WARNING, STEPPING UP ON SOAP BOX:
I am currently in year five of my current appointment. I am now tied with two other pastors for the longest tenure at this church. Now that I am finishing up the first quarter of my fifth year I have been getting lots of questions about whether or not we will be moving. It has not simply come from parishioners, most of them have not asked. It is outsiders who do most the asking.
My wife came home from getting her hair cut and during the small talk she told her hair dresser that I was a United Methodist minister in Thomasville. The hair dresser asked how long we have been here and then if we were moving this year. I have been asked by other random people as well and it finally hit me why I get frustrated when people ask that question.
Whether a clergy family is moving or not is such a deeply personal question. Yes it affects the local congregation and it is public knowledge that we Methodists move, so it is a natural question that can be asked. Yet I don’t think people understand what they are asking. First three people have to decide it is time to move, the church, the pastor and the cabinet. None of which are even thinking about this in the fall of the year.
Plus, the question itself is loaded. Are you going to move? = Do you feel your time at your current appointment is over? Have you done everything you can to work with that congregation to move deeper into their calling as a church? Can they afford you any longer? Do they not like you over there? Do you not like them? Are you ready to uproot your family and move away from the only place your kids know as home? Do you feel like you are will be represented well enough on the cabinet that your gifts and graces will be considered over your current salary level? Is it a good move year? Are there still things hanging that need to be dealt with at your current church before you feel you could move? Is your congregation healthy enough to endure a move this year? Is your spouse happy with the life s/he created at this appointment and wanting or willing to ‘start all over again’? Will your children be hurt tragically to leave the only friends they have every known? Are you scared your next parsonage won’t hold a candle to your current one? Are you emotionally ready to move? Are you spiritually ready to move? Are you, as the pastor, ready to start all over with new faces, new demographics, new family dynamics, new sources of power, new staff, new town, new life? I could go on but I’ll stop there.
There is so much that goes into a clergy person’s decision to move that to flippantly ask about it in a random conversations is almost rude. It is like asking someone, “How much do you make in a year?” It really isn’t any of your business. But hey, for ministers anything goes right?
I can tolerate the question when my family asks it. I dodge the question when fellow clergy ask it. I duck and swallow hard every time a parishioner asks it. It rocks my nerves when random people ask it. They of all people don’t understand the spiritual, personal, political, and did I mention personal realities that resides in the true answer.
This was a new word that showed up on our Clergy Profile forms this year. What it means is a minister has issues/needs to stay in or around a geographical area. Instead of being an itinerant minster for the whole conference they can only be an itinerant to a certain city or country. This word came up again while having a conversation with Rev. Ed Moore, who is the executive director for Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School, during the Spirited Life Retreat. He stated that our current system is starting to encourage more Limited Itinerancy. As I have thought that it seems to be true.
We have started to encourage this because of a couple of factors.
1. Duel Income Families: There is a need, especially within clergy families new in ministry, to be duel income because of low salary. EXAMPLE: If a new ordained Elder gets paid $40,000 a year, a supplement income is almost a necessity. Stay with me…Let’s assume a freshly ordained clergy person is in her second appointment making the minimum salary for an Elder $40,000 (this is not the minimum in WNCC, it is actually lower, but a nice round number makes easier math). This minister has two children under the age of five and a husband who they decided will stay home to help raise the children. Here is how this household’s salary would break down. $40,000-$12,000 (family health insurance) – $5,000 (taxes, remember clergy are self employed employees) – $18,000 (food, other insurance, & utilities*) = $5,000 left over for discretionary spending. If this family has any debt (student loans or credit card) there is nothing left at the end of the month. This also allows only a little to be used for savings for retirement or future schooling. A second income is necessary to not live in luxury but really survive.
2. Health care: The cost of the clergy family health care is so high that a spouses works full time in order to but children on that insurance plan maybe totally worth the sacrifice.
3. Career of Spouse: All clergy spouses are not teachers, nurses, or homemakers.
4. Clergy Couples: There are a growing number of clergy couples. Statically unproven but I feel comfortable saying we have more Clergy Couples than ever in the UMC system. This creates new opportunities for the Cabinet to contemplate appointments as well.
What this means is that instead of appointing ministers to churches the Cabinet now has the honor of appointing duel income families to geographical areas where they both can find employment. If a pastor’s talents and gifts are suited for a certain congregation they have to figure in can the spouse find employment in this area? Pastors may reject the appointment (as much as they can) because of the limited employment options available.
I pray for the Cabinets who will be meeting in the next months to discuss the new appointments. As the cost of health care rises and the minimum salary continues to decline are we as a conference, denomination, creating a limited itinerancy system? I would answer yes!
*These are rough estimates and will vary depending on location and style of living. This may actually be a low-ball estimate but are closely based to my personal expenses in this area.
Stereotypes abound when it comes those married to clergy. First off many people think they are all women. Second, they all either nurses or teachers. But as two income families become clergy families due to second career ministry, that has to have changed. As I talked to a new minister in our district he talked about his wife’s 70 mile drive (one way) to her employer. He asked us to keep her in our prayers because she loves what she is doing and who she is doing it with but the drive may force her to change locations and employers. (Any Hospice group looking for an Art Therapist in or around the Welcome, NC area, please let me know).
I am lucky to have a very understanding wife who after being frustrated in the lack of employment in her 4 year degree went a different route, one we hoped would travel better. She became a Massage Therapist. (NOT A MASSEUSE, but a MASSAGE THERAPIST, pet peeve of both of ours.) This has opened up some great opportunities for her but is also frustrating too. Now after living in our new appointment her personal clientele is not where she would like it. That is because we are placed in a blue collar town which is suffering and the last thing they will do is chuck out $60 for an hour Swedish massage. Also the commute to other places where she could work is almost too far to make it worth it at this time. Add the cost of CEUs and the price of recertification and it can be frustrating. Yet our congregation is a great support to her as well as me. They allowed her to work out of the home when necessary (which takes veto power from Admin Council and Trustees over the DS) and talk her up in the community. They truly have been a blessing.
Yet, I know we are not the only clergy family out there with those kinds of issues. Which got me thinking about this question. What are your spouse’s stories? Did your spouse give up his/her career for your call to the ministry or change his/her job or career path. Is your church appreciative and supportive of your spouse’s career?
Clergy Spouses have a special place in heaven with all the ‘rubbish’ they have to endure. Yet we could not do ministry without them.