A collection of stories from clergywomen reflecting on the wage gap that systematically keeps women from earning as much as men for equal service to the Kingdom.
The Wage Gap for Clergywomen
A recent article drew out the wage gap between male clergy and female clergy in a variety of traditions, and the numbers are horrible:
New national data reveals that women clergy earn 76 cents for each dollar earned by male clergy. This is substantially worse than the national pay gap of 83 cents…In 2014, male clergy earned $1,007 per week; female clergy earned only $763. This is a $12,000 difference in annual earnings.
The gap among clergy is noteworthy because, as an occupation, the clergy has credentialing (ordination) and educational requirements that should encourage similar pay for similar work.
One contributing factor is the low percentage of pulpits supplied by women. From a study by Duke University in 2015:
Women serve as senior or solo pastoral leaders of just 11 percent of U.S. congregations — indicating essentially no overall increase from when the study was first done in 1998. These women-led communities contain only about 6 percent of the people who attend the nation’s religious services.
Over the past 18 years, the percentage of pulpits supplied by women has not changed, and the wage has actually lowered when compared to male salaries.
Through a good friend in a clergywomen’s group, I was able to receive a dozen stories by clergywomen reflecting on their personal experience of the wage gap. Their responses are categorized below under the main problems I saw in this collection of stories. I removed identifying data from anonymous entries, but otherwise these are their stories.
Problem #1: Starting A New Position
It starts out badly: when clergywomen begin at a new church, they are often (nay always) offered substantially less than their male predecessor, even when they are more experienced.
Here’s Rev. Jess Scholten, a 40yo PCUSA minister:
I have been serving as an interim at smaller rural churches for the past 6 years. I recently was offered an interim position at a more midsized church in a larger city. My husband and I discussed what I should negotiate ahead of time, because I knew this time I wouldn’t have to fight for the minimum. When they showed me the contract, it was $5K more than I had said would be my minimum. I totally had to keep my pastor face on to not be like, “YIPPPPPEEEEEE. That’s amazing!”
After signing the contract, I knew I would probably get a little flack because I didn’t just ask what the previous pastor had gotten and required that amount (which is sort of the new vogue in interim ministry). But I was just so happy to be making more than what I’d made as an associate 7 years prior and to be finally in a real salary range.
Turns out, the guy before me made $20K more than my contract.
YIPPEE then ARGHHH indeed.
An anonymous clergywoman writes:
Two of my appointments have included significant pay decreases between my predecessor and me. My first, as an associate at a large church, was a $30,000 drop from previous male pastor, who was retiring.
My second appointment was technically a step up for me (by $500). The previous pastor, with only a few years more experience, was given a $12,000 subsidy by the conference. I was paid only what the church could afford.
A few thousand dollar difference due to years served and experience is understandable. But a $12k-$20k-$30k difference for the same work? There’s no way to justify that. When churches offer a pastoral position, full knowledge of the previous pastor’s salary and comparable salaries should be made available.
Problem #2: Two Ladders, Not One
A key systematic problem is the ladder rungs between men and women are not equal, even in denominations that assign clergy to churches. If male pastors are offered higher salaries even once, then they are considered “more qualified” for larger churches later.
An anonymous United Methodist clergywoman writes:
In my first appointment at a large, wealthy church, I was an associate. My second year, a male associate was hired straight out of seminary, so less experience than I had, at a rate higher than mine. The church had a long history of paying female associates less than male associates.
That same associate was there for 7 years, and when he left he was paid $20k more than a female associate on the same staff with 5-6 years MORE experience. Which means, of course, that he got an appointment at a larger, higher paying church than she would, which is how our system perpetuates itself.
Another United Methodist situation:
I have colleagues who are a clergy couple and were both associates at the same large church. Exact same experience level–graduated seminary, commissioned, ordained, all at the same time and then on staff together at the same church. They were each appointed to be solo pastors the same year, at churches fairly near each other. He was appointed to the church with the higher salary (by $6k/year).
Finally, an issue for smaller denominations is that most of the full-time churches go to men, so women do not receive the full-time work to qualify for higher-paid full-time work. One anonymous clergywoman writes:
In my area/denomination, we have a call system. The calls that many of the women receive are half time. I am yet to hear of a man being offered anything less than three quarters time. The powers that be do ensure that we all receive salary at guidelines and health benefits. However, half time vs full time work makes a huge salary difference. Technically we’re all getting equal pay for equal work. Unfortunately, we’re not being offered equal work.
We cannot obtain equal pay when there are two different ladders: women are on the one with smaller rungs that takes longer to climb, and men even start several rungs up.
Problem #3: Beware multi-pastor parishes
I’ve served as an Associate Pastor for seven years, serving currently under a female Senior Pastor, and I cannot, cannot handle these stories below. These are from female Associate Pastors whose Senior Pastors intentionally kept them at a lower pay.
An anonymous Episcopal priest writes of her job as an Associate:
I was the picture of naïveté in my curacy a decade ago, and found out at my first convention that I was making $13K under diocesan minimum–all because my rector didn’t think I should make more than he had when he was an assistant. It was a very affluent parish, too. As soon as I took the the risk and brought it to the attention of our lay leaders (total no no in our polity, by the way), my salary was raised the next month. But even then it was a betrayal and made me seriously consider whether I would continue in ministry if I had to be so suspicious of the people I was supposed to be doing ministry with.
