Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Coping with Budget Deficits

I don’t make a lot of money. In fact, I now make only 75% of what I was making in Atlanta in 1996, thirteen years ago. [That’s direct dollars – not “adjusted for inflation” dollars.]

But I get by. I have simplified my lifestyle. I have learned the difference between “I need” and “I want.”

This spring, the Missouri legislature was grappling with the state budget, and I said a couple of things to several people.
First, I would happily take a pay cut if it would save the jobs of people I work with. There are people in my office who have worked there for 20 years and still make only about $20k/year. Can you imagine?!?! How in the world does a person support a family on that kind of pay??
Second, I heard about some states that were putting staff on “furlough” of 2-3 days a month – unpaid leave. I said I would go for that, if it would mean that people in support/clerical positions could keep their jobs.
In short, I was willing to make real and tangible sacrifices, if it would mean that our most low-paid staff could keep their jobs.

As it turned out, our state didn’t do layoffs or salary cuts. They just eliminated raises. But I was ready to do my part to protect the people who work hard, bringing little education to their positions, but do their jobs well.

I was thinking about all this when I learned that The Episcopal Church is firing about 37 of the 180 people working for our church.

Thanks to Elizabeth Kaeton for sending me this article from the Christian Century:

Methodist bishops agree to cut their pay
Christian Century, June 16, 2009

Bishops in the United Methodist Church have voted themselves a pay cut after "recognizing the financial challenges facing the church."
The UMC's 50 active U.S. bishops voted to give up their planned pay raises for next year and instead reduce their salaries to the 2008 level, dropping their annual pay from $125,650 to $121,0130. according to United Methodist News Service.
"The current global crisis has uncovered our hesitancy to act, but it has also gifted us with a sense of urgency and an opportunity to lead courageously," the bishops said in a May 8 statement at the conclusion of their annual spring meeting. The bishops also said they will cut their semiannual council meetings from five days to four to save money.
Several bishops said that some regional and local church leaders had already taken similar salary cuts to help keep ministries going.

The full story is here.

Tempted as I am to editorialize about TEC’s budget decision last week, I’m going to leave it lay where Jesus flung it. Let the reader understand.

Feel free to discuss this among yourselves.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

IMHO, all paid clergy in TEC are making too much money. No paid clergy in TEC should receive sabattical money until my truck driving husband is given a sabbatical to "renew his spirit." the clergy exist to serve, and that includes $. i'm cynical to the bone about living in a cruficied place until my pastor is wondering about how to pay his rent.

7/21/2009 11:24 PM  
Blogger MarkBrunson said...

Thank you, Lisa.

I'll resist editorializing - along the same lines, I imagine - but, if you don't mind, I'll probably refer others here to read that story.

7/22/2009 4:11 AM  
Blogger Wormwood's Doxy said...

Lisa--I have written before that I think the Methodist bishops did the right thing, and I think it would have been a great witness if our own bishops had done the same thing.

Ty--my clergy spouse works 24/7. When the phone rings in the middle of the night because someone is in crisis, or is dying, he gets out of bed, puts on his clothes, and goes without a murmur. Does your job require you to do that?

He supposedly gets one day a week (Friday) off. That day frequently gets taken back, since if he's supposed to do a wedding on Saturday, he has to do the rehearsal on Friday. And that doesn't count the hospital visits he often makes, or the counseling appointments he sets because someone needs him. How many days a week do you get off?

My spouse has a doctorate, two master's degrees, and a certificate in Anglican studies--and I bet you anything he makes less than your truck-driving husband. And he's the first one to offer to take a pay-cut when the church budget gets hit.

Unlike our glorified leaders, he'll never ask you to "live in a crucified place"--he helped author our diocesan statement of inclusion for GLBTs and he preached last Sunday on how happy he was that TEC was FINALLY doing the right thing. (Lost a member on that one, but looks like we may have gained a few to replace her...)

My spouse feels called by God to serve the church, but when I read statements like yours, I wonder why. The hostility he faces from people like you, who seem to think that clergy only work 4 hours on Sundays and should give their lives and labor for free, would overwhelm me. Fortunately, he's a better person than I am. He'll be there when you call in the middle of the night, and he'll never remember that you wanted him to worry about having to pay the rent.


7/22/2009 7:52 AM  
Blogger WilliamK said...

