Salary snapshot

I just wrote a comment that went much longer than my original post, so I thought I’d put it here. 

John M. said:

We have always had a problem with the “exalted” sense of call in the Presbyterian Church. Or is it a self generated call. A call to what? A professional career as a Minister of Word and Sacrament with a compensation package including salary, tax-free housing alliance, medical and pension benefits, expense accounts, two-week study leave and four-weeks of vacation. All above the minimum requirements set by the Presbytery. Proficiency exams much life doctors, lawyers. Accountants. Ordination is the prize.

OK, call me jaded. I’m just an elder.

In response, I have to say, that’s the irony of it. We strongly uphold the priesthood of all believers, but when it comes to our own ordination standards… not so much.

As far as our salary packages go, this is a good thing to examine. In 2005, PCUSA seminarians were going into 35k of student loan debt.

Then, when you get out (according to Jackson Carroll), you can expect to make, on average, 35K (including housing). Sometimes that goes up. If you go to a large church, you can get 67K, but since most of our churches are small churches, one can spend his/her entire career at about 35K. Chances are that women, especially, will end up staying at 35K. Every year, you might get a modest cost of living increase, but even when the church’s income drastically increases, the pastor does not usually get a raise.

In the PCUSA, we are often expected to get a doctorate of some kind, which might increase our chance of a better job, but we’re not automatically compensated for the degree.

As a comparison, school teachers are having the same debt/housing/income problem, and their salaries average at 47.6K, over $12,000 more than ours.

So, most of us aren’t making very much money, and that’s why comparing our entrance requirements to lawyers and doctors is kind of… well… silly. Of course, no one’s in it for the money. There’s a whole lot of satisfaction in the vocation that has nothing to do with compensation. But, we do need to be able to make it. For those who are starting out, that’s becoming harder and harder. And for those who are looking toward retirement, especially women who have spent a career with half-time positions and inadequate compensation, it’s also difficult. 

I am very thankful for our benefits. As part of a generation where 30% of young adults don’t have health insurance, I know just how lucky I am.

As far as taxes, we do have a break on housing, just like the military, certain people in government offices, and others in our country who have to live in particular housing where they’re employed. The logic is, since we have to move every couple of years, and we often live in a church-owned homes that are not of our choosing, then our housing is treated in same manner as the military. 

(Includes 9/1 edit) But, if you look at the full picture of our taxes, it’s really odd. We have to pay SECA tax (instead of FICA), as if we were self-employed. The tax is 2 times regular FICA because we, in effect, pay the employer and employee portions. Then, we pay income tax as if we were employed–which is higher than self-employment tax. So, we do get some breaks, but we have pay more in other ways. The housing usually balances out the higher self-employment tax.

Of course, it is very, very difficult for our small congregations to pay all of this. I realize that fact. Yet, as someone whose family lived the first six years of my pastorate under the state poverty level, while hearing constantly about how outrageous my salary was, I would just hate for our elders to have an unrealistic view of our compensation.


Ords again

Sorry about the Presbyterian shoptalk, but I just heard something quite distressing.

Is it true that only forty percent of students who take all four ordination exams actually pass? It’s so hard to get the pass/fail rate on these. And why is that?

Aren’t seminarians supposed to be taking their ords in their senior year? Does that mean sixty percent of our graduates are not supposed to be looking for jobs? Does that mean that many of them gave up their careers, their homes, their lives in order to go to seminary, and over half of them are not going to be able to look for churches? We all know how long it takes to find a call. Many of these people have families depending on them. And even if they don’t… we have churches that need pastors.

What are we doing? Saying goodbye to our seminarians, letting them work at Starbucks, while forty percent of our congregations flounder, without pastors? These are people who have Masters’ degrees. They have worked very, very hard. Isn’t this a huge waste of our resources? Can’t we be a little smarter about all of this?

Now… I’ll admit, there may have been one or two people in our seminary class who were not really fit to be pastors, but the ord exams didn’t weed them out. And there is no way that I would say over half of my class was not fit.

