Purge.

I did a fairly good job yesterday of taking a day off from all the anger thoughts  crowding my mind. Cut down and cleared out four large beds of dead ornamental grass, and have the cuts on my hands and forearms to prove it. Cleaned the winter’s worth of grime off the front porch, and have the broken-off artificial nail to prove that. Took a walk in the sunshine and had a lovely, healing nap. Grilled steaks on the patio – aromatherapy that led to a delicious dinner. Can’t beat it.

So, having rested a bit, I feel the need to get a thing out by writing about it. It’s only one of many things that are seriously pissing me off about the stuff going on at work, but it’s a big one.

I work for a church. Consequently, my paycheck is crap (and so is my health insurance plan). Let me qualify that statement just a bit. If you were to compare the salary my church pays me to what other churches pay for a similar position, my salary comes off looking really good – if you could even find a church that pays someone full-time to direct ministry to young children and families. Most churches either don’t value that work enough to pay adequately for it, or they’re too small to pay for it – they rely on volunteers. Volunteers can be great, but in general you get what you pay for.

Hah! Please note the irony in that statement. You get what you pay for. My congregation is getting WAY more than they pay for. I have a degree. I’ve published three books. I have certification in youth and family ministry. I have significant training in leadership and use that experience to train others. I co-lead a support group in our wider community for people who live with a person with mental illness.

Every single one of my co-workers has a fully-stocked resume, as well. Our market values are well above what we’re being paid. The constant growth sustained over years in our congregation is, quite honestly, mostly down to this amazing staff. (The pastors are stellar, too, but for the purposes of the difficult situation we’re currently in they don’t count as staff).

So…with all that said, you might be able to imagine how infuriating it was to hear the following argument earlier this week, from a (very well-off financially) volunteer who has a position of leadership in the congregation and who came to hear the staff’s recent concerns:

“You knew what you were getting into when you chose to work in ministry.”

In other words, you made your bed, now lie in it.

The same argument is used to underpay and undervalue teachers, child care providers, and many others whose life work makes the world a better place, as opposed to those who work for Big Business.

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I totally get that a church will never be flush with cash. If we were, I would be the first in line to insist that any excess be largely funnelled to those in need.

On the other hand, I believe the church has a responsibility to do better than they are required to do. Churches should be first in line to offer dignity and respect by paying well for the work their employees do. Especially when they are located in an extrememly affluent community, where almost every family in the congregation has an income well into the triple digits. (And yes, obviously we’re bound by what members are willing to give. But there’s no concentrated effort to tell the true story that they’re not giving enough to pay a decent salary to the staff.)

I’m not talking out of school here. I said the same thing (as did my coworkers) directly to the volunteer who insulted us earlier this week. I’ll be making the same argument (and many, many more – this situation has more layers than an onion) next week with our lead pastor – who has been almost entirely silent throughout this two-month-long issue.

My concern is far greater than compensation and appreciation. The greater issue is attitude and sense of privilege.

Something’s gotta give.

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6 thoughts on “Purge.

  1. Churches do money really badly, don’t they! They start with a painfully detailed and tediously long line-item budget, where salary for a youth minister gets just as much space and visual notice as the amount spent on candles. That’s followed by the annual stewardship campaign, which pretty much portrays your options as “give 10% or be a slacker.” And so who cares whether you put a few more hundred dollars on your pledge card, if you can only afford the slacker option anyway. And then some completely invisible person on the finance committee decides that the income and expenses look close enough together that the gap can be filled with “loose plate,” and calls it a wrap for another year.

    Some of the pay issues you’re facing are about respect, but I think some are also about transparency. It was eye-opening for my congregation when our previous interim pastor coughed and wheezed her way through a sermon, then stated she couldn’t afford the medication her doctor had prescribed because the copay on the church insurance was too high. We all felt guilty that the insurance was so lousy, and yet the budget process was so inscrutable that I don’t think more than 1 or 2 people in the congregation even knew how the insurance had been structured.

