I am a layperson and a member of my church’s governing body (as of the Spring this year). I have been an active, involved, voting member of the parish for 5 years. I have been horrified to learn in recent Vestry discussions that all of our staff are currently paid at about 75% of replacement value. We have had the same Rector for many years; most of the other staff members are also long-term members of the parish (another and different issue!) and are very dedicated and devoted.
I work for my state government, so I am well familiar with being underpaid and staying with it for the benefits (tangible or intangible) as well as intense belief in and support of my vocation.
The problem has only come to attention because our wonderful organist has left, and to get a new person of the caliber we have come to expect over the last years, we would need to pay that person…an amount that would stretch the budget…and would also mean that our Music Director would be paid approximately half of what the organist would be making. The inequity, and his inability to live on his current small salary would probably mean him leaving, at the same time that he is recommending and supporting the higher salary for the organist!
The rest of the vestry has been aware of this and doesn’t seem to be bothered by it. I am trying to learn from my rector: why as a congregation we are not aware of this; why as a vestry we are not actively addressing it and making it a major priority of our stewardship campaign.
I hope that someone else can shed some light on whether this is common (I fear so), and how it might best be addressed.
From Matriarch Jan:
Dear Beloved Saint of the Church and Vestry -
How incredibly blessed your congregation (and staff) are to have you among them. It is a gift to have someone who is concerned about equity and paying staff fairly.
Having said this, I just don't know what the answer is, especially in this particular economy. We pay our own choir director and organist much less than they are worth, but they serve only limited hours and earn their primary income elsewhere. I frankly believe that this could be the future for clergy too, for better or for worse.
If you can't afford to pay your staff either you won't have any staff and you will have to get by with what you can afford. Or you will perhaps find volunteers who - out of passion for gorgeous worship for example - might serve for free or for minimal compensation.
This is indeed a common problem and it's probably going to become more common in the next decade. My own denomination's required health/retirement package is forcing many congregations to get rid of their association pastor positions. They just can't afford to keep them.
Jan - A Church for Starving Artists
Rector in Hawai’i writes:
One of the priests in our diocese sends out a survey every fall asking what the salaries of our parish staff are. This helps him to make sure he is at least keeping up with other parish staffs. But paying staff fair salaries has been a chronic problem in churches. It's a matter of justice for us. It's the staff who keeps the day-to-day operations of the parish going and it's the staff who support the ministries of the parish. But the staff must be paid a livable wage in their location. It would be pretty embarrassing to have staff live on food stamps and other welfare benefits. But the vestry must be educated about compensation as a justice issue and must be given the opportunity to figure out how each of them could live on the salaries paid their staff. Often one of the biggest problems in this issue is the rector who doesn't push for a fair wage him or herself. If the rector isn't paid based on experience and education, then it's hard to make the argument that the staff should.
There also needs to be a compensation schedule in the diocese for minimum salaries. This gives more strength to those who are trying to give fair compensation.
The vestry isn't addressing the issue and the congregation isn't aware of it often because no one wants to be the thorn in the side of the way "its always been done." Someone needs to speak up and challenge the vestry and make the information available. This doesn't mean that the vestry will do the right thing re compensation, but they will be forced to decide publicly and intentionally on the issue of compensation.
Just as an aside.... I hired a musician who wanted twice what our choir director was making. I said no, that I couldn't let our choir director be paid less than the church musician. We found other ways to give her support, like mileage and continuing ed money. My own goal for the next couple of years is to bring the salaries of the choir director and musician in line with American Guild of Organists (AGO) recommendations and with what I see parishes of a similar size being paid in urban areas on the mainland. I've told both individuals that I would be doing that. It took 6 years to get our parish administrator at a respectable level for salary and compensation; now it's the turn of those who supply our musical prayer and worship.
Rector from New Jersey had a surprising discovery when work hours were studied. She also recommends the AGO web site for help with fair wages and contract suggestions:
Just last year we went through a very similar situation. We did a very careful time study and slowly began to realize that while our organist was at the church for more than the number of hours we paid him, he was, in fact, teaching students in the choir room. So, in fact, we were subsidizing his private teaching practice. We cut the position from 3/4 to 1/2 time and kept the salary the same. We were able to attract many wonderful, talented, creative musicians who considered the job at remuneration consistent with AGO standards.
One learning we obtained from that process, besides the importance of a time study, was to go to the AGO website and look at the suggest rates as well as the suggested format for contract. Print out the information and bring copies to your wardens and vestry as well as every member of the choir.
AND, post it on the bulletin board in the back of the church. Stand up on Sunday and make the announcement that the information is available in the appointed space. That way, everyone gets educated.
If you think there will be resistance to that, stand up in church at the announcements anyway and let people know the web site url and/or let them know that you have copies of the print out.
In these times of economic worries - what do you recommend? What is happening to wages for the staff at your church? What about health insurance, pension, and other benefits? What other ideas do you have for active layperson?