Visit our new site at

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - Negotiation Edition

The issue of compensation for clergy and who does the negotiating varies from denomination to denomination. Here's a question from a candidate for ministry seeking advice about this process.

I am in the process of negotiating my first employment contract as a deacon now and priest later. My Episcopal diocese does not have a standard employment contract or curacy program, so there are no minimums. I am excited to be able to negotiate a contract that will be best for me, my family and the church, but I do not really know how to begin. I would love any advice that others have. I have printed out some contracts from other dioceses, but if anyone knows of a particularly good one, I would love to see it as well. Is there something the Matriarchs wish would have been in their first contracts? Is there something the Matriarchs wish would not have been in their first contracts?

At least one of our matriarchs corresponded directly with this candidate. Muthah, who blogs at Stone of Witness offers the following advice:

I would suggest that you talk to some one in the diocese as to what is the going rate for a curate in your area. The curate's salary is really at the mercy of the rector, however. You should be getting more because now that you are priested, you are doing more. But salaries are so dependent upon locale that it would difficult to say exactly what you should be getting. My suggestion is to talk to other curates in your diocese.
At the same time, many parishes today can't afford multiple clergy much less curates. Remember that you are still in a learning or apprentice position. Don't try to negotiate too much because you will seen as 'getting too big for your britches' even if you are terribly skilled. Also you need to check the local mean salary of the laity of your parish. (Check the local demographics) Be sensitive to what they make and the financial stability of the parish. If you do that, your parish will gift you with more than you expected. If however, you are not making enough to live on talk frankly with your rector.
But you should be negotiating some of the perks that are necessary for you to grow in your profession. Be sure you ask for continuing education time and expenses. Also you should negotiate a books/vestments allowance for your professional use and your vacation time.
Also, I would suggest that contracts are really worthless when what you want to do is serve.
Now it's your turn. Use the "Post a Comment" function to add your two cents!

May you live in God's amazing grace+
rev honey


  1. As a Presbyterian, we have minimums for money and time that must be met, and my congregation happily met (and, at least in terms of actual $$ exceeded) them. When I came here 4.5 years ago, I underestimated my need for time away. So instead of the "standard" 4-vacation 2-study leave weeks off, I negotiated for 4 and 4 rather than getting a raise. That extra two weeks off has been a lifesaver for me, as I've struggled for balance in a position that can (and does) easily overwhelm. So I would say to be brutally honest with yourself about how much time you need, both weekly and occasionally, and put that in writing. Also be aware of whether you will be able to afford to take vacation or whether you'll be living in a place where "staycation" is possible (I don't live in that kind of place). And don't be afraid to ask for more time off for study leave, especially if they can't pay you as well as you would like.

  2. Also a Presbyterian, I echo what Teri said. One of the hints I got before ordination that I was successful in making a reality was asking that time off for my denomination's bi-annual meeting be part of my terms of call. (I did not ask for travel expenses for that period of time, only the time off.) So, every other year, there was an extra 10 days off to use for that specific purpose, which I did utilize once.

    You may want to translate that to your specific faith tradition, which I suspect from your letter is Episcopal.

    What an exciting time in your ministry! Good luck!

  3. Good suggestions here. I concur with the idea of finding out something about the income of the congregation. If you are paid a lot less than they are, they will expect no different in the future; if you are paid more, your compensation could be resented.

    Teri and Jules are right about the value of time! Think about what is important to you - would a spiritual retreat week be best for you? attending a Christian Education conference? a Habitat for Humanity week? Stop and think about what would feed you. Then ask for that IN ADDITION to vacation and continuing ed time. One of my colleagues negotiated gym membership for herself and her family. I went the retreat weekend route.

    Good luck!

  4. My diocese has a minimum salary and housing allowance scales which are linked to years of experience and area of ministry, and I think that is common across dioceses here in Canada. I am surprised that's not true in the US. Perhaps there are some in your neighbouring dioceses? These are useful as a starting point. Time off here is standard, but again, check with your neighbours and recently ordained colleagues.

