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An associate pastor is a member of the clergy who assists the pastor or priest with serving the needs of the congregation. The term pastor is typically used to describe clergymen who belong to Christian communities rather than religious leaders of other faiths. Associate pastor responsibilities depend in part upon the size of the parish; in some instances an associate may serve more than one religious community.
In many protestant communities, registered members of the parish or the parish council have the responsibility for appoint a church pastor. The pastor leads church services, conducts baptisms, wedding services and funerals and also administers to the sick. In some branches of Protestantism, associate pastors are chosen by the elected pastor rather than by the members of the parish. The pastor may appoint a full time or part time associate and the associate's wages or expenses are paid for with parish funds.
Typically, associate pastors are ordained ministers which means that they have undergone some kind of formal religious instruction at a denomination specific seminary or at college or university. The length of the training varies between Christian groups but in the Roman Catholic Church, the training process normally lasts for at least eight years. Roman Catholic priests receive their holy orders at the end of their training and thereafter a pastor or associate pastor is assigned to a parish by a Bishop. Ordained protestant ministers often have to establish their own parishes or apply to become a pastor or associate pastor at an existing parish.
Associate pastors in the Roman Catholic Church and some of the other major Christian denominations essentially perform the same duties as the parish pastor. In some parishes, multiple weekly services are held, and both the pastor and the associate pastor may each lead some of the services. Some Christian denominations are divided into dioceses, or regions, and an associate pastor within a particular diocese may assist pastors in several different parishes. In some instances, a diocese may employ associate pastors who are responsible for handling weekly services whenever a pastor in the diocese is sick or on vacation. Some Christian groups enable parishioners who have not been through formal training to serve as associate pastors although these individuals are sometimes unable to perform some of the tasks that are normally handled by the pastor.
The term associate pastor is commonly used in North America but in other English speaking countries other terms are typically used to describe this position. In the United Kingdom, both Roman Catholic pastors and associate pastors are typically referred to as priests. In the Episcopal Church in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, pastors are sometimes referred to as rectors while associate pastors are often known as vicars or associate vicars. Associate pastors who have not been ordained are also referred to as vergers.
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