Prior to entering the Seminary, I was a choir director, cantor and organist in Catholic Parishes. In those days, (early 1980s), it was widely held that working for a Catholic Parish meant your were going to be paid poorly. The “real money” was made working for Protestant congregations. Concerns were raised (many of them legitimate) among Catholic liturgists and musicians that Catholic parishes needed to rethink their priorities, and pay more just and competitive wages, if we were ever going to rescue Catholic music from the amateurish state it largely was in in the 1980s.
It would seem, according to a recent CARA report that a lot of progress has been made in this direction. And this is true not only in terms of musicians, but also other professional positions. The CARA report says,
A companion piece to the CARA research released in the Emerging Models project’s The Changing Face of U.S. Catholic Parishes is the National Association of Church Personnel Administrators report, Pay & Benefits Survey of Catholic Parishes….One of many interesting findings is how similar wages and salaries are for Catholic parish ministers and those working in similar capacities in Protestant churches in the United States. (See Chart above right). The Protestant data used by NACPA are from Protestant: 2010 Church Staff Compensation Survey.
More on the CARA report here: Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) Blog.
It would seem that we have largely closed the gap in terms of wage comparisons with the Protestant denominations. As a pastor, I think this is good news. I have come to depend greatly on competent and well trained laity doing parish work. I have a very fine staff here at my parish. My administrative assistant and business manager is the best and daily brings great wisdom and experience to bear on parish issues. My music director is top drawer, and nationally known. My support staff are all excellent. What a blessing.
It is also a fact that the parish has come to bat in the offertory and are well formed in their understanding of what it takes to run a parish where we pay just wages, and strive for excellence in the service of the Lord. I remain humbly grateful to my congregation for their immense generosity and Love of God. Biblical tithing has been embraced by most of the parishioners here who though small in number, yearly generate an offertory income of almost one million dollars.
Money is sign of what we value. Catholics who regularly toss down $50-100 to take the family to the movies, or even more to go to sports events, and then toss $10 in the collection basket are saying something about what they value. Likewise, Catholics who direct 10% of their income to God’s house in obedience to his word (cf Malachi 3:10, inter al) are also saying something.
Further, parishes that pay significant wages for administrative leadership, music and catechetical ministry are also saying something about the value associated with these works in God’s house. Money does have something to say about what we value.
I realize that what I say here is not without controversy. Some prefer to emphasize volunteerism in parish settings. Well enough, and volunteerism must continue to have an important place in parishes. For just as with money, what people do with their time is also an important indicator of what they value.
But there must be a proper balance or proportion at work. Music and liturgy, parish administration and catechesis are essential and important post that ought to be staffed by well trained and well paid individuals. It will surely be the job of such individuals to engage volunteers, and train good leaders to assist them. But in the end, we have to be willing to have well trained people in essential posts and be willing to pay them wages commensurate with both “the market” and also with the value we attribute to their work. And that value is significant. Further, we ought to be willing to pay just wages, with benefits to those whose work approaches full time.
Pastors do well to form their congregations around such notions so that God’s house will not be an afterthought in their lives and financial priorities. In preaching biblical tithing, I often emphasize that God gets the FIRST tenth of our income, not the tenth that is (hopefully) leftover after we pay the cable bill and for the latest iPad.
I also realize that some will comment that they don’t like the money is spent or that they don’t prefer the music, the catechesis. But be careful, give and then offer concerns to the Parish Finance Council. Give and then insist on excellence. Every pastor and finance council is required to report to the congregation every year. But give critique as one who is invested (in obedience to God), rather than one who withholds until he gets what he likes. Our parishes are not products we buy, not services we contract for. They are the Body of Christ we join and become part of, financially and through service. And in the context of communion and generosity, we listen for God’s will and move forward, in conformity to Church teaching.
Alright. I was not born yesterday and realize that whenever money is in the discussion there will be strong opinions. Remember, I do not write a complete treatise here. I am starting a conversation.