Why do we bother with recruitment? Why do we even encourage people to enter the process if they only have a forty percent chance of making it?

Really now. If only 40 percent are passing, how can that possibly be fair? This hazing process has gone way too far. Is anyone willing to consider that it just might be the Ordination exams themselves that are failing? 

Sadly, it happens

I was googling a colleague recently… not any one that I know… just a pastor of a really large church who had an affair with another adult in his congregation. He just got another job, helping other ministers in times of crisis. I was interested in his new position, wondering what the program looked like, so I googled his name.

The first thing to come up was an atheist site, decrying the fact that the pastor got another job, and that he was making a lot of money (the job’s funded by the Lilly Foundation 8/29 edit: CF Foundation). I scrolled down through the comments to hear what people had to say on the matter, because I often think interesting to hear what atheists have to say about our denomination.

But, not this time. They were freaking out that this guy had an affair, and that he got another position. Not a pastoral post, per say, but just another job. (I would link and name names, but I don’t really want them to find my site. There were really mean, hater comments.)

The thing that struck me as odd is the strange logic that seemed to flow under all of this.

  • Athiests don’t like Christians because Christians are judgmental.
  • Christians make mistakes, so that makes them hypocrites.
  • A pastor makes a mistake.
  • The Christians forgive, and… you know… after years of unemployment, think that the guy might still have something to offer in his professional life.
  • That makes the Atheists (or at least the ones on this particular site) REALLY irate.

I don’t know. It just doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. It feels like the Atheists are much more judgmental than we are. It sounds like the Atheists are using this to point out the hypocrisy, but did anyone in our denomination ever say that pastors don’t make huge and horrible mistakes? Did anyone ever say that we are sinless and that nothing like this will ever happen? I don’t think so.

Pastors are human. We make mistakes. Huge ones. Some pastors have affairs. I know it, you know it. It often destroys the church they minister in. And it usually wreaks havoc on the pastor and his or her family.

I don’t like it. You don’t like it. And even though we know that we are held to a much higher standard, it’s a sad and bitter fact of life that it happens. It doesn’t take very much time in the ministry to hear these cases and cringe. Somewhere along the line, the stories begin to sound a lot less like a juicy piece of gossip, and more like a fatal car crash. And denominations often use great care as they try to help mend the church and pastor back together again. We try to find some place of forgiveness and reconciliation in all of it.

Of course, I could point out that our really amazing male preachers are usually the ones who get the breaks on this… but… I don’t know that for a fact. Maybe it’s just the high profile cases that I know the most about.

All I know for certain is that it happens, and it’s a sad, sad day when it does. There’s certainly hypocrisy when a pastor lies to cover it up.  There’s hypocrisy when a pastor says something like, “Why would we have a gay pride parade? We don’t have a murderers’ pride parade” while he was in the habit of hiring a male prostitute.

But let me be the first to say… on the behalf of our denomination… we make mistakes. Huge blunders. And we make them often. So please do not blame God when it does. Please do not let it destroy your entire faith. And please, please try to forgive us.

What now?

I saw a t-shirt recently, with the words and profiles of “Martin” and “Obama.” And it said, “Living the dream.” It was, I’m sure an attempt to make sense of the Jeremiah Wright furor, a way to highlight Obama’s historic speech on race, a street sign pointing out the amazing road to progress we’re on. A quick way to show that we are still in the midst of struggle, but we are in a very, very hopeful place in our history.

I’ve talked a lot about the differences in the Clinton and Obama races. One of the strangest things to happen was that Clinton supporters often wrote editorials and blogs pointing out the sexism that Clinton had to endure. It was shocking to read a long string of abuses and attacks.

Obama, on the other hand, had some vicious attacks, especially on his campaign headquarters, but no one highlighted them. They barely made it to the news. For me, this inspired me. I felt like we would have a president who is willing to downplay the personal attacks for the good of the country. It showed a certain toughness and grit.

