Material History of American Religion Project

My Face Was Red From Embarrassment

This article requires no explanatory introduction. You will understand it thoroughly and will know precisely what caused the author embarrassment and what you now ought to do.

Despite this original editorial note, this article does require a brief introduction. As this web site notes elsewhere (see A Lutheran Rebellion, What is adequate compensation for ministers?, and The Minister's Wife; or What Becomes of the Salary), one of the most contentious and complex financial issues confronting the church is compensating the pastor. Clergy, denominational officials, and occasional lay advocates struggle to convince church officers that members of the clergy need to be paid more. Their arguments include emotional appeals to the poverty of many ministers, social appeals to the community standing of the minister and the church, and economic appeals to the pay of equivalent professions.

This article, from the May 1950 issue of Missions, a magazine for the Northern Baptist Convention (now known as the American Baptist Churches in the USA), demonstrates each of these strategies. It is set in the context of clergy pay relative to that of teachers, but focuses on the shame regarding the poor pay for ministers. It also includes the needs of ministers and their families, and concludes with an appeal to assure the success of the ministry. Note that the editorial note and the article both resist saying what needs to be done, implying that the guilty consciences of the lay readers will know what to do. (Note that the $2900 figure discussed here is equivalent to approximately $45,000 in current money.)

As a member of the Board of Finance of the town in Connecticut where I live I attended a recent meeting of the Board to consider a request from the Teacher's Association for increases in salary. Our teachers are employed according to the terms of a step plan adopted some time ago. This plan provides for a minimum salary for a teacher holding a B.A. degree and a higher minimum for a teacher holding an M.A. degree. Each year of service and each advance in scholastic standing brings an increase in salary until a maximum is reached.

The teachers had marshalled their facts well. When we were reminded that the teachers' average salary in our town was $2900, the Board member at my left exclaimed, "I think that is ridiculous!" Then, as though he assumed everyone would agree, he turned to me and asked "Don't you think so, too?"

Frankly, my face turned red from embarrassment because I instantly thought of many Baptist pastors I know who are serving their churches for far less than $2900 per year. They also are professional people!

So the Board voted an increase for the school teachers and we feel it is a good investment. I wish that salary increases for pastors could be as easily adjusted. Those school teachers work for ten months of the year. During the summer months a number of them earn extra income. Several women teachers have husbands who earn substantial salaries. Some men teachers have wives who are gainfully employed. By contrast, most ministers have no other source of income while their wives feel obligated to give much time to church work without compensation. The pastor's car is often an added burden which he must carry out of his slender income, although it is used principally for church work. On call 24 hours a day many pastors are working faithfully for much less than $29OO a year.

As Director of Town and Country Work Connecticut and Rhode Island, I visit parsonages where the purchasing of a new tire dislocates the family budget for weeks. I know ministers' children who have worn made-over clothes for a major part of their lives. Needed dental and medical care are often deferred cause of lack of funds. On the tables of some ministers steak has not been seen for years.

These servants of Christ do not complain. They did not enter the ministry with any expectation of affluence or ease. If need be, they stand ready to sacrifice life itself for the cause of Christ. The question which should confront Baptists is, "Are the sacrifices of poorly pa ministers dictated by necessity, or are they the result of careless neglect?" In an age when bricklayers and carpenters are paid almost fabulous sums for a day's work, is it necessary for ministers to be kept by their churches on a starvation wage?

The extra salary for the school teachers was provided by an increase in the tax rate. Increases in the salaries of ministers must be provided by an increase in the gift rate. All of us need adjust our giving to the cost of living. Sin nobody can tax us for the money to maintain and operate our churches, it follows that must tax ourselves.

Think about it. Pray about it. Act upon Prompt action by your church board of trustees would help assure your pastor a continuing successful ministry.

Kenneth M. Cooper, "My Face Was Red From Embarrassment," Missions 148 (May 1950), 296.

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