    Does your congregation know that they’re getting quality youth programs at an hourly cost per child that’s a tenth what the creepy twisty-balloon guy gets for a kids’ birthday party? That the music director earns less for a Sunday morning service than his teenage son does for mowing lawns on a Saturday afternoon? (Making up examples here, but I bet I’m right.) Even if there’s a prevalent attitude that church people should work for less than corporate, at some level the congregation should recognize that trained professionals are worth more than teenagers.

    One book recommendation: “Not your parents’ offering plate.” My church stewardship committee found it useful, as it started to help link the whole budget process to actual visioning — how can increased giving result in more active programs that reach more people. We’re a church that is growing, and whose income has gone up 10% year-on-year for a few years now. I can’t say we’ve given hefty raises to our staff, but we have converted several positions from volunteer to paid, which is at least a good first step, for a congregation that is much smaller than yours.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, you obviously know of what you speak, and I can’t thank you enough for the input and support. I am TOTALLY in the same boat with the pastor on the issue of health insurance. Our copays are so high I do anything to avoid going to the doctor – especially since every other member of the family has had a major expense at some point in the last few years, some of which we’re still paying for. It’s incredibly frustrating, and even more so because we’re in a large congregation that is, in the scheme of things extremely healthy financially. Ugh.

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  2. The timing of this is perfect! This has been on my mind a lot lately and I too have been struggling with a way to get it out onto paper. Substitute private school for church and it’s the same, exact thing. And if you look around, it’s 99% women who are doing the ‘volunteer’ or underpaid work. And it ties into my newly sparked ember of feminism. Because no friggin’ wonder that no one values women in the workforce or demands they do 4x as much to be ‘valued’ the same as a man (yes, I’m looking at the example of Hillary Clinton). You’ve given me a lot to think about!

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    • Thanks for that input. My mind has been wandering the same way recently. There’s a real disconnect between feminism in young people (I’m thinking my kids’ age range, 21-25, as that’s my main basis of experience) and those of my generation and older, who either lived through the feminist movement of the 1960’s and 70’s or had mothers who did so. My mom instilled in me a very strong sense of the need for women to stand up and fight for equality. I personally can’t choose between Bernie and Clinton as to who to support. I love Bernie’s radical ideas, but I feel a serious need to see a woman in the white house. Many of the kids I know who are my own kids’ ages don’t understand that perspective. Though I have, apparently, indoctrinated our younger daughter quite nicely because she’s torn by the same concern, too.

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      • Yes, exactly! The idea of a woman in the WH makes my blood light up (in a good way). Not just any woman–if it were Sarah Palin, I’d be horrified. Hillary’s not perfect, but she is good (imo) and honestly, if not now, then WHEN? It’s the same old question, I saw the same thing happen when I looked at coverage of the Oscars last night. Why complain, look how far you’ve come, etc. It’s the classic way of keeping a minority down. I think you’re right, there is a real disconnect between younger woman and older. I noticed this when I was doing some research to see where the general population fell in terms of pro-choice/anti-choice. The number of pro-choice Americans had actually been going down and I had to wonder if it had anything to do with the fact that these young people take what is legal and has been for their lifetime for granted. It’s easy to be against something that you’ve never had to doubt or found yourself in need of. It’s like people with fantastic health insurance plans who can’t understand why others should have health coverage. Sorry to rant, it’s probably the last thing you needed!

        Liked by 1 person

        • No, I’m thrilled to have the chance to have this conversation. I think I’ve worn out my friends and family with it for now. I think you’re exactly right about the lack of concern about reproductive rights. It’s hard for younger people to imagine how horrifying it was when women literally died or became seriously ill due to illegal abortions. (Plus that’s largely a privilege issue, too – rich women rarely had that problem, even before Roe v. Wade). Same goes for the oblivious folks who think we’re in a post-racist era. If you’ve ever had any contact with families who live in the inner cities, where schools suck, family support is nil, and there’s no way to get healthy food, it’s a lot harder to deny that we still live with institutional racism (and classism).

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