Saturday, September 20, 2008

Dilemma of a Part-Time Minister

Whaddya do when they can only afford to pay you parttime but the work requires your full heart and most of your disposable time? It depends, is the answer.

Over the nine years I've been officially a minister, I've noticed that September is the busiest month on the church calendar. It's far busier for me than the holiday season of Thanksgiving through New Year's, which has its own special busyness.

This year, here at UUCWI, is even busier because of the opening of our new building and all the preparations that need to be made. We always have a salmon bake on Ingathering Sunday, which is the Sunday after Labor Day, but this year we also wanted to have our first service in the new sanctuary on that day, so there was a lot of extra hustle and bustle to make that happen.

I'm committed to preaching twice each month, but during September that needed to morph into three times, just to make sure that we offered homegrown worship and ministerial presence during the first few services of the year, as visitors began to increase in number. I'm not preaching at UUCWI tomorrow but we have a guest speaker who will be just great. (I'm preaching at the Woodinville church tomorrow and I'll post that sermon later.)

On top of preaching, which I estimate takes at least one hour of preparation for every minute of the spoken text, there are innumerable other things that must be addressed: homebound folks need to be contacted and perhaps visited; newsletter copy sent in; pastoral care given; angst soothed as much as possible; phone calls, emails, letters responded to; conflicts averted or dealt with; and on top of it all, the constant awareness of the needs of the congregation and its members.

Ministry is never far from my mind. I am always preparing for something, seen or unseen! I try to let go of the unseen events and just trust myself to respond appropriately when necessary, rather than worry, but there is always something to be prepared.

That means that I work far more hours than the 60 I'm paid for. And I don't really mind, because it feels like an investment in the future of the congregation. However, I am still mindful that I am giving away my services to some extent. It's a dilemma. I come to a place in my mind where I'm wondering whether it's more ethical to do what needs to be done or to say no and let important things slide because they can't pay me.

All the staff members in a small congregation face this ethical dilemma, I think. I know our DRE and our Administrator are in a similar bind. Their (our) skills are absolutely essential to the life of the community but the community can't pay us for all the hours we spend, just part of them. Each of these staff members has a ministry of her own----to the children, by the DRE, and to the infrastructure and leadership, by the Administrator.

This dilemma causes us all to feel pretty stressed at times. It's not easy to say no when so much needs to be done and nobody else can do it in the way we do; but it's exhausting to be doing so much when it feels like we're doing it for free. The jobs we've agreed to do can't be done in a few hours a week. And to pare down the job description means that the ministry of the congregation has been pared down too, just at a time when it needs to be beefed up.

I've told our board that I can't afford to work so many more hours than I'm being paid for and that next year I will ask for those hours to be compensated. I will recommend the same for our Administrator and DRE; they have it even harder than I do.

I just looked at my calendar for the coming week and realize that the only thing I have to do next weekend is preach! Contrast that to this weekend: today I have a wedding consultation, a North End Koffee Klatch, a One Year anniversary party of a couple I married last year, and a First Principle conversation at my house at 7. Tomorrow I go to Woodinville to preach and, on the way home, all the shopping for necessities that are too expensive on the island.

And then comes a relatively open week, with only Sunday's sermon on the Jewish High Holidays to prepare. Luckily, I have help with that service from a lovely member who is Jewish and wants to offer her reflections about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We'll have klezmer music from another Jewish pal and then I don't have to preach again until Oct. 19!

I'm not griping, really. I'm in love with my congregation and Whidbey Island. I have enough of a private life and enough income from other sources to be very comfortable. But I know that I have a responsibility to the next minister who serves these folks to be realistic about the amount of ministry a congregation needs to thrive and grow. It may be a few years before they search for my successor, but I need to keep that in mind as we grow together.


LinguistFriend said...

That is a hard one. I hope that you are able to build up membership so that you will have the available financial support. Partly that means having really competent membership committee people who are able to do all of the things necessary to attract people, overlapping extensively with ministry, program, and RE functions, and also not being shy about having new members and friends talk with the canvass people.
One can also hope that the financial commitment that has made your new building possible may be at least partly transformed into support for the minister. But I have no idea how your building has been financed, so that may not be realistic.
We have a related situation,
having a part-time consulting minister who is not nearly as active as you are, but with the hope that his presence will be appreciated sufficiently to make the congregation willing to commit to a full time minister when he leaves town in mid-2009 (and so will I, I expect). I do not expect the transmission to a full ministry to happen at this time, but adjustments will be required either way.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, LF. We have already started to grow and the board has agreed that my hours will increase next year. But not all congregations have the combination of good fortune and good locale that we have, so it continues to be a problem for most parttime folks.

