The "Problem" of Clergy Compensation:
The Metropolitan Council Report

Delivered by Fr. Alexis Vinogradov at the 1995 Diocesan Assembly

(Winter, 1996)

  At this summer's All-American Council in Chicago (1995), there was a particular intensity in the discussions about clergy compensation. The issue had been studied in previous Councils, surveys had been conducted, guidelines had been produced and even implemented in some parishes. For the most part, however, no significant changes occurred in the lot of most clergy families in the OCA, many of whom endure a silent suffering partly because of the stresses of functioning on very low income.

   The purpose of these comments is not to review the guidelines or the discussions of stewardship and rationale which preceded their formulation. All this material is available from the OCA. Here, it seems to us that there is a need to examine the fundamental relationship of the priest and parish, which obliges every Orthodox Christian parish to confront the question of the Pastor's Remuneration as a major priority.

   If we examine the way most parishes started and grew, we notice a pattern: a small group of families find a temporary place to meet; a priest comes "on loan" from an established parish to conduct occasional services; as the parish and its treasury grow, larger or more permanent facilities are found; eventually the parish engages a worker-priest or one who is supported partially by the diocese or whose spouse works. During this stage there may be many temporary priests, so that aside from the bishop, there is no consistent priestly leadership of the congregation. What this pattern shows us is that the physical facilities become the primary focus of parish stewardship, and because mortgages, repairs and improvements are long-term, the facilities often become the permanent priority of parish stewardship.

   In essence, though, the Christian Parish is not buildings. It is first and foremost a local, regular, committed gathering of the baptized around a priest who guides the gathering and growth of this group. A priest who accepts the calling to lead a local congregation must be willing to share their lot, to virtually give his life for the congregation, relying on God's mercy as it is shown though the willing hearts of the faithful. On the other hand, in calling a priest, the congregation ensures that the priest's material needs are supplied (explicit in the OCA Statute, but rarely carried out). It is amazing that to date only a small percentage of even established OCA parishes actually fulfill this fundamental rule of Christian parish life.

   If a parish goes through the exercise of determining a reasonable remuneration for the Priest, and realizes that it cannot meet the minimum, it has the obligation to be clear about this with the diocese and the pastor in writing. The diocese may declare mission status for the parish and provide assistance, and/or the parish need to take steps to secure outside income to meet his family's needs.

   One drawback in establishing clergy remuneration today is the placement of this issue as merely one of the line items in the parish budget. Ideally, the pastor's package should be established first, and only then can the parish consider supplying other needs. Is it conscionable, for example, for a parish to put gold on onion domes, or install new carpeting, while the pastor struggles to supply the basic needs for his children? It often happens that parishes are able to build and fund an entirely new church, provide magnificent icons, yet no change occurs in the pastor's income, and no-one raises the question.

   This is not an issue which can be resolved by votes or decrees, but by concerted teaching and prayer. The very foundation of ecclesial life, the personal interrelationships of priest and faithful, priests, and bishop, the notions of service and sacrifice, intercession and intervention, biblical precepts of filial stewardship - must all be examined afresh to understand how we arrived at this dramatic malaise which afflicts the Church's clergy, and so blithely escapes the purview of the "members-in-good-standing"!

   Hopefully, the honest but painful discussions on this theme in Chicago were a prelude to continuing work and dialogue towards an improved understanding by the faithful. May we eventually see the good fruits of true spiritual struggle and love in this important facet of Church life, rather than the dubious fruits of intimidation, competitiveness, and secular statistics.

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[Fr. Alexis is the pastor of St. Gregory the Theologian Church, Wappingers Falls, NY.]


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