I'm a layman, not a priest, and I'd like to strongly "second" Doxy's response to Ty. I believe we need to pay our clergy generously (and fairly) for the hard work they do. This is Scriptural: you do not muzzle the ox who treads the corn, as Paul quoted to make the case for "clergy" compensation. Given all the burdens and worries our clergy have to carry, I would think that we wouldn't want them distracted worrying about how to pay the rent: they need to focus on helping the members of the congregation who bear that worry!

Certainly, our bishops, as bishops, could have taken a self-sacrificing stance: that's what bishops are supposed to do, and if you aren't willing to sacrifice, then you don't belong in the same office as Ignatius of Antioch (eaten by lions) or John Chrysostom (deposed, exiled, and killed by hard labor). But our parish clergy already make many sacrifices and it would be extremely unjust to expect them to add further financial sacrifices.

7/22/2009 9:55 AM  
Blogger --Susan said...

My dad was a baptist minister. He had one Sunday off a year. EVERY Saturday morning was spent visiting primarily shut-ins. Weekday evenings he would visit at hospitals and do other ministerial odds and ends. He was on call 24/7/365. He missed my college graduation because he had to conduct a funeral. My mom always said it was lonely being his wife because he was married first to the church.

He was bivocational. The job that sustained us was not his preaching job. During tight church budget times, he was always the first to reject a raise. If the finance folks wanted to cut missions but give him a raise, he refused. If they wanted to cut the pianist's pay, he refused and offered to take the cut himself.

I would love to read about Episcopal bishops stepping up to the plate. I don't know what they get paid nor do I want to know. Whatever it is probably isn't enough. However, I think they should lead the flock by accepting sacrifices. Not because they have to. Because they want to. Because they are shepherds.

It is easy to become cynical during troubled economic times and one is struggling to survive. But there are clergy men and women of every stripe who do the meet and right thing to do.

I know. I lived with one.


7/22/2009 12:36 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Bless you, bless you, bless you, Doxy, for your words.

I wrote a whole lot more, but I just deleted it. I'll let your words stand. I guess I just needed to rant without needing anyone to 'hear' me. Sometimes, the better part of valor is to just hit delete.

In that same post to which Lisa linked, there is another article from Christian Century. You can find it here: http://www.christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=7156

Here's my favorite quote:

"Because of its uncanny ability to expose one's weaknesses, the ministry is not an easy fit for those who are particularly sensitive to criticism."

'Nuff said.

7/22/2009 4:51 PM  
Blogger it's margaret said...

God bless you Lisa.

7/22/2009 8:17 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Ty, I try to keep this an open forum. I will listen to your voice, but I hope you’ll also listen to mine and others. And I could not disagree more strongly with your comments about our clergy compensation.

Yes, Episcopal priests and deacons have accepted a call to serve. But do you really wish they would have to worry about how to pay the rent??? That is just cruel. I don’t want you or your husband to have that kind of worry. Nor do I wish it upon our clergy.

Others have already said it better than I have: Most of our priests and deacons make themselves available 24/7/365. Most of them work much harder than I do. And it’s not just “work” – it’s Holy Spirit work. Virtually every Episcopal priest has a master’s degree, and they work their butts off around the clock. If anything, I believe that most of our priests and deacons are underpaid.

I was on our vestry when we were seeking a new rector. I made the argument very loudly and very strongly that our rector should have a salary that met the average of our parish. The rector should not be a Pauper for Christ. Neither should the rector be overpaid like some sort of Cardinal. I believe the rector should at least be able to live a middle-class existence in the community in which she or he serves. That will differ widely depending on the demographics.

I also disagree strongly about the clergy need for a sabbatical. In my job, I do my job. I supervise people. I do planning and administration. But I do not have people’s souls as part of my responsibility. I would benefit from a couple of weeks’ vacation. But the burden I bear is nothing like the spiritual burden that our clergy bear every day, every week. I was one of the people on our vestry who argued very strongly that we guarantee our rector should have a sabbatical consistent with our diocesan guidelines. God only knows how much she will need it!

The healthier our priests can be, the healthier our parishes will be.

Ty, you made a comment about “living in a crucified place.” I sense that relates to your irritation. Would you say more about that?

7/22/2009 8:17 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Yes, Mark, I would be honored if you refer others here.

