ministries and encourage local churches to consider these individuals when filling available positions.

Some Protestant denominations require that candidates for ordination be "licensed" to the ministry for a period of time (typically one to three years) prior to being ordained. This period typically is spent performing the duties of ministry under the guidance, supervision, and evaluation of a more senior, ordained minister. In some denominations, however, licensure is a permanent, rather than a transitional state for ministers assigned to certain specialized ministries, such as music ministry or youth ministry.

All Protestant denominations reject the idea (following Luther) that the clergy are a separate category of people, but rather stress the priesthood of all believers. Based on this theological approach, Protestants do not have a sacrament of Ordination like the pre-Reformation Churches. Protestant ordination, therefore, can be viewed more as a public statement by the ordaining body that an individual possesses the theological knowledge, moral fitness, and practical skills required for service in that faith group's ministry.

Some Protestant denominations dislike the word clergy and do not use it of their own leaders. Often they refer to their leaders as pastors or ministers, titles that, if used, sometimes apply to the person only as long as he or she holds a particular office.

Latter-day Saints

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the term "clergy" does not apply. The Latter-day Saints do not use this term within their Church. The term "clergy", according to the Latter-day Saints, was never used in the early Christian Church of Jesus Christ and his apostles. The Latter-day Saints refer to the "priesthood", specifically the Melchizedek and Aaronic Priesthoods. The term "clergy" is inappropriate to use for any of the membership positions or callings within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The positions within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are volunteer, where the person holds a regular job within the world and devotes his/her time, for free, to the duties assigned to him/her within the church called "callings". Callings as missionary work are also volunteer, but can temporarily require full-time service. A full-time missionary is usually sent by the Church, usually for a 2 year period, to another part of the world to perform the assigned missionary duties. Such missionaries giving this full-time service live off their personal savings. Missionaries are usually young, from the age of 19 years, but some missionary duties require a retired person or couple.

Traditional functions such as leading meetings, giving sermons, teaching classes, and ministering in the home and at hospitals are done by ordinary church members appointed, or called, to those responsibilities. These roles are generally open to all regardless of theological training or sex. Boys and girls usually begin giving short sermons to the entire congregation and may assume certain leadership roles starting at age 12, but in most cases do not start regular teaching assignments or taking primary responsibility for other tasks until age 18.

The Church does not require formal training in theology. In practice, however, most Latter-day Saint men and women have significant theological training. Every member of the church is encouraged, but not forced to:

  1. Attend several different levels of Sunday school: Nursery starting at eighteen months, and then move up to primary (age 3), young men/young women (age 12-18), and then Priesthood Quorum (for men) Relief Society (women only).
  2. Attend four years of Seminary during high school years and attend Institute classes at college
  3. Study the scriptures and doctrines of the gospel on their own at least 30 minutes per day throughout their life
  4. Study scriptures with family on a daily basis.
  5. Serve a two-year full-time mission as a young man (for women, a mission is only 1½ years and is optional), or as an elder (retired) couple.

Performance of certain ordinances (rituals) and many leadership roles are restricted to the priesthood. Priesthood offices are deacon, teacher, priest, bishop, elder, high priest, seventy, apostle, and patriarch.

Admission to the Latter-day Saint priesthood requires no training; to be a member of the Latter-day Saint priesthood, one must be male, be at least 12 years old, and be morally worthy, as determined in a confidential interview with a local ecclesiastical leader, that being the Bishop. Anyone who meets these requirements are ordained to the priesthood as a matter of course. Whether for a young man or a new adult male (convert) member, the first priesthood assignment is in the Aaronic Priesthood. See Priesthood (Latter-day Saint). Over time, if found worthy, the member rises to elder which is the Melchizedek Priesthood.

Leadership in the church is organized in several levels:

  • Ward (congregation) leadership
  • Stake (about 10 congregations) leadership
  • Area leadership, and
  • General (worldwide) leadership

Some of the key leadership positions at each level are:

W Elders Quorum president Presides over all Elders
W,S,G     Primary president Presides over leaders and teachers in the children’s organization
W,S,G Relief Society president Presides over leaders and teachers in the women’s organization
W,S,G Young Men president Presides over leaders and teachers in the youth organization
W,S,G Young Women president Presides over leaders and teachers in the youth organization
W,S Activities chairperson Chairs activity committee
W,S,G Music chairperson Chairs music committee, runs music program
W Bishop Presides over a congregation, administers in physical and spiritual matters
S Stake president Presides over the entire stake
S Stake high council Twelve men assigned to speak and perform administrative functions within a stake
A,G Seventy Travels around the area/world teaching the Gospel
G Apostle Member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, special witness for Christ
G First Presidency of the church Leads the church as directed by revelation from God.