    Continuing education allowance (and time), vestment allowance since you're starting off, sick leave (etc), pension/healthcare/disability provisions should be part of the negotiation (and were part of my package, in a diocese that is almost certainly less financially secure than yours!). Will you be driving a lot? If so, will a car allowance or mileage reimbursement be included?

    The other thing I've appreciated having provision for are retreats. You need to be fed in order to feed others, right?!

    Good luck.

  5. I'm surprised that your diocese does not have any form of clergy compensation guidelines. In my diocese, these are not part of a standard contract, but are a diocesan resolution at convention each year. This is also true, I know, in the Diocese of Ohio, and theirs are available on the diocesan website, I believe.

    It's not common practice in the Episcopal Church, so far as I know, to link clergy compensation with average income of the lay members of the parish. Parishes have widely differing demographics, and the question (in my mind) is what is a fair and equitable compensation for your education and skills and for your service on behalf of the congregation. I don't think that is answered by looking at the average income in your parish, since parish B down the street might have a very different profile. (This is why diocesan-wide compensation guidelines are good -- which is not to say there aren't problems with them either.)

    I would suggest looking at clergy compensation guidelines for the dioceses in your vicinity, and also at those for dioceses that are somewhat similar to yours (rural? midwestern? etc), on the off chance that the guidelines for a neighboring one are distorted by being urban or high cost of living etc.

    If there is a deployment officer or canon to the ordinary, you might have a conversation with that person about what is considered reasonable for your type of position in your area.

    Although you are looking at a curacy or assistant position, that does not mean that you don't need to be fairly compensated. And if your diocese does not have guidelines for what that means, then it is something to pray about, as well as research.

    Good luck!

  6. In the two Episcopal dioceses in which I have served, there have been set minimums for clergy as rectors, assistants, associates, and curates. In the diocese where I was first employed there was a formula that took into account the size and budget of the congregation that was used to compute the base stipend for the rector (who could, of course, be paid more). A curate would be paid 65% of that minimum, an assistant 70% and an associate 75%. Housing etc, are on top of that stipend. Lacking any such firm guidelines I would inquire of the diocese what the "going rate" is, and how it is determined. Certainly your individual context will matter--your parish and the geographical area in which your are located will make a difference--but your compensation shouldn't be a shot in the dark.

    Are you working in the diocese from which you come? Does your bishop or deployment officer review contracts? If not you should find someone you trust to review whatever package is negotiated. I say that as someone who did not have anyone to review my contract and who was a bit misled about what was being offered.

    Most dioceses also have guidelines about continuing education funds, discretionary funds,and professional development funds.

    Good luck with you negotiations, and Godspeed on your new call!

  7. I have been surpised too by the range of compensation and involvement in several dioceses. Where I serve now, there was not even a set rate for supply.

    In another diocese there were tables for almost every possibility or paramutation and contracts were reviewed by the Canon to the Ordinary.

    But many of the suggestions are good.


  8. There plenty of good suggestions here for figuring out the money part, so I want to chime in on other things.

    The time question is important. If/when I'm negotiating again, I will want to address time off separately for weekly days off (2), vacation, continuing education, spiritual retreat and wider church obligations (convention, etc.).

    There is also the world of things you should be reimbursed for, like books, vestments, magazine subscriptions, supplies, continuing ed fees, and mileage.

    Health care should be covered, or you should be reimbursed for your portion of a spouse's coverage.

    I would also try for specifics about sabbatical. Our profiles in the Christian Church (DoC) ask for ___ months after ___ years. Usually people ask for 3 months after 5 years. Good to get it in writing. My congregation didn't really notice it until I brought it up 3-4 years in, and then they were like "well, I guess we'd better since it says that in the contract." Fortunately, their attitude improved some, but without it being in the contract, I'm not sure the conversation would have gotten off the ground. This is for an ideal thing too, but I don't know how it applies to your specific situation, because I don't really know what a curate is.


You don't want to comment here; instead, come visit our new blog, We'll see you there!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.