Childlessness in the Church: Exploring how clergy guide and support congregants through infertility.

“… provide spiritual care and practical guidance when a congregant faces this common health issue with significant social and spiritual implications. ”

Team Members/Contributors

Stephen C Collins Yale University School of Medicine Contact Me

About this project grant for researchers

Involuntary childlessness is a common problem in the U.S., with the most recent National Health Statistics Report revealing 12.1% of married women of reproductive age to have impaired fecundity (Chandra et al 2013). Infertility can be an isolating and spiritually taxing experience, and its treatments often pose serious ethical conundrums. Perhaps for these reasons, U.S. women facing infertility turn to clergy more often than any other formal support system (Kim et al, manuscript in preparation). While data on this topic is limited, prior studies suggest that both infertile women and clergy themselves perceive a lack of adequate preparation for clergy to counsel effectively on this issue (Van Ess 2012; Voss 2012). Thus, for the Christian Church in North America to provide appropriate spiritual and practical guidance to its adherents in this growing area of need, it is imperative that we improve our understanding of clergy’s preparation for this role and the nature of the counseling that they give.

To begin to understand this issue, our aim in this project is to conduct semi-structured interviews and focus groups with clergy from a diverse set of religious and demographic backgrounds, recruited through local partnerships in disparate geographic regions of the United States. We will over-sample racial, ethnic, and religious minorities to ensure that a range of experience is represented. Although Christian clergy will comprise the majority of the interviewees, we will intentionally include non-Christian clergy as well, in order to both appreciate the breadth of clergy counseling experiences as well as to look outside of the Christian Church for examples of strong clergy preparation and maximally effective counseling. The findings of this qualitative study will be the essential foundation for a subsequent nationwide survey and the development of a novel curriculum to better prepare clergy to counsel on this important and sensitive issue.