Friday, February 13, 2009

The labourer is worthy of his hire

Two recent online items (from Country Parson and Anglicans Online) rattle around the edge of an idea that has been percolating in my brain. (Note to self, remember to update the link after the Anglicans Online item has been archived.)

Both articles touch on the manner in which churches (at least our Anglican Churches) seem to tolerate or even glory in the fecklessness of both clerical and lay leadership. CP goes so far as to identify a perverse incentive in the way we see off our clergy on departure or retirement.

A pastor who has served his or her congregation faithfully and well is most likely to get a potluck supper and a few best wishes cards upon departure. On the other hand, a pastor who has really messed things up and done a rotten job is likely to receive as much as the local congregation can possibly scrape together to get rid of him or her.

I live in a diocese that has one of the lowest stipend scales in the Canadian Church. I've been told it's the lowest outside of the Council of the North dioceses, but I can't confirm that. Currently, there are only two parishes paying more than the minimum stipend - although the parish where I hang my biretta would be the third once they call a full time priest.

Now, I know it's not supposed to be about the money. We priests serve because we have a vocation, because we love our people, because we love our Church, because we love the Lord.

As the Wardens said to the Bishop, "You keep him honest, my Lord. We'll keep him poor."

Paul does tell us, after all, that the labourer is worthy of his hire (1 Timothy 5: 18). But at no point does he say that the labourer should be paid poorly.

So, what if we took that seriously?

What if we decided that effective preaching, teaching and evangelism were to be rewarded?

What if we decided that feckless doddering was not good enough?

What if we tried something like this:

* The diocesan scale is replaced with one diocesan minimum stipend, adjusted annually.

* When the stipend is adjusted each year, no priest's stipend may increase by less than that same proportion - that is, if the minimum goes up 2%, Fr. Bloggin's stipend must go up by at least 2%.

* In each parish, an agreed set of indicators are selected - say average Sunday attendance, overall giving by members and average giving per member. The percentage variation in these numbers from the previous year are averaged with the percentage increase in the diocesan stipend.

* The priest's stipend increases by the same proportion as the diocesan minimum or by the new calculation, whichever is greater.

In other words:

* Diocesan minimum increases 1%

* Average Sunday attendance increases 10%

* Giving by members increases 7%

* Average giving per member is static

* 1 + 10 + 7 + 0 = 18 / 4 = 4.5

* The stipend increases by 4.5% instead of 1%

I have to admit, part of me experiences stomach churns even to talk about this. But another part of me wonders why effectiveness should not be rewarded.

Just throwing it out there. Let's talk.


Country Parson said...

Oddly enough the task force on clergy compensation in the Diocese of Spokane is working on something along those lines. Because we are such a rural diocese, many of our parishes are served by locally ordained non-stipendiary tentmaker priests. For them we are suggesting a package of appropriate benefits. For the full time clergy we are suggesting a single minimum adjusted annually for cost of living regardless of years in service or size of congregation. It gets a little more complicated after that and we've got more work to do before submitting a final report to the bishop and convention.

Anonymous said...

As a parish priest, I must say that I find this whole conversation to be distasteful.

Malcolm+ said...

I'd be interested, Anonymous, to know what exactly you find distatsteful about it.

Is it the idea of performance based compensation?

I have to admit, I'm not sure I even agree with the idea I've laid out here. I just know that stipend discussions have a tendency to get glossed over in parishes, and scales of minimums very quickly become scales of maximums.

The Church, it seems to me, should be a model of labour relations. Yet our overall approach to stipends (and to salaries for other staff) tends to belie that.