Figuring on unpaid ministers

I was drawn to the online Economist article about the admission of women to the episcopate in the Church of England by a tweet by British Unitarian and Free Christian Chief Officer Derek McAuley. It had a wry caption about Unitarian (do see) but I don’t care much about that, or an established church or the episcopal form of church government.

I do care about ministers being able to live with the necessities of life, and in not creating systems that keep poor people from exercising a ministry.

See the chart that shows the growing bulk of Church of England clergy working in unpaid settings. Which means those ministers are scraping by; have independent wealth, family support or a pension (a class issue, surely); or work part-time in another job. At which point I leave the Anglicans, lest I get too wrapped up in their ways. Indeed, Universalists were all but planted in this country by a purse-poor evangelist and a wealthy spouse (who later suffered deep poverty) … and many a cash-strapped minister who gave up so much for the spiritual welfare of others.

But when the costs are too high for too long and the burdens go unshared, eventually the system shrinks and collapses. Let that be a warning.

7 Replies to “Figuring on unpaid ministers”

  1. I wonder if this, plus all the issues with the current UUA/MFC system, could actually get Unitarian Universalists to talk about how poorly they pay their ministers and the latent expectation that their ministers are going to have a partner who will have an income. And let’s not get into the class/money issues when it comes to the UUMA (which you and Dan Harper have talked about before).

    But I’ve been waiting for the conversation to happen for years now so I’m not holding my breath.

  2. The low pay of ministry coupled with the high cost of education and my financial literacy convinced me that becoming a minister was unwise if I were to have dependents, a family, etc….

    I see it as a bit of a blessing as I just need to find an alternative way to do similar things.

  3. What I find distressing is that as the number of female priests has risen, they appear to have been shunted off into unpaid ministry (ecclesiastic volunteer work). So are female Anglican priests truly valued? I often find that systems will find the resources to pay for what they truly value.

    With regards to the UUA, there is an echo-issue. When it comes to compensation, some ministers are paid well. But there can be some mighty disparities. And with a surplus of clergy, there is often somebody who will work part-time on a poorly paid basis at the infamous arch-typical First Church of Anytown. They work in hopes that they can advance one day to something with a more humane salary and access to basic benefits (health, disability, and pension).

    And then there is the issue of ministerial student internships, and the class/money issues there…

  4. (sigh)

    I am not sure what, if anything, those of us who work in the context of movements with congregational polity can do to remedy the situation. At least on the denominational level there are difficulties. Anything from “headquarters” is frequently thought of as non-binding and suspect. There is an element in every congregation (even the generous ones) that seeks the most hours for the least money. for some members of our churches each raise must correspond to new duties and more work.

    Also, the leadership in many of our congregations suffers from a perspective problem. Many leaders are older and literally do not know the current value of a dollar. Again, congregational expectations around workload combined with the poor self-advocacy of our predecessors in this profession work against us. We are supposed to be happy to serve. That is salary enough…right?

  5. I’ll admit that I am happy to serve (despite the obvious flaws in the system). But if you aren’t going to pay me much, then keep your expectations modest, and give me the freedom to earn a living through other work. Ordination did not magically free me from the need for food, shelter, clothing, and health care.

  6. Exactly Derek.

    My long-term concern is that pastors like us make sure we are clear on what will and will not happen given the hours and the salary. I get the sense that this pushing back has been a problem for many pastors (particularly, but not exclusively folks from previous generations). I would also say that there are plenty of folks who made money in their first career or who have that wealthy spouse and who would rather buy in to the illusion of poverty a low salary supplies than keep it up for the next minister who has to live of what s/he makes.

    I do wonder, though, if congregational polity prevents the sort of “pastor for free” phenom that Scott observes in the Anglican tradition…

  7. Adam, there are plenty of “pastors-for-free” within Unitarian Universalism. We call them “community ministers.” Sure, there are plenty of community ministers who have decent jobs with benefits, but there are plenty more community ministers who are working at substandard wages with no benefits. And plenty of UU congregations are happy to have them as affiliated community ministers, hoping for a free sermon or two every year in return. In other pastor-for-free news, I’m also aware of ordained ministers who take other jobs in UU congregations, serving as Directors of Religious Education, administrators, etc. — often part-time and poorly paid work. And there are UU congregations who are happy to pay part-time DRE-level wages, yet call their ordained DRE a “minister of religious education” (with no added salary, of course), so that the DRE has the privilege of being considered a minister, and has the privilege of being on call for pastoral emergencies (at no extra pay, of course).

    Thus UU-style congregational polity does allow pastors-for-free — and the UUA/MFC requirements for community minister affiliation, as well as the requirements for new ministers to serve a congregation and have the word “minister” somewhere in their job title, actually encourage exploitation of ministers by congregations.

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