7/22/2009 8:19 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Doxy, all I can say is “Amen and amen.” You said it even better than I could. I don’t believe most parish priests are paid a fair wage that reflects their education, experience, and responsibilities. I believe most parish priests make a sacrifice in their salaries.
But our bishops? I’m not so sure about that.
I’m also not so sure about the salaries that were paid to cult leaders like Don Armstrong and Bob Duncan.

7/22/2009 8:26 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Amen, WilliamK.
And I think we need to make a distinction between the “prince bishops” and “prince rectors” vs. those thousands of clergy who serve with minimal (and often unjust) compensation.

7/22/2009 8:29 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

I agree, --Susan. I know such people.

7/22/2009 8:31 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Elizabeth, I hope you’ve now read my comments. I think most of our clergy are woefully underpaid, considering their education and their responsibilities.

But I do wish people would look at what they pay their “prince bishops” and “cardinal rectors” and consider whether those salaries are fair and just.

Are we hiring CEOs? or are we hiring ministers?

As Scripture reminds us, “the servant is worthy of his hire.” Our clergy should receive fair compensation! And my notion of "fair compensation" certainly isn't the same as Ty's!

Here is just one example: I am aware of one bishop in our church who was given a Rolls-Royce. A Rolls-Royce, fer godsakes!! Does this sound like servant ministry to any of us? What message does that convey to people inside or outside our church? I am proud to say that my bishop drives a modest Prius.

7/22/2009 8:43 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kaeton said...

TY, Lisa. You know, I know clergy and bishops who are paid like CEOs because they were hired to do the work of CEOs and that's pretty much how they function.

I think it's totally wrong to have bishops function as CEO's but if they are doing the work, I suppose they should be paid for it.

I also spent enough time watching the HOB in action to be firmly convinced that, rather than one more damn study on human sexuality, we need to study the role of the episcopacy before we elect one more purple shirt.

I say, let's have a moratorium on electing bishops until we study the role, function and theology of the office more carefully.

PS - A Rolls Royce is way over the top. I got a Kindle as a present from a person I see for Spiritual Direction and I still feel guilty.

7/22/2009 9:59 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

I hadn’t thought about it that way, Elizabeth. But I suppose you’re right: If a parish or diocese wants to hire a CEO instead of a pastor, then they have every right to do that.
Elizabeth, I am inclined to agree with you about studying the role of the episcopacy. What I read today on Mark Harris’ blog confirms it. And I will never EVER forget what +Rowan told our GC: that the bishops of the Anglican Communion only want to hear from other bishops -- not not from other clergy and certainly not from the laity. In my view, that speaks clearly about what is wrong about the Anglican Communion and its PRIMATES … and what is right about our Episcopal Church.
I’m not with you about a moratorium on all bishops. But there certainly were statements made at GC that sent chills down my spine.
Thanks for confirming my sense about what gifts are appropriate for a priest or a bishop. But I hope you will enjoy your Kindle!

7/22/2009 10:21 PM  
Blogger Caminante said...

"i'm cynical to the bone about living in a cruficied place until my pastor is wondering about how to pay his rent."

Well, you have found one. Don't tell me, a part-time priest, that I am making too much, a priest in a rural diocese. And it's figuring out how to pay income taxes, medical bills and the rest... as someone who has a Ph.D., M.Div. and M.A. I didn't go into priesthood for the money and I haven't gotten it. And that's OK.

And, as Wormwood's Doxy said, when I get a call at midnight to go to the ER to bless a body of someone who doesn't even go to the parish, I don't ask questions. I go.

Having put up with this crap as a teacher first and then as a priest, I have little patience in having other people tell me I earn too much when I work just as hard.

7/22/2009 10:54 PM  
Blogger MarkBrunson said...

I'm not sure parish clergy, as a whole, make that much. Our priest was paid a good deal more than the average for a worker here, but, he did work very hard.

At the same time, you don't muzzle the ox, but you don't overfeed it while the field hands go without! I think the problem isn't overpaid clergy, but underpaid everyone else - or, at least, a perception of being underpaid and overworked.

Ironically enough, I know several truck drivers who've rather gloatingly told me how much pay and benefits they have, and how they don't understand how anyone could lower themselves to do my job! Maybe we all really do deserve better, maybe we all should learn, as well, to do with less. No one deserves to live well, while one person in the world has no choice but to live poorly.

