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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Ask the Matriarch — They Love Me; Now What?

It's interesting how periodically we get questions about the vocational side of vocation, that is, the work aspect of how we fulfill our call. I used to subscribe to's email newsletter with tips on dusting off resumes and negotating salaries, and it occurred to me in my migraine-riddled fog this morning that had a certain uh, not-panache about it.

So without further ado, we follow up last week's question with a query about just how DOES one navigate those delicate waters between successful interviews and the actual offer?

How do I negotiate a contract with a rector & parish? How do you know when the conversations have become more serious? For instance, I have had a preliminary conversation with the rector of a parish. I know that they are looking into options for housing -- specifically apartments -- to include as part of a compensation package. Should I mention any requirements or preferences? (eg, I have a dog.) How do I communicate my needs if I am aware that they are in the process of preparing an offer, but the process hasn't been made explicit?

Ann answers:
First, I would expect a concrete offer of a position and then negotiations to proceed. You should be hired because you have the qualifications not because you do or don't have a dog. Once the offer is made - the other things are negotiated. Compensation packages should include health insurance, pension fund contributions, housing and utilities, car allowance or a mileage agreement (currently $.505/mile). Your judicatory usually has standards that are to be followed as a minimum.

Is it possible to have an allowance for housing that will allow you to find your own place?

She also asked a couple of her peers what they had done in similar situations, and got some additional feedback that shows a lot depends on what position you're tentatively accepting, and we're sorta assuming it's an associate rector/pastor position. If so, writes one:

...she needs to get back to the rector and ask if there are other issues they need to talk about before going any farther, and then give a couple of examples (like my dog and my fear of heights and my need to have a window with a southern exposure).

I guess this all depends on what was covered in the "preliminary" conversation and how she knows that they're preparing an offer. It would be appropriate for the rector to bring up these kind of details but since she hasn't, then the applicant needs to bring them up as a matter of clarification.

Another says that having "preliminary" conversations without some kind of formal offer may be a cause for concern. Are they trying to feel out those "conditions" before making it official? Wait for the offer, but if it includes an apartment and there's a "no dogs" clause, you can negotiate a way to accommodate the dog. What it boils down to, she says:

...If the rector contacts her again for further discussions, she could bring up what she would need to say yes (include working environment, responsibilities so it's not just about money, but do include compensation).

One thing she could do (it can be risky but can be effective when it's true) is to say, I really like this place and want to come, but if we're not going anywhere, I need to move on. That said, be prepared to move on if necessary.

One last point of view from Ann's circle: There's a difference between needs and preferences. Dogs and children fall under needs, and it's okay to be specific about your needs at the outset. But with preferences—such as a dishwasher, or southern exposure—wait til it's on the table. But do not be afraid to negotiate, she continues, making an important point:

There is something in studies that women make $500,000 less over a lifetime than their male counterparts, primarily due to their unwillingness or inability to negotiate their own packages. I had a woman priest in my CREDO (a program for clergy wellness in the Episcopal Church) say that she learned how to do it after being a rector hiring male assistants – she was amazed at their demands, and then realized that this was standard practice! We have to not fear raising the issue thinking people will automatically think less of us – in fact they may think more if we are able to say what we need and negotiate effectively.

Now--for a couple of adminstrative details. One: Our queue is just about empty. Please send along questions! If you sent one in the past that didn't appear here, it may be that our matriarchs didn't have expertise in that area. Feel free to resubmit it, perhaps broadening your query. Or come up with new ones! Each of our matriarchs has more than 10 years in ordained ministry and they come from a wide range of denominations and backgrounds. You can send your questions to

Two: We'll be taking a break next week for Holy Week, so I hope it's a blessed one for everyone!

Okay, have at, gang--feel free to share your own insights in the comments!


  1. This was incredibly helpful for me... thanks!


  2. I would just add that when an offer has been made, don't be afraid to ask questions and seek verification of what is offered. I say this based on my own hard experience: The rector offered me a stipend which he said met the diocesan minimum, and I accepted that without question. Only a year into my position did I learn that what I was receiving was actually $7500 year LESS than the diocesan minimum for a church this size. (I asked for a received a raise, but it was less than what I first asked for, and spread over two years--one of the ways women's earnings get to be significantly less than men's over a career I expect).


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