The Rapidian Home

Ethics and Religion Talk: Do You Need a Degree to Be Clergy?

For the Christians on the panel, I'm curious what degrees you needed to serve in your position. For non-Christians, what sort of ecclesial training is required for your ordination. Are there seminaries? Graduate work?

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at More recent columns can be found on by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

For more resources on interfaith dialogue and understanding, see the Kaufman Interfaith Institute page and their weekly Interfaith Insight column at

Father Kevin Niehoff, O.P., is a Dominican priest and serves as Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids.

In the Roman Catholic Church, there are seminaries. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has published a document called Program of Priestly Formation (P.P.F.), now in its sixth revision. The focus is the human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral development. 

Many priests hold a master’s degree in divinity, which is a professional degree. Some priests will get a master’s degree in a complementary discipline, like systematic theology, moral theology, or spirituality. In addition, seminarians are formed in ministry by participation in programs of supervised ministry that include but are not limited to Clinical Pastoral Education (C.P.E), immersion into ministry with the poor and needy, and involvement in not only ministries close to the seminary but also ministry in the sponsoring diocese. 

Fred Stella is the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple

Historically, Hinduism offers two options for those who wish to enter the religious life. Similar to Catholicism, A man or woman could train for the priesthood or opt to become a monk or nun. Admittedly, there are few women who are priests, but there are no scriptural injunctions against it, and the tradition dates back millennia. Priests are trained in a variety of areas, but tend not to serve in teaching roles. And they usually marry. Monastics are often the ones who take on the role of educating the laity in matters of theology, philosophy and morality. They receive training in monasteries called ashrams. They maintain a life of celibacy. 

Priests are trained in seminaries. The term in Sanskrit is “gurukul.” This word is also used for religious boarding schools that are attended by young children that will graduate and go into secular fields. 

In my case, the Board of Directors allowed me to be ordained into a clergy status (Pracharak or Outreach Minister) that was created by the temple, and accepted my decades long informal education in our tradition as meeting the requirements needed to fulfill the responsibilities of the position. This title, as it is used in this sense, is a new one. It was developed to meet the needs of temple communities in the West. 

Linda Knieriemen is a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). 

Ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA) requires a Master of Divinity degree (MDiv) from an accredited seminary or divinity school. This is usually done in 3 years but with the advent of more online distance learning options 4-5 years is becoming more common. Some pastors-to-be choose denominational seminaries, but this is not required. The PCUSA has 12 seminaries including one in Puerto Rico.

The Reverend Colleen Squires is minister at All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation.

Non-Christian – Unitarian Universalist ministers are required to have an undergraduate degree and then we need to attend a graduate theological school or seminary to earn a master’s degree in divinity or M Div. This often takes about 3 years to complete. We need to have a ministerial career assessment where we are evaluated to see if we are a good fit for the professional calling. We must also do a hospital chaplaincy rotation; this is usually a part-time internship from September to June. We need to do a parish internship, mine was a 2-year part-time hybrid internship serving both a parish and community setting simultaneously. There is a required reading list of over 100 books. And finally, we need to appear before the Unitarian Universalist Ministerial Fellowship Committee where we are evaluated on our “ministerial presence.” Once we successfully complete all these tasks a congregation needs to vote to ordain us into ministry.  

My response:

Typically, ordination as a rabbi requires an undergraduate degree before entering a seminary, an institution which typically offers both secular and religious degrees. The degree could be in any subject, but entering a seminary program requires a basic knowledge of Hebrew Bible, Rabbinic literature, Jewish practice, history, and thought. The levels of knowledge and practice vary by denomination. A Yeshiva, which offers religious accreditation only, typically does not require or grant degrees. In the course of earning ordination as rabbi, the candidate typically earns a master’s degree in some areas of Jewish Studies. The most traditional form of ordination involves a detailed exam on Jewish law and practice in areas of Jewish ritual matters, laws concerning Rabbinic courts, or both. There are professional associates of rabbis associated with specific movements of Judaism. Membership in one of those organizations constitutes a kind of quality assessment on their education. Many synagogues will only hire a rabbi who is a member of a professional association or has ordination from an internationally recognized Seminary or Yeshiva.


This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.