Robin Edgar said...

I know that some U*U ministers make substantial pledges to the churches that they serve to set an example for others to follow. Perhaps you and other U*U ministers, DREs, and church administrators in a similar situation can suggest that your pledge to the church will be paid in extra unpaid hours worked rather than with money.

ms. kitty said...

That's a very reasonable suggestion, Robin. I know that some folks do that. I will consider it.

Ms. Theologian said...

It's such a hard situation (though good suggestions in comments). I'm not sure I believe that there is such thing as part-time work, most of the time, particularly part-time ministry and in non-profit work. But, as you already understand, you have a responsibility to yourself, to those who come after you, to other ministers in general, and to the congregation to make sure that they understand what they are and aren't paying for.

Lizard Eater said...

This seems to be one of the big challenges of congregational polity, right? Living it, with the small congregation that I am a member of, it's apparent that as a denomination, we have a conundrum. Our small, especially new, congregations often need full-time ministry more than their larger counterparts.

Then, once they can afford full-time ministry, they have a hard time adjusting to one. I think it is analogous to letting a child raise himself, then when he's 16, coming in and setting up shop as his parent.

I dunno the answer. I feel as if I have a foot planted in both worlds, that of a needy church member, and that of a future minister.

But I can see how very necessary it is that you not give full-time work under the auspices of a part-time position. That would cripple them for the future.

ms. kitty said...

To answer a question posed in a comment that has been otherwise rejected: yes, it is 60 hours a month.

ogre said...

Tough issues!

I know that our congregation was "underwritten" by our former co-ministers (a couple who were jointly providing full-time ministry and nominally doing 50% ministry each). No doubt doing more than 50% each, and not being paid at fair levels. I don't know the details or history there--I only got into the picture of the board and pay to staff and so forth after they'd retired.

But in preparing to search, we sold the idea to the board and congregation that we had to start--during interim--approaching fair compensation, and that we had to offer fair compensation. And it happened.

People stepped up and made the pledges necessary to increase ministerial pay to an appropriate level.

The case has to be made--and not by the minister. It has to be explained and justified. And it has to have lay leaders who are spokespeople for it--making the case that it's an issue of basic justice and fairness AND that it's in the long-term interests of the congregation.

Our growth rate didn't decline. People didn't pack up and leave.

It took time.

But the board and congregation have remained devoted to paying fair compensation to every member of our staff, even when it meant that we couldn't get as many hours as we wanted... or needed. Truth be told, the DRE and Music Director are putting in more hours than they're paid for. But they're reminded about that, badgered gently about it, and thanked profusely, too. And each year, we raise wages appropriately BEFORE we start looking to fund extra hours.

Robin's suggestion isn't a bad one. But it's very, very important that the board and congregation understand the pledge of money and time, because otherwise, it could underwrite a misunderstanding of what the congregation can expect. If it's done, I'd suggest that it be part of a pledge drive that calls on all members to pledge time and money both.

But giving an extra 20 hours a month without pay -- if people don't understand clearly that it's a gift, and that it's wildly generous and an effort to build the congregation's future... will lead to an expectation of what a new minister will and should do in the future.

And your successor may not be in the position to give that time, but may need to do other things to support her- or himself. If the congregation expects the level of ministerial services that they got before, for more or less the same money... that'll be a problem.

Which is why it's probably better for a minister to pledge financial support (as they can) and find other income... and let the board spend the money as the congregation needs it. If that turns out to be more ministerial time, then that's where the income will come from.

But it's a tempting thought. Just one that can present a long term challenge for the congregation. It can be tricky not not create future problems in helping with current ones.

Maybe as an open thing done for a year. "In order to help the congregation grow--and to encourage you all to stretch and do whatever else you can with time and money--I'm going to volunteer an extra 20 hours a month of my time... for this year. I can't do that no an ongoing basis, and doing that might even be harmful to the congregation, but for this year...".

Anonymous said...

