BLOG: VOICES FROM CEDAR LANE
For the last 20 years of his life, my father belonged to a Baptist megachurch in rural Florida. This church meant a lot to him, and it supported him greatly when he was living alone and coping with significant health problems. When I visited, we went to services together, and I enjoyed the music, the beautiful building, and the sermons. I also noticed that the charismatic minister discussed finances with the congregation every week, asking them to give more, and ever more, to support the church. In the last years of his life, I did my father’s taxes for him, and I saw that he did give more and more, until he was giving 50% of his $5000 annual income to this church. I found this shocking, and I could never go into that church again without thinking (and resenting) that they were taking advantage of him, and many other people, with their eternal requests for everyone to give more.
When my wife and I moved to Kensington and started coming to Cedar Lane, we had three small children, and we all lived on my postdoctoral fellow’s salary at NIH, so we couldn’t give a lot to our new church. And, at least partly because of my earlier experience with my father and his church, I was very aware of, and reacted negatively to, blanket appeals from the church that everyone needed to increase their pledge. There were two things that particularly bothered me: these appeals never seemed to acknowledge that different individuals have different financial circumstances; and they never said exactly why they needed the extra money.
For years I sang in the choir next to Jay Schneider, who was often on the Board, and we sometimes discussed this. Were we overstaffed? Or were we overpaying our ministers and other staff? Or were we, collectively, just not giving enough to support the reasonable expenses of the church that we all came here to be part of?
A couple of months ago I sat in on a Board meeting which was devoted to the budget, and I was happy to learn that they were evaluating just these questions, including comparing the actual staffing and average pledges of the 7 UU churches of comparable size in the DC metro area, and comparing our staff’s compensation with the UUA guidelines. Over the past few weeks, they have shared many of these evaluations in their Board News and Views postings, and they will share the rest soon.
Looking at these analyses, I am convinced of several things:
- First, we are not overstaffed (our staffing of Ministers, the RE program, the Music Program, and our building maintenance are exactly comparable to that of the other UU churches of similar size in the DC area).
- Second, we are not overpaying our staff; none of our staff is paid more than the UUA guidelines, and some are paid less, and if we furlough our staff without pay for several weeks, as we are currently planning to do this coming fiscal year, all of our staff will be paid less than the UUA guidelines.
- Third, our average annual pledge is 5th out of the 7 comparable congregations in our area, about $400/year (or $33/month) less than the top three.
I think this is very useful information to have when we think about making our pledges. It makes me think that our problem is not overstaffing, or overpaying our staff; but rather that, collectively, we are not pledging enough to pay the reasonable expenses of our exceptional religious community.
I personally think that we currently have an amazing staff, and it really bothers me to learn that we are paying some of them less than the UUA’s guidelines, and then we are also thinking of furloughing them without pay for several weeks this coming year. We are all concerned that public school teachers are underpaid, and we start support groups whenever federal workers and contractors are furloughed. We shouldn’t be underpaying and furloughing our very special staff.
Again, I think that no one should consider increasing their pledge beyond what they think is reasonable, in their circumstances, but I think that people who have not pledged should do so, and those of us who can give more should think very hard about increasing our support for Cedar Lane, for this next year and for future fiscal years. We need to pay our bills, and we need to pay our staff fairly.
Lastly, I would like to say that I think it is important for us as a congregation to learn to talk about money more openly, with less anxiety. Every organization as large as ours needs money – it’s like our bodies needing food. If we can learn to talk about it more openly and non-judgmentally, and where the balance should be (and why), this topic should lose some of its taboo, which should make us a healthier and happier community.