The Worker Deserves to be Paid
I recently wrote about the possibility to revisiting Morning Prayer as a principal Sunday service. This is in part a response to the reality of many small congregations who struggle to pay clergy, as well as other factors. Last week, the Church of England released a plan to plant 10,000 new congregations all with lay leadership. The rationale was not only using a model from African Provinces, but also to free them from what they referred to as "Key limiting factors", meaning building costs and clergy pay. Today, I read an article from the Church Times (also Church of England), suggesting that the Church should phase out paying clergy altogether.
Now, this is not directly related to the workings of The Episcopal Church, but it is close to home when talking about a sister province of the Anglican Communion. I do recognize a certain reality of the costs of salaries. I have looked at many church budgets. I also am a proponent of looking at creative models of doing ministry. However, we must be wary of succumbing to the temptation of finding a quick fix by not paying clergy, or expecting clergy to work part-time or bi-vocationally.
When we think about creative models of ministry, it is not for the sake of expediency, but rather for efficacy. Any organization needs to actually be able to function if it wants to thrive. The biggest problem with thinking about cutting cost on the backs of clergy is that it is expedient, but will eventually cause more harm than good.
Simply from a functionality standpoint, we need to look at what clergy actually bring to the table. And, when I talk about clergy, here, I am mostly referring to the priestly order. I feel strongly about the ministry of deacons and bishops, but their callings and ministry are for a different post.
First of all, typically to become a priest in the Episcopal Church, one goes through a five year discernment process. This process not only has a spiritual aspect and interviews at all levels of the church, but also involves, a full background check, credit check, physical examination, and psychiatric evaluation. That is followed by a three year's intensive master's program. At the end of this, you have to go through a second round of all those evaluations, plus a week-long competency exam. On top of that, there is abuse prevention training and anti-racism training during that whole process. There can be a case for paring some of this down, however I point it out, because many people do not appreciate all it takes just to become a priest in the Episcopal Church.
Now, the preparation is only a part of the equation here. On top of all of that, clergy have sworn a solemn vow of obedience to their bishop and clergy in authority over them. And unlike the lay order, deacons, priests and bishops are also subject to an ecclesiastical disciplinary process.
So, here's where where rubber hits the road. I have long said that we in the Church cannot say we take seriously the ministry of the lay order unless those ministries are properly discerned, trained and disciplined. Simply swapping out a clergy person for a lay person to save money in our current church model will create more problems than it will solve.
The biggest risk here is a liability. There is a clergy disciplinary process for a reason. Even considering the extensive amount of screening and training they go through, clergy have still walked away with money and have committed sexual misconduct. It is not all that common in the grand scheme of things, but it does happen. Now, imagine having a person who has not had that level of discernment, screening and training, and who is not subject to discipline, come into a role and given the same access to finances and people. Such things can and should be done for lay leaders, but are not a part of our current model and this could put the Church at risk. Adding such protocols for lay leaders may not be cost effective in the long run either.
Investing in our People
The second risk here is around long-term investment in our Human Resources. It is not my original thought, but one that I have encountered a number of times. That is that we should not pay people to do good work, but offer good pay to attract good people. Of course, nobody becomes a priest because of the pay, and some people are called to non-stipendiary or bi-vocational ministry. However, from a practical standpoint, if someone is not able to support themselves and their families, fewer qualified people will pursue ordained ministry. That will eat away at our pool of good leaders.
Without a doubt, many lay people look at what they do as a calling and ministry. Again, I fully believe in proper discernment, training and discipline of laity. However, without good discernment, some lay people, who may look at this as a job, rather than a calling, may be less likely to fully engage in ministry at a lower pay scale or as a volunteer.
We could try and cut out some of the discernment, screening or training of clergy to save money, but that would lead to problems of its own. The Church needs its people to be well equipped, not just for the business of the organization, but we need good theologians and religious educators too. And yes, lay people can be educated and gifted in those areas, but this requires the training to do so, and like with clergy, this does not come without cost.
The reality is that you get what you pay for, and if you pay nothing, it is hard to expect something meaningful in return. Whether a person is ordained or not, the Church cannot expect to run on goodwill alone. Certainly, we have to run on some level of volunteerism, but we cannot expect volunteers to take up the whole mantle of ministry. People have good hearts, but we cannot exploit those good hearts.
The third risk is spiritual one and the namesake of this post. The title of this post, "The worker deserves to be paid", appears three times in the New Testament: Matthew 10:10; Luke 10:7; and I Timothy 5:18. Paying people for professional ministry is biblical and is a moral obligation. As I said above, there are people who are called to different types of ministry. Just like there are many priests who are called to celibacy, but at least in Anglicanism, the call to celibacy is not a requirement to become a priest, the call to be paid less should not be a requirement to become a priest. People give their whole selves, their lives, their everything into this ministry and the ministry needs to support them in acknowledgment of that.
Not only is it the Church's spiritual duty to care for those who have entrusted their whole selves to it, but it would be incredibly problematic for the Church to survive through the use of exploitation. Exploiting the goodwill of clergy is still exploitation, especially considering how much clergy are personally invested in the church. Expecting lay people to take up these roles unpaid, is also exploitation. If the Church sees itself as a beacon of moral authority, it simply cannot make that claim while functioning through immoral labor practices.
So then what?
So, what is the solution here? There simply is not a single solution to this problem. I would say the first thing the Church needs to do is take the lay order seriously enough to do the work of discernment, training and discipline. If we plan on using lay people for ministry, discernment processes should do the work of discerning lay ministry. There needs to be adequate training for lay ministries. On top of all of this, Title IV (The ecclesiastical court process) needs to have provisions for lay leaders. Otherwise, we will see financial and sexual misconduct by lay leaders in charge of congregations. Ultimately, we have to understand this is not a money or time saver, but it does live more fully into the theology of ministry as laid out in the catechism.
The second thing we can do as a Church is to not only think of creative ministry models to mean how we do things without a priest, but also in what creative ways can the Church support its priests. We need priests to do church, and there is no such thing as part time ministry. It is my opinion that priests are best served and best serve when they are able to dedicate themselves full time to the work of the Church. This may mean that we can better support institutional chaplains, or help clergy discern non-traditional ministries. We have to look at multiple funding sources or prioritize parish budgets to put people first. A post I have not written, but intend to, is on how we can link congregations together more efficiently, and how sacerdotal ministry can be a part of that. Where clergy are paid part time, there absolutely needs to be protections for them, such as being paid hourly or by task, so they're not overworked and underpaid. My friend Cathie Caimano has explored the task-based pay model quite a bit in her work. I would also recommend that payroll is taken up by dioceses, instead of parishes to help deal with cashflow pressures and not turn a short term crisis into a long-term one.
Ultimately, we do have to rethink how we do church, but we cannot do that on the backs of anyone, particularly our clergy who have dedicated their whole lives and selves to their ministry. We are in the people business, and the Church has an obligation to take care of its people, both lay and ordained. How we do that is a spiritual practice, and one that ultimately calls the Church to deepen its faith.