This Week at Old South Haven July 18, 2019
Members and Friends –
The June 19 cover story of The Christian Century was "The Economics of Ministry." I have subscribed to the Century for decades as I appreciate their reporting of religion and the thought-provoking articles. Anyone who is paying attention to church matters today knows that the times are uncertain. Membership has been declining across the board and in 2018, for the first time giving to houses of worship and related entities, declined by $2 billion dollars after years of growth.( https://www.christianpost.com/news/donations-to-religion-declined-2-billion-in-2018-after-years-of-growth-study.html ). So, I was curious to see what perspective the Century would bring to the issue.
Although the articles focused largely on the financial realities faced by the clergy, in particular recent graduates there were some points that relate to the impact on local churches. But first a few basic gleanings about clergy and economics. I didn't answer the call to ministry for the money. I hold three advanced degrees in religion and theology yet I have never worked for more than the presbytery minimum plus experience apportionment. But, I also entered the ministry with minimal debt and a spouse whose comparable education led to a much more substantial income. That makes me unusual. The percentage of newly minted M.Div. graduates who leave seminary with debt has risen steadily since 2002 such that now 64% of graduates are indebted. The average debt from seminary alone is $36,000. Add to that the average $20,000 debt from prior education and you begin to understand the struggles many face just to keep a moderate standard of living.
When you pair that reality with fact that "increasingly congregations are turning to part-time clergy. . .as they find themselves with limited resources. . .Both mainline and evangelical denominations have a large proportion of clergy who are part-time or bivocational (or even trivocational) or who essentially donate their services to congregations, the number is likely to increase." Add to that the fact that part-time clergy, who may be in the most need, are often not eligible for benefits such that "many congregations with part-time clergy thus save not only on what they pay in salaries but on what they don't pay in benefits." https://www.christiancentury.org/article/critical-essay/what-pastors-get-paid-and-when-it-s-not-enough
I share the above with you because in today's church economics matter perhaps more than we like to admit. I share it because these economic realities have played a role in every conversation I have had with churches through the years. But more often than not it has been in the shadows and not discussed in the full light of day. I didn't go into the ministry for the money. The churches I have served aren't in it for the money. But the hard reality is that economics are driving many of the decisions congregations make -- be it how much of the budget goes to mission or can we afford to pay a pastor "fairly and provide for his or her welfare as he or she works among us." (Book of Common Worship, 470)
In the coming weeks, as requested by the Committee on Ministry, your called leadership, the members of Session, will be engaged in a thoughtful and careful look at the economic reality here at Old South Haven. You are fortunate to have detailed records going back numerous years which will make their work easier to complete in a timely fashion. For I believe that you believe it is important to be good stewards of the long legacy of OSH and to care for the welfare of those called to serve here now and into the future.
Sunday is Kirsty's final Sunday with us prior to leaving for Montreal to begin Seminary Studies at MCGill University and The Presbyterian College. She is an Inquirer in the ordination process under the care of Old South Haven and the Presbytery of Long Island.
As we enter the summer months please remember to keep your pledge up to date.
Saturday, July 20 10:00 am Property and Finance Meeting
Sunday, July 21 10:00 am Worship
Monday, July 22 7:00 pm Session Meeting
Sunday, July 28 10:00 am Worship