An anonymous 40yo PCUSA clergywoman writes:
I spent 9 years in the 5th wealthiest county in the country and in that 9 years I received only two small raises, one was at 2% and the other at 1%. My Head of Staff made over $120,000 with his total package and only if you added my entire package did I even come close to the very bottom of the average wage earner in the area. We didn’t get raises because the HoS didn’t want one, or because it took money away from the mission percentage he was hell bent on giving away.
I made less than many of the Associate Pastors if you did the cost of living calculator for where you live, I have been ordained for 11 years and the church down the road from us hired a first time pastor and paid her well over 100k. When I first arrived I was under the presbyterys required minimum so they had to bring me up to the required minimum, and 9 years later I made only about $2,000 more a year than when I started.
9 years and only $2000 increase? Any similar profession would have surpassed that with Cost of Living Increases alone.
One more story: Here’s a <40yo Episcopal priest, ordained over 10 years ago. She sent in three stories of her pastorates, each one disturbing, but this one bothered me the most:
I took an associate position at a vibrant growing parish. Rector was my age and only had two more years of experience over me and claimed he wanted someone experienced because he didn’t want to have to train a new priest. We had been friendly colleagues. I came in at the minimum, but when the minimums were adjusted, he claimed the church could not do it. So I concentrated on surviving.
When the new budget was being talked about, I was approached by the wardens and the treasurer to see if I have any requests. I simply showed them the diocesan minimums. They knew right away that they were not doing the right thing. They were apologetic. They met and agreed to give me a raise that would start me toward receiving at least the minimum.
When the rector [found out] he was very angry, and that one of the reasons he was angry was that he would not get the raise he expected to get at the birth of his third child, as he had gotten just such a raise from this parish at the birth of his first and second children.
Senior Pastors have a responsibility to make sure their staff have a just situation before them and are treated equally. It’s unconscionable how these situations took place–and are echoed across the country.
Solution: The Undue Burden of Advocating for Equal Pay
A clergywoman friend said these wise words when I was wrestling with how this inequality happens and how to begin to fix it:
Women typically seek what they NEED and men seek to be paid what they’re WORTH. I can see truth in that in my experience.
The responsibility should be on the church to substantiate why they pay what they do. However, it doesn’t work that way, and clergywomen have the additional undue burden of asking colleagues what they are paid and advocate to change their pay accordingly, or have someone else advocate for them. This is difficult to do (you read how it’s “just not done” in the above stories, right?), even in denominational systems when the salaries are public knowledge.
This penultimate story is a longer one but it has all the elements in it. An anonymous clergywoman writes about advocating for a more just wage:
My first call out of seminary, I accepted my starting package whole-heartedly knowing it was enough for me to live on as a single woman who is very frugal. For my first several years, I never bought name-brand food or purchased clothes that were not on sale. My mother regularly sent me “thinking about you” checks. Much of my wardrobe was clothes I owned in college or got as a gift.
[When requesting a higher wage], I gathered salaries and packages from other ministers in similar positions from around the area. In the meeting in which my request was denied, I was told, in the corporate world, it is a fireable offense to discuss your salary. Further, they had reviewed the information and still felt I was compensated accordingly.
One specific package I shared with them was from a male colleague in his first position serving with a different title but similar responsibilities. His cash package was the same as mine, but he had added benefits such as the church paying his healthcare and pension separately. His total package was $15,000 more than mine. After a year of positive talks, I was turned down for the raise, but still expected to add to my responsibilities.
I believe the leadership felt comfortable turning me down because I got married. Nothing was said explicitly, but I got the feeling that they believed they didn’t need to offer me a raise since I now have two incomes. What they didn’t realize is I make more than my husband does.
In closing, here’s a bright moment as an anonymous United Methodist clergywoman writes about her effort to obtain equal pay:
Finally, I advocated for a raise for myself. To determine the amount, I did research about what my colleagues (who all turned out to be male) at similar size/similar location churches with fairly similar experience were making and gave it to them as a comparison. I made less than all of them, even ones with less experience and smaller worship size. My church responded well and gave me a generous raise; but it points out the systemic issues of who gets appointed where–women tend to get appointed to churches with lower salaries; and then because appointments are based largely on salaries, that system continues.
I’ve never had to advocate for a higher wage, though I’ve had people advocate for me. I cannot imagine these situations, or serving at a church that did not value the cost of their clergy. My privilege indeed.
Closing: Men, we must speak up!
Rev. Robyn King, clergywoman in the Anglican Church of Canada, remarks (and spurred this whole blog post, actually):
Gentlemen, when women are the only ones talking about this, we are called as “shrill,” “screechy,” “b*tchy,” and other things most of which are rooted in the same sexism that causes this problem. If you think this is a problem, please say so. Then say so to Bishops, search committees, and at clergy gatherings. Making our world, including the Church, look more like the Kingdom of God is what we’ve all committed to in Baptism.
Amen. May the Church live as the beacon of equality that the world seeks to emulate.
Thoughts? Thanks to all the stories, and share your own in the comments or on social media.