7/22/2009 11:46 PM  
Blogger Suzer said...

I started to comment yesterday, then left it alone. But now I'm giving it another try, as I've mulled over this for 24 or so hours.

I do relate to what Ty is saying. And although I think Ty perhaps painted with too broad a brush, I do realize there are some clergy who are not up to the task.

This is not to say I disagree with Doxy and the majority of voices here. MOST clergy I have met are hard-working, underpaid, and have their heart in their job.

However, I've also been a member of a "CEO clergy" parish, which failed to minister to me or give me needed pastoral care at the most difficult moment of my life. They just didn't show up. They were apparently more concerned with the organ fund than with the people of the parish.

I have also witnessed clergy pulling a full salary with benefits, living in a house paid for by the church, working maybe 20 hours a week in what is supposed to be a full-time position. That church is dying and it's no wonder why.

Perhaps this is the type of situation of which Ty speaks, and though such clergy should not be assumed to be ALL clergy, it is very disheartening to those of us lay people who see such things and wonder why it is happening.

I am so, so, so grateful for the majority of hard-working and caring ministers out there. They have a job that not many could handle, and are indeed chosen by God. I thank God for them, and also pray that God will touch or awaken those who are not living up to their call, and perhaps give them a nudge toward fulfilling the promise they surely have but currently withhold from their congregations.

7/23/2009 8:46 AM  
Blogger Chris+ said...

There are no universals in compensation for priests or bishops. A diocese may have guidelines, usually minimums. Compensation is determined locally and I would argue that it is most often in sync with local conditions.

The Methodists, as I understand it, have a much more centralized administrative system. I am sure there are countless bishops and priests that have not had raises in this economic climate. We just do not hear about it because the decisions are made in the local diocese and parish.

7/23/2009 8:57 AM  
Blogger Wormwood's Doxy said...

Suzer, I know there are bad apples out there--and, quite frankly, parishioners need to step up to the plate and do THEIR job when that happens. If their priest is not doing what s/he is being paid to do, then the Vestry has a responsibility to step in and do something about it. That is what they are elected to do. (The Vestry is also the body that sets the priest's compensation level--so if anyone has problems with it, they need to go talk to Vestry members.)

I was objecting to Ty's mean-spirited desire that my spouse have to worry about how to pay his rent. When I see how much he DOES worry--about parishioners, about the health of the church, about people in our community who are hurting--the last thing I want is him having to worry about something ELSE.


7/23/2009 9:25 AM  
Blogger Suzer said...

Yes, Doxy -- I totally understand where you are coming from. I'm just thinking that perhaps Ty's comment comes more from a place of having been hurt, than any mean-spiritedness. OCICBW -- I have been before!

Having experienced some of the bad apples, I can see where there is room for cynicism to creep in. I only wish everyone could have the experience of being ministered to by people like your husband. We would indeed be lucky to have more like him, and like the dedicated folks I've met in the little bubble of a blogosphere we inhabit. :)

7/23/2009 10:39 AM  
Blogger Brad said...

This is confusing-you should have people breaking down your doors because you ordain/marry gay people. Why do you have to cut staff? You're inclusive AND shrinking? How did you manage to do that?

7/23/2009 1:46 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Brad gets the cheap shot of the day award.

I suspect there are a few over paid bishops and priests. I wonder where they serve?

Most clergy in my experience work themselves into exhaustion and then work some more. It is a tough, draining position. Someone, always wants something from a bishop or priest.

When I was a postulant, one of the examiners for the diocese told a group of us the tale of a clergy wife mentioning that she and her spouse were having dinner with a couple soon. Someone said, "I did not know the XXX's were in your parish." She smiled and replied, "They aren't! That is why we are friends." For clergy, the demands are always there to the point that this story makes sense -- they need someone who does not put demands on them and there is no one in their church.

Incidentally, most Episcopal priests finish seminary with a boat load of debt on their hands.


7/23/2009 4:33 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Dear friends --

It seems to me that we let Ty's initial comment get us off on a tangent. And Ty has not returned in the 48 hours since her initial comment.

I suppose she was just a "drop the turd in the punchbowl" commenter. I don't think Ty is a troll, but we have allowed her comments to divert us.

Can we set aside her cynical and insulting comment? I think that most of us her would agree it is bogus.