Positions marked with ‡ do not require the priesthood and are traditionally filled by women at all levels. Other leadership positions require priesthood ordination, for example a Stake President must be ordained a High Priest. Most church leaders select two “counselors” who are called to assist them in their duties and to take charge when they are at work or otherwise unable to preside.

Common ordinances (rituals) which require the priesthood are: Passing the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper (Deacon), blessing the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper (Priest), Baptizing (Priest), and giving priesthood blessings (Elder). All are eligible to receive these ordinances on condition of worthiness.


Main article: Rabbi

In ancient Judaism there was a formal priestly tribe known as the Kohanim; each member of the tribe, a Kohen had priestly duties, many of which centered around the Temple in Jerusalem. Since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE, their role has been significantly reduced. Today, Kohanim know their status only by family tradition, and they still offer the priestly blessing during certain services in the synagogue and perform the Pidyon Ha-ben (redemption of the first-born son) ceremony. Otherwise, they exercise no particular leadership role.

Since the time of the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, the religious leaders and clergy of Judaism have been the rabbis, who are technically scholars in Jewish law empowered to act as judges in a rabbinical court. The leadership of a Jewish congregation is, in fact, in the hands of the laity: the president of a synagogue is its actual leader and any adult Jew (or at least any male in Orthodox congregations) can lead prayer services.


see also Bhikkhu

The Buddhist clergy is often referred to as the Sangha, and consists of the order of monks and nuns founded by Gautama Buddha during the 5th century BC. According to scriptural records, these monks and nuns lived an austere life of meditation, living as wandering beggars for nine months out of the year. In modern times, however, the role of Buddhist clergy can vary greatly across different countries. For instance, in Korea, Japan, and one of the four Tibetan schools, Buddhist monks may marry, which is forbidden under the traditional Buddhist monastic codes. On the other hand, countries practicing Theravada Buddhism, such as Thailand, Burma, and Sri Lanka, tend to take a much more conservative view of monastic life, and continue to observe precepts that forbid monks from touching women or working in certain secular roles.

While female monastic (bhikkhuni) lineages existed in most Buddhist countries at one time, the Theravada lineages of Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka died out during the 14th-15th Century AD. The status and future of female Buddhist clergy in these countries continues to be a subject of debate. In countries without a formal female monastic lineage, women may take other religious roles, but they are generally not granted the same rights and privileges as recognized male monastics.

The diversity of Buddhist traditions makes it difficult to generalize about Buddhist clergy. In the United States, Pure Land priests of the Japanese diaspora serve a role very similar to Protestant ministers of the Christian tradition. Meanwhile, reclusive Theravada forest monks in Thailand live a life devoted to meditation and the practice of austerities in small communities in rural Thailand- a very different life from even their city-dwelling counterparts, who may be involved primarily in teaching, the study of scripture, and the administration of the nationally organized (and government sponsored) Sangha. In the Zen tradition, manual labor is an important part of religious discipline; meanwhile, in the Theravada tradition, prohibitions against monks working as laborers and farmers continue to be generally observed.


Main article: Imam

Sunni Islam is non-clerical. The term "imam" is generically used to refer to various forms of religious leadership, ranging from the leader of a small group prayer to a scholar of religion, none of which involve any sort of religious ordination. In Shia Islam, the term "imam" has more specific meanings. The word literally means "in front of" in Arabic and harkens to the Imam's role of leading prayer by standing in front of the congregation. The Ulema are the class of Muslim scholars primarily devoted to the study of and, in some governments, the implementation of the Shari'a, or Islamic Law.


The subject of clergy within the various Pagan religions remains very controversial to many Pagans. The very nature of Paganism means that each individual is his or her own priest or priestess, and there is no need for any earthly leaders within the religions, however many do choose to organize themselves into small groups which are usually led by either a priest or priestess, or both. In Wicca a coven is usually led by a High Priest and a High Priestess who will be senior members of the coven with many years of experience.

The lack of any central Pagan religious body has meant that in general Pagan clergy are appointed by the group they lead and have no power or authority outside of that group.

See also

External links

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