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.