Every priest I have known has deserved more than the salary they are paid. (Suzer, I recognize the exception you observe; thank God I haven't encountered them.)

The question I tried to suggest is: How can we achieve economic justice in this church of ours?

7/23/2009 10:15 PM  
Blogger MarkBrunson said...

How can we achieve economic justice in this church of ours?


7/23/2009 10:49 PM  
Blogger Wormwood's Doxy said...

People won't like it when we try...

Because, bottom line, we need to hear, constantly, that it is our job as Christians to live on less. There can be no economic justice when we insist on living unsustainable lifestyles---and when we are implicitly aided by the church in our pretense that we're somehow "not rich."

I've got news--when you live in 3,000+ sq. ft houses, filled with all the latest electronics and endless piles of tchotchkes--you ARE rich. And you know what Jesus had to say about rich people...

If we want economic justice, we need to start tithing our incomes. Not necessarily to the church (although I think we should give sacrificially to support our faith communities)--but to organizations that have proven track records for helping "the least of these."

If you pay more for your gym membership/cable television or internet service/Starbucks habit/etc. each month than you give to the church or charity, you don't give a damn about economic justice. Actions speak louder than words.

If we want economic justice, we need to hear that in-the-streets social activism on behalf of the poor is a responsibility for ALL Christians. Writing a check is a good thing--but it's too easy to do that and then return to your gated community so that you don't have to hang out with "those people." Jesus didn't write checks--he went to where people were and gave them his time and attention. There's a lesson in that. (One of my blogger friends who runs a homeless shelter talks about how important it is for his patrons to have normal, casual relationships with people who have families, homes, and jobs. Those relationships help to give them hope...)

How's that for a start?

Doxy (who is donning her asbestos suit as she pushes the "Publish" button...)

7/24/2009 4:41 PM  
Blogger WilliamK said...

All I'll offer by way of a response to your post is "AMEN!"

7/24/2009 4:49 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Doxy, you’ll get no argument from me. I think you’re exactly right.

Ever since I spent time with our friends in Lui, Sudan, I’ve been unable to live the typical American lifestyle. Slowly but surely, I’m consuming less and giving more. My time there made me realize that I am indeed rich … no matter how I may perceive my status in the U.S. We are obscenely rich. I am consuming less and giving more. I can do no other.

I feel guilt that I do not have a way or know how to “take to the streets.” So far, all I can do is give my money -- and much of my time -- to these missions. I hope that someone can help me find a way to take my mission sense in a more palpable direction. But I am shy. I take seriously your statement: “Jesus didn't write checks--he went to where people were and gave them his time and attention.” I just don’t know how to do that.

7/24/2009 10:32 PM  
Blogger Wormwood's Doxy said...

Lisa--you clearly already do a lot. Your work with the Diocese of Lui has put you in the midst of "the least of these" in a way that most Americans will never experience.

If you want to do something closer to home, try finding a "Room at the Inn" program. The program is generally run by churches that provide shelter and food for the homeless on a rotating basis. My experience with that program has been one of just showing up to have dinner with the guests and hang out for a while. It's the "ministry of presence" more than anything. We just eat and yak. Kind of like church. ;-)

Then there's Habitat for Humanity, or Meals on Wheels, or Boys and Girls Clubs, or Big Sisters, or tutoring at your local school. Etc., etc., etc.

And you can certainly contact your elected representatives on economic justice issues. Health care is the big one right now. Call, write--and KEEP calling and writing.

Those are my suggestions to start. Any and all of those things make a difference in the lives of others. I'm sure others will have different opportunities to suggest. I think you should look for opportunities that DON'T make you feel shy or anxious and start there. I have come to believe that we do our best work for God when we do things we love---or, as Frederich Buechner says, "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." All it takes to find that place is the willingness to look for it. I certainly think you have that!


7/26/2009 9:07 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

I appreciate those suggestions, Doxy. For now, my life is consumed with leading our diocesan relationship with Lui (Sudan). I wish I could take on more. I think I should take on more. But I just can't. The companion diocese r'ship consumes many hours every day.

I recognize I should do something about the domestic poverty issues. But I just lack the energy and ... despite your good suggestions ... I haven't found a face-to-face ministry that feels comfortable to me. I recognize that's a failing in me.

7/27/2009 12:11 AM  

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