Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.
While my last post looked at the salaries of African United Methodist bishops, this post will look at the salaries of African United Methodist clergy. Whereas bishops in Africa are paid quite well relative to average income in the country, clergy in Africa struggle in many places.
Exact figures for pastoral salaries in the central conferences is difficult to find online. Anecdotal stories about the financial struggles of clergy in African central conferences abound. As explored in a previous post, total giving in central conferences is limited, a result of the weak economies of many countries in the central conferences. The money available for pastoral salaries may be even more limited than suggested by those figures.
While innovations such as cell phone banking are pushing banking services to more and more people, even in developing countries, in many places, United Methodist members’ access to cash, even in local currencies, is limited. This problem is especially acute in rural areas that are not well-connected to larger economic systems, places where war or disaster has interrupted normal economic functions, and countries experiencing currency crises.
The upshot of limited access to cash is limited ability to give cash donations to the church, which can then be used to pay pastoral salaries, from which pastors can buy the necessities of living. Instead, pastors either receive in-kind salaries through donations of food and other goods by parishioners, or go without a salary from the church, or at least without a full salary.
In cases in which pastors cannot draw a salary or much salary from the church they serve, they must instead rely on spousal support, as this story from Nigeria hints at or rely on farming to provide basic foodstuffs for their families, as is the case in some parts of Liberia, Angola and Zimbabwe, and likely other places in Africa. UMNS has also reported on farming as a means for clergy to build up retirement funds in Zimbabwe. More on retirement funds later.
Another source of support for African (and Eurasian) clergy salaries comes from US subsidies. Many annual conferences in the central conferences rely upon donations from the US to supplement their pastors’ salaries. These donations may come either through Advance specials or through direct conference-to-conference partnerships. Such giving must be regular and the receiving annual conference must have a means of distributing such funds to pastors for such donations to affect the salaries of all pastors in a systematic way. Moreover, such US subsidies raise questions about creating dependency in one of the most basic functions of a church.
In addition to low salaries, pastors must often use the limited cash salary they have to pay for expenses related to their ministry, especially transportation. The costs (in time or money) associated with pastors serving remote or widely-separated regions explain the popularity of the Bike and Bibles program (see stories about Libera, Sierra Leone, and Congo) run by conservative laymember Joe Kilpatrick of North Georgia.
Pastoral salaries in some areas of Africa have improved in regularity and amount, as this reminiscence from Zimbabwe makes clear. Moreover, some annual conferences, such as those in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, have adopted a system of salary equalization to ensure that all pastors are earning an equitable amount, regardless of the congregation they serve or its location. Not all United Methodist pastors in Africa are starving by any means.
There is also now the Central Conference Pensions program overseen by Wespath. This program includes a pool of money that is used to help annual conferences in the central conferences to set up their own pension programs, separate from the various pension programs that serve US pastors. While over $25 million has been donated by US United Methodists for this program, that money is used as seed money and to help cover the administrative costs of the program. The individual pensions depend upon contributions by United Methodist pastors in the annual conference that established the pension. Thus, these pensions provide a vehicle for retirement savings for pastors in the central conferences, but they don’t really address the issue of salaries, since it is the pastors’ own money which is funding their retirement.
Despite recent improvements in salaries and benefits for African United Methodist clergy, it is clear that being a clergyperson in Africa is quite often a sacrificial calling in financial (and other!) terms.
All of this information helps to put into perspective two issues: First, the power that African United Methodist bishops have relative to clergy in most places in Africa, power that is not only ecclesial but also financial, as explored in my last post.
Second, the potential offense created by asking African clergy delegates, who may be struggling to put food on the table for their families, to vote on retirement plans for American clergy who live comfortable, middle-class Western lifestyles. Certainly, there needs to be some way for The United Methodist Church to act as a body on issues related to American clergy compensation. But the disparity between how clergy compensation works in the United States and how clergy compensation works in Africa is a significant impetus for work that Wespath and the Connectional Table have undertaken for the sake of creating an alternative structure to address such US-specific issues.