I think that this points to an important generational difference (generational as in chronological time). In a new generation, we are less likely to point out racism and sexism. Perhaps it is because we know that we have a better chance of overcoming it if we acknowledge it, put our heads down, and work harder. Perhaps it is because the generation before us did such a good job of pointing out the discrimination, that we feel free from the labor of it.

Or maybe it’s just because we know that we might be a woman, or a person of color, or a person with a disability, or someone with a differing sexual orientation, or a person who is mentally challenged, or someone who is too smart, or someone who is living below the poverty level, or someone who is… but who isn’t? We all have something to overcome.

The thing that obviously hits home for me is the lack of women in our profession who never seem to get beyond the small church or the associate pastor positions. Now that I have been in the pastorate for ten years, I’m watching my male colleagues far surpass my female colleagues. And I still hear about churches—even progressive churches—that will not consider calling a woman to preach in their pulpit. I often hear of “young, promising pastors” who all seem to be male. We have gotten to the point where we feel like we have to have one woman on the staff of a large church. But if it’s an either/or choice, or if we’re looking for the top position, we usually stick with the men.

So it’s still there. The –isms are alive and well. I know that we are handling them differently now in the 21st century, but are we doing a better job? Are we doing more than just ignoring the problems and hoping that they will go away? Are we learning to focus on the big picture more? Or, are we realizing that the millennial generation is so diverse that all of our notions of minority/dominant groups will soon become muddled? And where do we go from here?

photo is by .shake.


Bruce Reyes-Chow, our young, hip, and very distinguished Moderator of the General Assembly of the PCUSA, came into town for a meeting this week, and it was great to spend some time with him. He had a town hall meeting, where people could ask him questions. It was interesting that he began to talk about something that I hear and talk about often. In fact, it was the second time that week it had come up, and it came up again when we walked to lunch.

“Going to church is like being a part of a secret club,” a smart, interesting young church leader explained as we crossed the street for a bite after the gathering, “When you meet someone else who goes to church it’s really exciting. It just never comes up in regular conversation.”

The way most people find themselves in a particular church is by word of mouth. Right? A friend told them about the congregation. The Welcome Wagon greeted newcomers with a list of churches and some personal recommendations. A person asks her neighbors. Not any more.

No one is expected to go to church any longer, and no one talks about church any more. Especially people who are under forty. Even for church leaders, people who are really dedicated to their congregations, it just doesn’t come up.

I noticed the shift at my first congregation, University Presbyterian in Austin. A person about twenty years older than I was (I was 24) mentioned putting their role as an elder in the church on their resume. I was shocked, thinking, Why on earth would anyone do that? But I’m sure it was probably pretty common in Texas. Talking about church in general was pretty common ten years ago… in a different generation.

Now, talking about church is just not as socially acceptable. The mainline church used to be known as a place where one could make professional connections. Growing up Baptist, we would look at the mainlines and say, “People go their to bolster their social status. It’s like the country club.” The accusation was not fair then, and it’s not true now. Talking about where you worship in the workplace is pretty much frowned upon.

I sort of lose sight of the fact that people don’t talk about church. People usually ask me what I do for a living, I tell them I’m a pastor, and they go on for a good twenty minutes about their church, their former church, and the church they wish they were at. Around my friends outside of the congregation, I end up talking about church all the time, even when I don’t steer the conversation in that direction. Maybe it’s because they can’t talk to anyone else about it.

Western still gets most of our young members from word of mouth. The WOM just sounds different. From what I hear, it’s more like, “Check out our church. It’s not like that. It’s different. I promise.” And people do. Friends bring friends to church all the time at our place.

There is another shift going on in the larger culture that we can’t ignore in all of this. Part of a shift to Web 2.0 is the ability for people to rate, review, and comment. People rely less on professional advertising, and WOM has become more important than ever before. It just looks different.

That’s where Bruce comes in. He encourages his church to review the congregation on Yelp, an online service where you can review restaurants, shops, and entertainment spots, and religious organizations.

