Along with Advent comes salary-negotiating time here in the Merritt house. My least favorite part of the year. Honestly, I hate it. I wish that everyone just got paid from the Local Governing Body (LGB). You know, a socialized system where everyone is given as they have need. I wish that each pastor had a set amount, based on cost of living, housing, experience, and education. A set salary, where certain things don’t matter–things like ethnicity, age, gender. And certain things do matter, like how much you had to go into debt to get your seminary education.
I’m not even sure that the size of the congregation should matter. I mean at this point there ought to be some systemic realization that women are in small parishes and associate positions, not because they are less wise, intelligent, or capable, but because there’s that thick stained glass ceiling that we’re slowly, surely trying to crack through.
I long for a compensation package that does not consider how many children you have or don’t have, whether your spouse has a good job or not, or whether the ladies in the church think you eat out too much. A salary structure where associate pastors do not make less than half of the head of staff (I mean, really. Are they doing half the work? We all know the answer to that one).
I long for a system that realizes that the Baby Boomers who bought their houses twenty years ago for 20K, and have been receiving 2% increases every year, may be comfortable sitting on their increased housing equity. But they are in a much different position than the members of a new generation, who enter into the pastorate with education loans and possible mortgages that make our debt to income ratio way out of whack. The realities of a new generation who looks into the future and realizes how much college will cost for their children and that the social security system will not be there in the same way that it is now.
For me, at this time of year, the major struggle is to stay above the minimum salary requirements that are required by the LGB. After ten years of being on church staffs, I’m still dog paddling, trying to keep my head above that line (obviously, I’m not the best negotiator…but I do have a good shared equity housing deal).
I used to try to rise above it–I mean rise above grappling with this issue altogether. I’m not a very materialistic person. Every December, my husband asks me what I want for Christmas and he’s greeted by a blank stare, because I really don’t know…. Nobody goes into the pastorate for the money. I’m in it to spread the good news, help people, and work for social justice. So, it was always just simpler for me to ignore that my salary had slipped beneath the minimum, once again. Of course, it was really easy for the church and LGB to ignore it as well.
But then years ago someone asked me to compile a graph of the area pastors in our denomination, and their salaries. So I did. It was shocking. The women made much less than the men. People of color made less too, especially if they were serving immigrant congregations. It was common for some pastors to make five times more than others (I’m not like many people, I don’t think that the upper-end should be making less. I think we should smooth out the inequities by letting the lower end make more. I mean, in that case, the minimum salary requirement left families below the poverty level).
I labeled the gender, ethnic, and age differences and showed it to a wonderful member of my congregation–an engineering professor at Brown. He saw how the bars of men who were a certain age and color towered over the rest. He didn’t know any of the pastors or churches, and with the stark numbers in front of him, he was appalled, “How could the denomination let this happen? This is terrible. There should never be this much discrimination going on in the church.”
I shrugged and tried to explain, “The salaries are negotiated on a local level, between the church and the individual pastor. There’s a bit of general oversight, but it’s really up to the pastor. And…you know…churches are struggling….” But that’s when it occurred to me that I needed to start caring. I could not call for justice in a discriminating environment if I wasn’t willing to do my part. And how could we stand for justice in our society if we can’t model fairness in our own churches?
The fact is, our system isn’t socialized. I don’t mean to blame the victims in this scenario, but, as grueling and painful as it may be, we have to begin seeing that advocating for our own salaries (or better yet, finding a member who will advocate on our behalf) goes beyond our personal pocketbook. Individually, especially as pastors who are a part of a minority group in our churches, if we don’t negotiate for ourselves, then we contribute to a much larger problem.
So, what about you? What’s your situation? How does your denomination do it? If you could change something about how salaries are doled out, what would you change? It’s a tough issue. I always accept fair, anonymous comments, if you prefer to reply that way.