Kit, it's timely that you posted this. I was just telling my in-laws (visitors to the UU) that you obviously have a full-time job with part-time pay. I sincerely hope that increased membership will allow full-time pay for you soon. You are so special, so intrinsic to the group. I admire you greatly, and I mostly want you to know that we know what you are giving and APPRECIATE your above-and-beyone work. Thank you!
Vicky Pitt

ms. kitty said...

Thank you, Ogre, for looking at this through a larger lens. You offer some really excellent thinking.

And Vicky, thanks for your kind words. I am thrilled that you are part of our congregation.

laura said...

We are facing this dilemma in our congregation as well - we are on the verge of becoming a larger congregation than we can afford for the moment - we're about to step into the next size up in the UUA's congregational size chart with nearly 200 members - and we're experiencing some growing pains, not the least of which is some change in what our minister can do in outreach in order to also perform his duties to the church as a whole. We're outgrowing our sanctuary, going through a major land purchase, working on pledging in a terribly economy (as well we all know), and still... we want to keep our small church feel. That simply is not possible.

Our minister is wonderful - and we want to keep him here and *very* happy. Paying him a competitive wage and making his duties commensurate with the duties of a "typical" minister for this size congregation are HUGE parts of this - and we continue to struggle, struggle, struggle with how to make this happen and yet balance the budget in the end. Maybe the answer is simply that we don't balance the budget and dip into the reserves until we get through the growing pains part of our transition... I don't know.

All I know is that we love and deeply treasure our minister, and recognize the extraordinary effort he puts into this job which is a vocation and calling but which should never, ever be taken for granted.

I don't know if you attend Board of Directors meetings, but this is something with which *our* board struggles *every single month* and in the times in between. My husband is the president of our board, in the second of his two-year term, and spend a lot of time in worry for the sake of retention and love for this dear, dear man who tends to our spiritual needs. Please know that you as a minister, no matter how part-time - you are *always* thought of, loved and cherished - even if the Board is at a total loss sometimes as to what or how to meet your needs.

More ministers like you *do* need to voice the realities of your day-to-day existence... and in love and honor of your commitment, the congregational polity *must* respond effectively in some way to meet you at least halfway.

I am glad you have brought this up... and I am going to link my husband to this post... it may help our Board to think creatively about ways in which we can understand and - even if not fully monetarily - at least in some compensatory way alleviate the terrific burdens congregations unwittingly put on their ministers.


ms. kitty said...

Dear Laura, thank you for your passion and your encouragement. Your understanding of this dilemma and your efforts to deal with it are what keep lots of us giving all we can.

Sarah said...

You have 12 comments as I write this which shows this is a hot topic for many. I'm one of the fortunate recipients of your donated hours.

I face the lack of appropriate pay all the time, not as a minister, but as a farmer. I work far more free hours than you do. One difference is that there is no board of directors asking me to do this or that. The work is either internally generated or a response to the needs of the land & crop. I pay others to work on my farm and my heart breaks that I can't pay them more as I watch them struggle with "not enough." I pay them more than I receive for my own needs - there isn't enough money to spread around. I have no board to turn to for more money - if the public doesn't show up in large enough numbers to buy my crop and products, then I'm done.

Like you, I invest huge amounts of time in the local community - in my case it's the farming community - to promote my fellow farmers, to help educate people about buying from friends and neighbors, or at least locally, and in getting agriculture to be raised in visibility and viability. But in the end, it depends on each farm's ability to attract people who want to give money in exchange for what they think is of value, and that is influenced by the economy to some degree. Growing a congregation and growing a crop takes the devotion that love brings, it takes brains, and stubbornness. It takes a certain internal insulation against the pressure of the world to measure success by money or even the ability to pay one's bills.

IT seems people are willing to give freely of their time to help build the church. Almost all workers for the church, except for a tiny percentage, give of their time and expertise for free. I wish I could find even a reverse percentage of people who would give their volunteer time to keep my farm, or should I say, all farms, alive. The church is blessed with all that loving devotion.

Farmers and ministers - their work is growing and their pay is only partly financial. While it's just the way it is, it's sad, because many farms are going out of business. It's fortunate that far fewer churches are going under.

And, yes, I understand that farms are officially in the marketplace, unlike a church, but it's not a balanced marketplace, and we're providing for a lot of people without adequate financial support.

ms. kitty said...

Sarah, thank you so much for adding to this conversation. Farmers are every bit as important, if not more so. And your work is essential in ways that mine is not. You have drawn parallels which are eye-opening. Thank you.