So, what do you do? How do you encourage people to spread the word in an environment where it’s unlikely that church will ever come up? Do people talk about church more in other parts of the country? How do people usually find out about your church? Are you on review sites? Do you encourage them? Are you afraid of them? What do you think?

photo by sleepydays

Presbymeme II

Bruce Reyes-Chow, the very distinguished moderator of the PCUSA started this meme, and Maria Anderson at The Real Journey tagged me. So, here goes!

The Rules

  • •In about 25 words each, answer the following five questions (I always break this one!).
  • •Tag five presbyterian bloggers and send them a note to let them know they were tagged.
  • •Be sure to link to this original post.
  • •Leave a comment or send a trackback to this post so others can find you.

1) What is your favorite faith-based hymn, song or chorus?

Be Thou My Vision. You know how Augustine said that when you sing, you actually pray twice? Whenever I sing this song, I always feel like my whole body is engaged in the supplication. It’s just a beautiful prayer. I sang it at my ordination and my installations. I sing it when I have no idea where I’m going, or what I’m doing, or what I’m supposed to be doing. It’s a great comfort to me.

2) What was the context, content and/or topic of the last sermon that truly touched, convicted, inspired, challenged, comforted and/or otherwise moved you?

The wonderful thing about being an AP is that I can often hear really good sermons. John’s a great preacher, so I can think of many inspiring moments in worship during the last three years. For some reason, the one that sticks out is one on interfaith dialogue with Muslims. Unfortunately, when we updated our website, our sermon files didn’t get transferred; so, I can’t link it or review it to make sure I’m not misrepresenting his words. But, from what I remember, he talked about how so many positive things have occurred because of religious leaders talking to each other, especially with Christian/Jewish relations. If we would have invited Muslim religious leaders to the table a few decades ago, our world might look a lot different now. We can’t change history, but we can do better in the future.

It challenged me because it made me realize what a huge impact that religious leaders have in world events, and it inspired me to be much more intentional about Interfaith dialogue.

3) If you could have all Presbyterians read just one of your previous posts, what would it be and why?

It may not be decent or orderly, but I’m going to cheat a little bit here. I actually have two posts that are related. As I reread them, I realize that they’re not very well written. But, when I was hashing all of that out, something occurred to me. We know that 6 million people under the age of 45 are no longer attending church, and we need to figure out a way to reach them.

Adults from the age of 25 to 45 (Generation X) are extremely innovative, and they are very adept at starting new things. We can see it in our churches as all sorts of movements are beginning to emerge.

If we begin to support and encourage our young adult clergy to start new churches, then we could have a major impact on the adults under the age of 25. The generation that’s coming up is huge, much bigger than the boomers. So far, they aren’t flocking to our churches as they are… but I’ll bet that they would go to a Presbyterian Church that was planted by an Xer.

4) What are three PC(USA) flavored blogs you read on a regular basis?

I read a lot of them, so it’s hard to just pick three. It’s kind of like my terrible blogroll over there on my sidebar, I’m always leaving someone out.

Shekinah Glory: Because Presbyterians Can’t Dance is my husband’s blog of prayers, poetry, and sermons.

Fidelia’s Sisters, an online publication by, for, and about young clergy women. It isn’t exactly Presbyterian and it’s not exactly a blog. But there a lot of Presby women involved, including the convener, Susan Olson, and it’s always a good read.

Work-in-Progress: Aren’t We All? is Ruth Everhart’s blog. She reflects on her life as a writer, mom, and minister, so there’s a lot that I relate to.

5) If the PC(USA) were a movie, what would it be and why?

For some reason, The Namesake comes to mind. I loved the movie, it’s one of my favorites. In it, Gogol, the main character, is a second-generation Indian-American. The film, like so much of Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing, shows the delicate balance between having a wonderful heritage in a culture that is predominately different.

And that’s what we’re struggling with in the church. We have these amazing roots, but our culture has changed and our congregations aren’t working in the same ways. Now we are sorting through all of it, holding on to what is good and beautiful and rich as we watch our faith and our tradition transform in a new generation.

Now (the hardest part), it’s time to tag. Brian, Ruth, Sarah, Rob and David.

The photo’s by the Tall Guy