Friday, November 13, 2009

Infuriating Things, Part 4: The Pastor is a Drain on our Finances!

I had another topic planned, but Beach Walkin's post made me pause and reflect on my own experience in regards to my salary, the church budget, and the congregations' feelings towards the two.

At the tail end of the SJ fiasco, during the conversation when he proposed the paid "study leave" (that didn't happen; I wound up taking unpaid leave), my DS said that when finances get tough in the local church, people tend to begin blaming the pastor and focusing negative attention on the pastor. Gosh, I wish he'd told me that six months earlier!!!

I was appointed to SJ on a full-time basis, and thus received a full-time salary, pension, insurance, all that jazz. For the duration of my appointment, I was paid the minimum salary for my status (first a licensed local pastor, then a commissioned provisional elder) and not a penny more. My salary was fine with me, for several reasons. First, our Annual Conference has the highest or nearly the highest minimum salaries in the United Methodist Church (ranging from about 31K for a local pastor to 39K for an ordained elder in 2009). A large reason for that is because Northern Virginia is part of our annual conference, and the cost of living there is ridiculous (we're talking easily $1100 for a one-bedroom apartment). The other reason my salary was fine with me was that a) I was living in a parsonage, so my housing was "free" and b) Harry's salary was higher than mine, so we were very comfortable. Oh, and then there's the fact that I didn't go into ministry to get rich. I never complained about my the church, to colleagues, to Harry, to anyone. I would have accepted a lower salary, but I wasn't allowed to do so (churches HAVE to pay the minimum). I was being paid about what a first-year teacher with a master's degree in the region would be paid, so I thought my salary was reasonable and not ridiculously high.

I knew that my salary and benefit package took up about 45% of the church budget, but it wasn't much of an issue to the church UNTIL I got pregnant, took the eight weeks' PAID maternity leave (that is guaranteed in our Book of Discipline; I could have taken twelve weeks paid leave), and then came back "less than pulpit-ready" (my own words) after my leave. That's when things became bad...when everything I did was placed under a microscope and criticized, when they sprung a short-notice parsonage inspection on me and went ballistic over projected minor repairs, when my PPR chair told the DS that I was spending the church's money needlessly (said money was being taken from my Accountable Reimbursement fund, which was actually taken from my base salary), and when my vacation time became a Battle for the Ages, which finally led to my early departure.

The interesting thing was...we were tithing on our joint income, which meant that by the time I left, we were essentially paying 9% of the church's budget (the budget was well under six figures). My treasurer knew this, and since he was married to my PPR chair and I knew the sort of relationship they had (very few secrets), I know that she knew how much we gave to the church. We certainly didn't mention it to anyone else, but it made me furious when she began accusing me of figuratively robbing the church.

I believe it is the pastor's responsibility to lead by example by being a good steward of his/her own finances and it certainly helps to not live "high on the hog" when compared with your parishioners. It's also important to be a good steward of church much as is within your control and within reason. I tried to follow both of those principles, yet I still wound up being essentially run out of town.

I wish the congregations...especially Councils and Finance committees...understood that having a pastor who is anything beyond supply is going to be a significant investment, at least if a congregation wants to use integrity and compassion in the hiring process (even a part-time pastor should, in my opinion, be offered at least an allowance toward health insurance and some sort of pension). And I also wish that congregations would be willing to look in the mirror from time to time and accept some of the blame for poor finances/stewardship. Don't give $50/month, complain about living on a fixed income, and then show up in a brand-new car and go to Outback every week.

1 comment:

Cheesehead said...

Hi, W&H. I've been a lurker but not a commenter yet, mostly because my pain is so raw. I too, was "clergy killed". I mailed my pastoral "I'm outta here" letter out to members yesterday. (You can read it at my place)I have 15 days left as a pastor.

Although I've been ousted because of a sick system and an overblown sense of entitlement on the part of a small but powerful, affluent minority, the leadership of the denomination has advised me to frame it in financial terms, claiming I "quit because they could not afford a full-time pastor"

In some sick way The Church of Jesus Christ is more comfortable blaming its downfall on the economy than on sin.

I'm sorry that we are all suffering so.